March 31, 2011

And counting …

61 days to go as we leave March behind us. I’ll tell more in the fullness of time 😉

March 27, 2011

An up and a down

I’d planned a return to the Isle of Sheppey today to do the same as I did last week-end at Hastings – fly around the island at sea level. However, while I was getting prepared Clive took off from Linton in his Quantum and as we watched him receding into the distance to the north, we saw him turn around. He joined overhead and landed back not much more than ten minutes after leaving reporting that the vis was not too good.

I decided that I’d have a look for myself and sure enough, there was quite a bit of haze but it was well within the VMC limits. That makes it legal but it doesn’t make it fun. I flew north-eastwards on track and when I got about half way to Faversham the cloud approaching the North Kent coast became thicker making it cooler below trapping even more mist and haze. It was doubtful even so that the vis would have fallen below the VMC limit (1500 metres vis while remaining clear of cloud and in sight of the surface for an aircraft like MYRO flying under 140kts airspeed below 3000ft altitude) but it was pretty obvious that the reducing vis would not be a lot of fun. So time to turn back, and anyway, what’s the point of flying around burning up fuel when it’s not fun and there’s very little to see.

Here are a few shots I took shortly after taking off.

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So I turned round and headed back to where the murk and haze was not too bad doing a circuit round Leeds Castle on the way followed by a bit of local flying nearer to Linton. It was strange because further south, in the area where I’d taken off, the sun was still brightly shining – it just shows what can happen when the air pressure is quite high, the air is moist, the ground is cold and there’s a layer of lowish cloud. A perfect recipe for high pressure fog, which is what we had today.

Just to finish, here are a few more shots I took heading north east before I turned round (the vis did actually get quite a bit worse than this…)

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So instead of a flight round the Isle of Sheppey it was an up and a down in 45 minutes. Good to be back up again but not fun enough to stay there. Let’s hope things are a bit better next week 😐

March 26, 2011

X-Air almost there

We made good progress on the X-Air today. The new water temperature gauge is a VEDO unit. On their data sheet which I managed to locate this week it specifically says not to use PTFE joint sealant tape on the sensor thread because of the possibility of preventing earthing. We had used it and although I doubt the amount we used would have that result, we still removed it. Then we removed the centre access plate on the main panel and got access to the wiring again. After tracing the wires we were interested in we removed the ‘illegal’ voltmeter without too many problems. One of its connections came adrift in the process but I doubt that it had been responsible for any of the issues we’d experienced. Then we started up and watched the temperature gauge only to see no movement on it still. A quick check of the fuse in its circuit that was also shared with the voltmeter revealed that it had blown – I think caused by the old water temperature gauge which I’d checked during the week at home and found to be totally inoperative. So we switched the fuse over from the currently un-utilised GPS circuit and lo and behold the new gauge started to work perfectly.

That meant we were very close to completing all our work at last. All we then had to do was have the new tyres and tubes that Ken had purchased during the week fitted on the main wheels and a small residual crack that remained in the exhaust after a weld repair a few months ago rectified and the X-Air would at last be ready to be signed off for its check flight and eventual permit. We ended up by removing the exhaust for welding and both of the main wheels for Ken to take away to a tyre fitter’s for the new tyres to be fitted. That will also give us a chance to clean the insides of the hubs and lubricate the brake mechanisms which I always knew we should have done anyway so when everything we removed is refitted, hopefully next week-end, the X-Air will be just about ready to go. While chatting over a cup of tea Peter said we’d been working on it for about six weeks. I’m sure he’s right but it doesn’t seem that long. Even so, I’ll be glad now when we’ve finished 😉

March 24, 2011

Hastings Video

I had the camcorder running during my Hastings flight last week-end but because of a faulty lead, the sound was unusable and also the focus kept going in and out. However, I persevered and managed to salvage something out of it. The footage is not that good, but it’s an almost watchable record of the flight, at least 😉

It’s in the Video Gallery or you can click on the pic below to see it.

