February 28, 2011

Yesterday, ah yesterday…

Today, as far as the weather is concerned, it’s business as usual. First thing this morning it was grey and damp with a bone-chilling north-easterly wind and now the drizzle that was falling has turned into tiny hail stones. But yesterday was different. Yesterday we saw the sky for what seemed like the first time for ages and so I went flying.

We’d spent Saturday working in the hangar on the X-Air. When I arrived it was dull but dry but as the morning wore on it began to rain…. and rain…. and rain. We had a successful day, though. During the week I’d bought some new fuel hose and some plastic fuel filters and although it took a few hours removing the old, now non-compliant transparent hose and getting the new stuff on, eventually I got the whole of the fuel system finished. With coolant in the radiators the engine would now have run, but we couldn’t do that, of course, because with the incessant rain, we couldn’t get the aircraft out of the hangar for starters 🙁

I also got caught out when I went to depart for home. When I arrived, the entrance to the field was muddy but still drivable but when I left, due to the amount of rain we’d had, it bore a distinct resemblance to a paddy field. Unfortunately, I tried to get out through the gate without fully opening it and the path I had to take as a result took me into the softest area, where I promptly got stuck. Fortunately Bob was behind me in his 4 x 4 with a tow rope and was able to pull me out backwards, so when I arrived back at the field yesterday I made sure I took particular care to stay on the firmer area. I managed to do just that and avoided any further mishaps 😯

Because of the weather, I’d almost given up on the idea of flying yesterday but decided I’d give it a shot when I saw how the weather was actually turning out. There was a rather gusty north-westerly wind which would not have favoured flex-wings but which was still perfectly within MYRO’s limits, so in keeping with my policy of flying towards any incoming weather, I quickly put together a flight in a westerly direction, taking in Meopham, Longfield, Hartley (where I used to live), Swanley, Sevenoaks and Tonbridge.

I set up the camcorder but had a weird experience with it. Initially it started and ran properly but when I restarted it to record the flight, it seemed to stop. I assumed that I had forgotten to charge the battery last time but when I checked later on, it had recorded most of the flight, but without sound. Weird because firstly, I thought I’d switched it off and secondly, it had stopped with several minutes of tape unused, when I definitely had not pressed the stop button again. I can’t explain it at all 😕

The flight itself went according to plan. The first place I recognised on the ground was Meopham but although I tried to get my camera out, the wind was just too gusty to take any pictures. I did manage to get some shots when I got to Longfield Hill, though, the village just before Longfield itself.

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Then New Barn, out of the other side of the cabin window.

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I’m afraid that none of the pics I got yesterday were of very high quality, the problem being that I was having to take them with my left hand by aiming without looking while still firmly clutching the stick in my right hand to keep things on an even keel. I’m surprised they are as good as they are, actually.

Then Hartley Bottom came up on my left hand side.

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Next up was Longfield and I had a good view of the new Academy they are in the process of completing to replace the original Axton Chase senior school.

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Then I took a couple more shots showing the centre of Longfield.

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In the second one, above, you can see the Ash Road winding up the hill under the railway bridge towards Hartley, so I turned to follow it and took a few more shots over Hartley itself.

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I then turned back on course for Swanley but put my camera away at this point because of the gustiness of the conditions. I was sorry that I had, actually, because I flew over Horton Kirby which features a very fine railway viaduct. Another time, perhaps.

The whole of the rest of the flight went as planned taking in Sevenoaks and Tonbridge, but with the gusty wind and conditions becoming duller, it wasn’t worth taking any more shots. I got back to the field and landed safely in a bit of a naughty cross-wind ending a flight of just 1 hour 20 minutes.

Time to have a quick cuppa and a chat, then I decided to see February out with one final flight even though the weather was obviously beginning to break up. This became really clear when after taking off, I could see some very heavy showers up towards the north-west. I decided to stay up for as long as I could and thought I’d do some general handling practise with a few steep turns and stuff thrown in. I realised that this was the first time I’d done this kind of thing since my GST last year and it was very satisfying to see how even in yesterday’s windy conditions I found I could easily take steep turns and the like in my stride with little or no change in altitude. You must never be too blase, but you don’t realise how your skills are improving the whole time the more flying hours you clock up. Mind you, I had those skills tested a bit when I decided to land after 40 minutes or so. With drizzle on my screen and with the showers almost up to the field, I decided it was a good time to land. I’d forgotten how in such conditions, squally winds tend to precede such incoming weather, and so it proved on landing. The gusty cross-wind turned out to be very tricky indeed and I found my approach speed varied quite a bit, possibly as a result of wind sheer I would think. As a result, my landing was safe but not the prettiest one I’ve ever done – Bob said the right wing suddenly lifted quite a bit before I brought it back down again just before touchdown – but as they say, any landing you can walk away from is a good one. And if you can re-use the aircraft afterwards, outstanding 😉

So today it’s good-bye to February. I managed to get 3 hours 45 minutes flying in but like many others I’m sure, I won’t be sorry to see it go. Surely the weather must begin to pick up a bit soon, mustn’t it?