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Footnote added later – I don’t think that the sound problem was caused by the ‘faulty lead’. I have since found that the Lithium batteries in my headset needed replacing and as the sound picked up by the camcorder with the cable plugged in is through the headset mic which was ‘dying’ because of the batteries, that was the source of the problem. Anyway, I’ve replaced them now and I’ll find out for sure next time I fly.

March 21, 2011

Pics from Sunday

Sunday’s flight was so enjoyable that although the camcorder footage is unusable, I just had to grab some images off it to show what it was like. I’m sure that in the fullness of time I’ll have some much better pics showing more or less the same scenes because this is a flight I can’t wait to repeat in the Summer. And maybe I’ll even be able to extend it past Rye to Camber and further east when I’ve got the second tank working to give me more range. But for now, poor as they are, these pics will just have to do.

First, I mentioned how poor the vis was. The first two pics show the vis on the way out just after I’d taken off and just after I’d turned and climbed to return to Linton over Rye.

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The next shot shows the view looking towards Hastings Pier as I began my descent abeam St Leonards On Sea

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This one shows the fire damaged pier just before I banked right so as to maintain my 500ft separation from it – damaged as it is, it is still legally a structure.

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The next shows houses on the clifftops at Fairlight.

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This pic shows a glimpse as I approached the headland of the long shingle beach that extends past Winchelsea right up to Rye in the far distance.

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And finally, a view along the beach up towards Rye.

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A few momentoes of a flight I’ll not forget for a long time to come.

March 21, 2011

High points, low points

Best way to describe the week-end really. Peter and I got cracking on the X-Air on Saturday morning with a view to getting it totally ready for permit inspection the next day. During the week I’d bought a new fuel pressure gauge and new water temperature gauge and sensor which we thought would totally solve the gauge problems and ultimately save us time. The X-Air HADS (Homebuilt Approved Data Sheets) show that BOTH gauges are required for permit so my initial assumption that they would not be an inspection show-stopper couldn’t have been more wrong. To cut a long story short, the fuel pressure gauge worked fine but the new temperature gauge still refused to give a reading. Further investigation seemed to point to some kind of short or wiring fault involving a voltmeter that the previous owner had fitted so as the end of the day was approaching, we could go no further with it.

When the X-Air was inspected the next day it sailed through as I’d hoped save for the gauges and an advisory on the main tyres which are showing signs of standing and age. So we agreed with the inspector that we’d kill both birds with one stone by fixing the gauge problem and fitting two new main tyres and tubes. We’ll do that next week-end and as he’s got to come back the week after to inspect several other aircraft on the field, he’ll then also be able to sign the X-Air off for its check flight. I was very happy because I’d worked into the early hours organizing all of the X-Air’s paperwork and getting its Log Books up to date and in order (having had to do the same for MYRO, I knew what was expected 😉 ) and the inspector said he was very pleased with everything we’d done. I call that a result 🙂

On the downside, he and I agreed that as the voltmeter is not shown in the HADS and does not have any Mod paperwork, it either has to be removed or go through as a mod with a BMAA fee of £50. I said to Ken that I could see no practical reason to have it (if your battery is low, the engine won’t start!) especially as there’s an approved, working ammeter fitted. He agreed, so as part of solving the water temperature gauge problem, the voltmeter will be coming out. All in all, apart from the water gauge problem, I think the inspection went very well.

And so onto Sunday. Yet again, Saturday was a brilliant flying day – CAVOK (absolutely no cloud) and perfect visibility. Only problem of course, was that because of working on the X-Air, I couldn’t fly. Yet again, on Sunday the weather stood on its head – more grey cloud, a lot of mist (more like light fog actually) and, as it turned out, rather turbulent winds aloft. A strange mixture. But not having flown for 3 weeks, I wanted to give it a go. I’d planned a flight down to Hastings on the south coast and when the cloud began to break after the X-Air’s inspection had been completed, I decided to give it a go.

As soon as I took off, I realised that the vis was still very limited because of the mist – not dangerously so or under the VMC limits but to a point where a few years ago I’d have decided to return to the field. But with modern GPS’s you don’t need to rely on map reading using visual ground features so I decided to carry on, and I’m glad I did. Despite the limited vis, the sun was out at Hastings and lots of people were out and about on the promenade and on the beaches. And on Sunday I decided to do something different. The Law is that while flying, you must keep at least 500 feet away from any person, vehicle, vessel or structure, but that doesn’t mean you have to fly at a minimum height of 500 feet. The distance can also be horizontal meaning that if you wish, you can fly right down to ground level so long as you maintain a minimum horizontal separation of 500 feet. Or down to sea level….

And that’s what I did. For the first time since I had my Tri-Pacer aircraft back in the late 1970’s, I descended to 50 feet or so over the sea and ‘skimmed’ the water at 50 or 60 miles per hour. It’s great fun and very exciting. I started at the western (St Leonards) end of Hastings and flew along the length of the promenade past the now very badly fire-damaged pier. Lots of people seemed to enjoy the sight and many of them gave me a hearty wave as I flew past. When I got to the cliffs at Fairlight Cove I had to look up to see the cliff tops and I flew below the radar scanner that was lazily turning at the Coastguard station (it’s for ships in the Channel anyway, not aircraft…) and as I rounded the bend, ahead of me was the long shingle beach that stretched all the way up past Winchelsea to Rye. As I flew along, the occasional flock of seagulls were startled by MYRO’s passage and flew up from the surface of the sea in front of me in a cloud of flapping wings but none ever came too close to MYRO’s spinning prop. There were quite a few families with small children out on the beach enjoying the sunshine and as I flew past several Dads (and Mums too) pointed MYRO out to their children and I got lots of friendly waves as I flew by.

I then had to climb again as I reached the end of the sea leg and turned back inland over Rye to return to Linton. The return legs passed very quickly because of the southerly tail wind I was experiencing and the approach and landing were satisfactory, if not as smooth as I’d have liked. By the time I came in to land there was a very fresh, gusty 90 degree cross wind which made for a very challenging landing. I have to say that actually it wasn’t one for the less experienced or faint-hearted pilots amongst us and my landing was a bit harder, probably unavoidably so, than I’m accustomed to doing. But it wasn’t that hard and all was well.

On the downside, again, I’d been running the camcorder over Hastings but yet again the recording left much to be desired. Although I’d thought I’d set the focus to ‘fixed’, it kept going rapidly in and out making it almost impossible to watch the footage. Also for some reason much of the sound was lost as the recording level was automatically set to much too high a level, something that has never happened before. Yet again, more things to to be resolved before I start recording in earnest now the weather is at last beginning to pick up.

But all in all, a great day and a flying experience I’d never have missed for anything 😉

March 13, 2011

Same old song

Yes, because I was all fired up to get a flight in today, the weather did it again. After the forecast said that today would be similar to yesterday ie bright, bit of cloud but sky mainly clear, the weather had the last word and did completely the opposite. More again of that dismal low grey cloud and no chance at all of getting up because of the low cloud base. How come the Met people can get it so wrong and in such a short timespan? In fact, I went down to Linton anticipating the promised sunny spells later in the afternoon, but after I decided to give up, I actually left for home in light drizzle 🙁

The only bit of good news today is that Tim, the BMAA Inspector who did MYRO for me will be free next Sunday, so the X-Air can be inspected then. To be on the safe side, because the Fuel Pressure and Water Temperature gauges are shown as being mandatory in the X-Air TADS/HADS and must therefore be in and working when the inspection is carried out, today I ordered new gauges and a new water temperature sender. So they will all have to be fitted by next Saturday and Ken will also be bringing all the paperwork round to me tomorrow so I can check that all the Mandatory Mods have been done and all the paperwork is in order. So a bit of work to do, but well worth it if the X-Air zips through as I hope it will 😉

March 12, 2011

Yessss!