February 20, 2011

Not a total waste of time

No, not by any means. Yesterday was totally unflyable with continuous low cloud, rain and drizzle, the sort of weather that we’re getting so fed up with now. The field which had been drying up a few days ago was again under squelchy mud and waterlogged so it’ll probably be a few days even when the rain eventually does stop before it’ll be usable again. But that doesn’t mean that the day was wasted – far from it 😉

Instead we got cracking on the X-Air. I gave the carbs a good clean up before Christmas and yesterday I refitted them, along with all new hose clips to replace the ‘orrible tiddly little jubilee clips that someone had previously fitted to the engine coolant hoses that were now all stripping their threads. A little clip like that is just as important as a large one because if it lets coolant escape you’re soon in trouble with the prospect of a forced landing. Peter replaced the pitot tube that had got broken in the hangar and once I’ve sorted out the trim tab cable connections we’ll be well along the way to having it ready for its weighing and permit inspection. I’m going to order up some fuel hose and a new fuel filter to replace the items that are currently fitted as much of the hose is becoming a bit hard. Also, some other sections are of the transparent type which is not now officially approved. The glass fuel filter that’s fitted is the type which I think has been found to give some problems with blocking due to algae growth in the fuel on account of the alcohol that’s now being added. Better to have a ‘cheap and cheerful’ throw-away plastic type that can be replaced every few hours than one that has to be regularly inspected and cleaned, I think.

So we made some good progress – the X-Air is looking pretty complete now. Who knows, with a little bit of luck we might even be able to run it up next week-end. That would be nice 🙂

February 16, 2011

Helping out with the X-Air

I bumped into Peter, Ken’s brother, the other week-end and shortly afterwards spoke with Ken about their X-Air. As I mentioned quite a while back, I was involved in its purchase the best part of 3 years ago but unlike MYRO, which took a few months of work to get flying, the X-Air hasn’t flown in all the time since. It’s a great machine as you can see from the pics below.

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This particular X-Air has a 582 liquid cooled 2-stroke engine which gives about the same performance as MYRO’s 503 because the X-Air is a bit bigger and heavier. But whereas MYRO is rated at an all-up weight of 390kg, the X-Air is 450kg which allows for more fuel and a longer range even though the aircraft itself weighs a bit more. It also has a larger cabin and twin sticks which is rather nice, as can be seen from this pic which I posted when I first mentioned the X-Air at the time it was purchased.

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Because it’s been standing for so long without being run, the X-Air recently had its engine fully overhauled. It now needs to be got ready for inspection and permit in the Spring, which isn’t very far away, but unfortunately both Ken and Peter are very short of time. So they’ve asked me if I could give them a hand to get the work done and I’ve agreed of course. I’m now looking forward very much to working on the X-Air over the next few weeks, while still flying MYRO of course, and at the end of it, I look forward to enjoying the pleasure of flying it across to Stoke for its check flight, as I did MYRO. And then seeing it up in the air and being regularly flown as it should be.

I’ll be keeping a note on progress here on my blog 😉

February 13, 2011

At last – a really good one!

Flight that is, yesterday. First I had to finish sorting out the issue that prevented me flying last time but that didn’t take long. I lost some time because the field is so wet we can’t get cars in and I therefore had to walk everything I needed in on the special trolley I’ve made. Then I had to take MYRO’s covers off and stow them safely away before I could fuel up and fit the radio and GPS kit, and also the weather that was supposed to have cleared by mid-day was taking much longer than expected to do so. So it was 1.40pm before I eventually took off, heading west towards where the brighter weather was coming from. The vis and cloud base were not that brilliant but I knew they’d be improving while I was flying, and so it proved.