We met up at Linton today to get cracking on finding out why the X-Air had no electrics. I took my little Robin electrical multimeter which has proven invaluable in the past in tracking down electrical problems and was keeping my fingers crossed that it wouldn’t let me down this time either. Ken and Peter had the X-Air pulled out ready when I arrived and had replaced all the blade type fuses so we got straight down to it.

Whenever I have an electrical problem in an installation I don’t know I like to start by checking that the circuits are connected correctly and that there is continuity in them. Otherwise, if you find a break and just reconnect the power you run the risk of having a short on your hands with all sorts of nasty consequences, especially in an aircraft. Everything checked out top-side so it was time to get our heads under the panel and check all the wiring out down there. Easier said than done because it’s very cramped under there and part of the time you have to lie on your back, but I was used to that having had to do the same in MYRO, which is even more cramped for space. Fortunately everything more or less checked out compared to the official wiring diagram with one change being that the starter button isn’t fused as shown in the diagram, but that wasn’t important.

But still no power. Not quite true actually because there is a miniature switch labelled ‘Intercom’ with an LED that lit up green when you switched it on, showing that power was getting down under the panel. But the main ‘red – live’ lead wasn’t! Time to investigate, so back up top again.

My initial thought was that the wiring had been cut and modified but I discounted that as there were no obvious tell-tale signs. The wiring diagram showed the main red lead connecting straight to the +ve battery terminal but, surprise surprise, there was only one such lead apart from the heavy cable connecting to the ‘heavy’ side of the starter solenoid and that was the one running down to the intercom switch. My conclusion therefore was that that had been specially run to power up the radio system, so I had to look elsewhere to see where the system harness should be deriving its power from. And I didn’t have to look too far.

The starting point was the main plug and socket mounted on the side of the engine. I already knew that there was continuity – but no power – to the right through the loom running down under the panel, so the place to look was to the left of the plug and socket. I traced along the red line from the socket which logically should have been live but wasn’t and when I traced it around to the other side of the engine I found it connected to – an engine earth point. Problem solved!

It was an easy mistake to make. When Peter had been reconnecting the electrics after refitting the engine after its overhaul in the dim light at the back of the hangar, he had found a wire with a bolt-type connector on it which he had assumed should go to earth. In fact it should have been connected to the live side of the starter solenoid which was just close by and as soon as I made this change, the system came alive. It was some relief I can tell you, because we had spent quite a lot of time by then finding nothing wrong but could still not explain why there was no power and I was beginning to run out of ideas.

So basically that was that. We re-cable tied the wiring under the main panel and refitted the front access panel, tidied everything else up and re-cable tied the wiring top-side so it couldn’t move around and chafe. Then we were ready to run the engine. Fate smiled upon us at last because it started and ran beautifully and sounded as sweet as a nut. I thought afterwards that we hadn’t checked the plugs but decided that as it was running fine, we could do that some other time. After letting it run for a few minutes (it needs to be ground run-in for an hour or so as it’s just had a major overhaul) we gave the aircraft a taxi. It felt just right, nicely balanced and with very good toe brakes on the pilot’s side. After going up and back along the main taxiway we went back up again and taxied onto the winter runway so I could check that we were getting full take off revs, which we were. We stopped and checked the coolant level a couple of times, which was fine, and found one problem in that the water temperature gauge wasn’t registering. All the others with the exception of the fuel pressure gauge were working fine though, and that was suffering with the same problem that I found with the old gauge that I got for MYRO, that had been in use in MYME but hadn’t been run for some time. It seems that they then get stuck up internally with goo from the fuel, and this seems to have happened with the X-Air’s one which moves a small amount but doesn’t register the true fuel pressure.

So that just leaves a new fuel pressure gauge to be purchased and possibly a new water temperature gauge too, although with that we can’t presently discount if maybe the sensor is the problem rather than the gauge. I have an old Westach water temperature gauge in front of me that we might be able to use to test the existing sensor but it may be better at the end of the day just to buy a new gauge as, frankly, the existing one does look a bit old fashioned, and if that doesn’t work, then go for a new sensor as well.