I’d planned a flight the evening before taking me just to the north of Tonbridge and then across to Edenbridge in the Gatwick CTA, right on the edge of the Gatwick TMA. Strictly not above 1500ft in that area and then great care needed not to infringe the TMA after turning and heading more or less due south. I then planned to turn and head south-west when abeam Forest Row to head down to Haywards Heath and Burgess Hill before then turning to head back via the south of Uckfield.

I more or less followed the planned route, out towards Edenbridge past the southern-most tip of the Bough Beech Reservoir where a regatta was taking place in the bright early Spring sunshine with a brisk south-westerly breeze filling out the sails. In the event, I decided to cut across the most distant south-west corner of the route, staying some way to the east of Haywards Heath and Burgess Hill and it was lucky I did, because in the end even after having done so, at 1 hour 45 minutes the flight was just about on the limit of MYRO’s endurance with the single tank. After landing I only had about 5 litres left in the tank and if I hadn’t cut the corner, I might well have been running on fumes by the time I’d arrived back at the field. Definitely not a good thing!

The flight turned out to be fantastic, probably the best I’ve done in MYRO so far. The weather and vis became almost perfect for the time of year and the views were spectacular. As I flew southwards along the edge of the Gatwick TMA the sun suddenly broke through and I could see Gatwick in the distance to the west. Then somewhere down to the south-east of Gatwick, in the Forest Row area I think, I flew over a beautiful castle with moat, maze and adjacent medieval buildings around a kind of courtyard or village square that I didn’t even know existed! It almost looked like a film set. I must find out where it is and see about visiting it on the ground some time. I also came across a lovely little Blubell Line steam engine chuffing along in the Spring sunshine hauling a train of beautifully painted old carriages, a gorgeous sight in the Sussex countryside and a bit further on over the Ashdown Forest where the ground rose up towards me I could see the faces of walkers looking up to watch me as I flew by them.

After turning over Uckfield to head back north-east, I had the wind on my tail and began to zip along over the ground, comparatively speaking. After Bewl Reservoir had passed on my right, pretty soon I was calling up on SafetyCom to join overhead for a landing back at Linton, which went off safely and well.

I had to hurry a bit to get MYRO tied down and covered up because I’d been invited to dinner with some very close friends. After driving home, feeding the dog, showering and taking him for a walk all at break-neck speed, I just made it on time. We had a lovely evening which finished with a few glasses of the bubbly that I’d taken along with me, by way of celebration. The reason is that today is my birthday. It’s one of the Big Ones, although I won’t say which one. I’m just so glad that I was able to celebrate it with such lovely friends and after yesterday’s marvellous flight, it is certainly one I will remember for a long time. Yes, a really good one indeed.

February 7, 2011

February – poor start so far

And how! To say it’s blowing a hooley as I type this is an understatement with gusts of 50mph or more forecast for this afternoon. And we’ve had this weather non-stop (literally) for 3 or 4 days now, more or less since the previous week-end in fact. So flying was out of the question last week-end. In fact when I went down to Linton to check on MYRO on Sunday I found that one of the tie-down ropes had actually been severed through constant abrasion by one of the tie-down hooks. So to be on the safe side, I put on two new ropes, which I bought at the same time last year as the cover material but up to now hadn’t used.

The wind is forecast to drop around mid-week but is then expected to pick up again in the second half, so flying may still be out next week-end even. Not that I could have flown anyway last week-end because I still hadn’t resolved the issue that prevented me flying the week-end before. But I will have by this coming week-end, so not having flown since January 3rd I’m really keen to get back into the air. I wonder just how lucky I’ll be ? 😯

February 2, 2011

Good-bye January

And good riddance! Last Sunday turned out to be flyable but unfortunately there was an issue and I couldn’t get up into the air. So that was it. Just the two flights on the 2nd and 3rd totalling 2 hours 50 minutes. In some ways I suppose I was lucky because I’m sure that there are lots who got even less than that in what was a pretty miserable month weather-wise. In the south-east anyway … just never-ending dismal, low grey cloud. In fact January was my second-worst month since MYRO was permitted and in fact I actually got the same amount of time in in August last year before MYRO was permitted, ferrying it to and fro for its check flights! December was the worst, of course, with only one flight of 1 hour 15 minutes, a long way behind my best month, October with 6 hours 15 minutes.

The issue I mentioned may prevent me flying again this coming week-end but hopefully it will be resolved after that and I’ll again be able to look forward to getting back into the air. I just hope that the weather begins to smile on us a little bit more than it has been doing lately 😕