But in any event, I doubt that either is a show-stopper when it comes to permit inspection, so really the X-Air is now ready for its inspection and weighing. I think it will zip through with no problems so it’s now very close to having its first permit since 2008. I think today was a job well done, even though it took a while, as along the way we all learnt a bit about the aircraft that we wouldn’t have known otherwise. And that’s always worthwhile and a Good Thing 🙂

March 6, 2011

March off on a roll

We spent yesterday working on the X-Air so no flying. We made good progress and got everything set to go my mid/late afternoon. Topped up the rads, connected the battery and poured in some fuel. Peter climbed aboard and flicked the master switch – nothing. Dead as a dodo. Well, not quite dead because the starter solenoid direct connections were live, so we know the battery has plenty of charge. It’s just that nothing was getting through to where it mattered 🙁

We have a wiring diagram but we’ll need my meter, which was at home yesterday, to find out what’s going on. Hopefully it shouldn’t take too long but experience tells you that if you fiddle around ‘blind’ you can spend ages and still not get to the bottom of it. So there was nothing to do but pack up and leave it, to have another go next week-end.

So that left today for flying. Not a great day for it by any means – far from it actually. Still thick grey cloud, poor vis and a chill north-easterly wind that was quite strong and gusting. But who knows what the weather might do in the days and weeks to come (someone suggested more snow is forecast for this week) so you have to take your chances when you can if you want to get the time in. I’d planned a flight heading up to and round the Isle of Sheppey, so that’s what I did. I took off and landed back on runway 11. As expected, it was pretty turbulent up there but not so much as to be unsafe. My flight plan took in the whole of the eastern, northern and western perimeters of the Isle of Sheppey but the first leg heading straight into the wind which was forecast to take 38 minutes actually took a bit more. With the single tank, I’m not too keen to go lower on fuel than planned in the early stage of a flight so I decided to cut across the north-eastern corner of the Isle of Sheppey and the north-western one too, staying to the east of Sheerness rather than keeping to the sea side and flying right round it.

In fact I didn’t miss much by doing that because the conditions were so poor – dull, murky and rather uninspiring on account of the weather as you can see from the following pic of Sheerness. It’s looking west across the Medway estuary towards the Isle of Grain. Stoke is just beyond the power station chimney over on the other side.

Sheerness, Isle of Sheppey

No clicking for an enlarged version, I’m afraid, because the quality made it impossible.

I ran the camcorder and managed to get an hours-worth of tape but it’s so awfully murky that I doubt I’ll get a good enough video to put into the gallery. I’ll probably leave that until later in the year. As expected, the landing back on runway 11 at Linton was ‘challenging’ to say the least. You should only be prepared to take on a strong, blustery cross-wind landing if you have the confidence to do so and you must also be careful not to be over-confident. I was quite happy with the final approach although it involved quite a bit of stick-stirring, engine power-ups to maintain a good airspeed and counter sink and a combination of crabbing and left wing down to deal with the cross wind. Strangely enough, although I was working hard all the way down, when it came to the flare, it almost seemed to go calm. Anyway, all went well so I can now look forward to next time.

So that’s March off on a roll – all we need now is for the weather to start to look upon us a bit more kindly 😉

As a bit of a footnote to my comments on camcorder image quality, you learn something new all the time. Previously when I’ve set the camcorder on ‘auto’ I’ve had problems with the auto focus system alternately focusing on the ground (infinity) and the screen right up in front of the lens, the latter especially if there have been bits of mud deposited there during take off. So on this occasion I found out how to manually set the focus on a fixed setting which according to the manual was at infinity, to favour the ground. In fact it turns out that the setting lever works in exactly the opposite direction shown in the manual, meaning that in fact I’d set the lens to ‘close up’. This would, of course, account for much of the poor image quality.

While I was checking this in the Canon manual, I also found out that I can adjust the exposure over quite a large range too, so it appears that I could have improved today’s pictures by quite a lot if I’d known this information before. At least I do now, which will hopefully give me more chance of getting better results in the future – no matter what the weather 😕