May 31, 2011

Lowest point?

So here we are on the last day of May, which has been a terrible month for me with MYRO. But every cloud has a silver lining and even at this early stage there is already a gleam of hope. I received so many messages of support, some from friends that I didn’t even know I had, that I just knew I couldn’t give up and in the middle of what was my darkest hour I then received an amazingly kind and generous offer of assistance to help me get MYRO back flying again. I can’t give any more information at the moment but this alone has transformed my feeling of despair into one of optimism. I just know that I can and will get MYRO back into the air.

But that will be for the coming weeks. I’ve now got stuff to do and organise but at least I can now look forward and not back and I have a very kind individual to thank for that. Take my word for it, there are some very kind and thoughtful people in this world who are prepared to go out of their way to help someone they’ve never even met, and for that I am indeed extremely grateful. Now the only way is up.

May 25, 2011

Back flying again

But not in MYRO unfortunately. Ken and Peter decided to move the X’air from Linton to Stoke at the same time as I did MYRO but with the high winds we’ve been experiencing lately with gusts on some days recently of 60 mph and more, we needed a weather window to do the move before the end of the month. Today there was a slight lull between Atlantic weather systems and we decided at short notice to do it today with winds forecast at about 8 mph from the south with minimal gusting. So we met up and drove down to Linton and got Papa Hotel (PH) ready for the flight.

While we did so it was pretty obvious that in fact the wind, while from the south, was considerably stronger than had been forecast. Ordinarily this would not have bothered me too much as it was still inside what had been my comfort zone but this, of course, was my first flight since my accident in MYRO. I would like to have had an hour or so since with Rosie in MZEL, her AX3, not because I needed the ‘training’ but just to know in myself that my self-belief and confidence, such important factors in flying, had not been dented by my recent experiences. It’s one thing to think that you can handle a gusting 15 mph cross wind – it’s another thing entirely when you are on final at 250 feet being buffeted around by the wind to know that you are up to the job of getting yourself and the aircraft safely onto the ground. But it hadn’t been possible because of the winds.

So I took off alone from runway 11 at Linton with, I have to confess, feelings of both excitement and some trepidation. There were a few wind buffets on the climb-out but I felt happy enough dealing with them, albeit a little ‘rusty’ with not having flown for 18 days since MYRO’s accident. I turned left onto heading and got hit by a few more gusts and bumps and apart from a couple of initial jumps in my stomach early on, I soon found that I felt quite in control of things. I passed Leeds Castle looking gorgeous in the sunshine and as I approached the downs ridge at the M20 then the fun really began – lots of thermic bumps and lift which required quite a lot of effort to keep PH flying straight and level and in control. But maybe it wasn’t a bad thing to have happened, because after a while I felt that I’d never been away from it and could easily cope with what was being chucked at me. Possibly it was something that I actually needed just at that time.

The vis was cracking and I could almost see Stoke as soon as I took off so as I got closer and closer, I gave them a call on the radio. As expected for a week-day afternoon under those conditions, there was no reply which was unfortunate because I’d like to have known at that point which runway was in use. As it was I had to keep making radio calls and join overhead to find out for myself, and it turned out to be runway 24. With a stonking 15 mph cross wind. So there I was, dropped right in the deep end. Time to find what kind of stuff I was made of but under those conditions, no time to think about that sort of thing. What was needed was a good circuit at the right height and speed with a good final and a nicely controlled cross-wind landing. So that’s what I did.

Now I’m not saying that I didn’t experience a feeling of relief when all the wheels touched down and I stood on the toe brakes to bring PH down to taxi speed – I did. But what was more important to me was that I’d demonstrated to myself that I could do what I thought I could do, and that reinforcement of belief in oneself and one’s abilities is what is most important when coming back from any kind of adversity. PH had to be moved from Linton but I still have Ken to thank for giving me the opportunity to do it. The flight did wonders for my morale and confidence and it gave me a tremendous boost at just the time I needed it. I don’t know how much flying I’m going to get in over the coming few months, ironically what should be the best months of the whole flying season, but we’ll see. But what I do know is thanks to this flight in PH I’ve now got the foundations set firmly in place for whatever opportunities do arise and I am grateful to my friends Ken and Peter for setting me off on that road today.

May 10, 2011

So now what

It’s no good, it’s happened and the clock can’t be turned back. This is a major setback but if I can, I won’t allow it to stop me. Now I need to find the best way forward.

I spoke to someone last night who’s well known in the microlight world and he told me about one AX3 that he’s familiar with that was damaged and fixed thirty or forty times while it was being worked as a school aircraft at Popham. At one time apparently it even had non-matching wings – there are two types, earlier and later, which I didn’t know – and it’s still going strong. He said if MYRO was only damaged enough that I could open the door and climb out it’s probably repairable, which was encouraging. So I’ve already arranged with my inspector to take a look at MYRO tomorrow morning before I take the wings off and take it away from Linton, as he wanted to see it ‘as is’ to get some idea of where the forces involved went. I’ve also already made some initial contacts to source the bits I will need if I do go ahead with a repair and in fact, if ‘what you see is what you get’ only about half a dozen tubes, the front forks, the prop and the pod might need replacing. It also seems that as the prop was a composite one that shatters very easily and as the engine was ticking over despite the prop strike it’s unlikely to have been badly damaged. I understand that 95% of shock load inspected engines are found to be perfect according to engine shops both in the UK and the USA so I have high hopes for that. Also, a shock load check-over doesn’t apparently cost that much according to my informant.

Anyway, all will be much clearer tomorrow, and in the meantime I’ve been trying to get in touch with Rosie, my old instructor to get an hour or so’s circuits and landings in in her AX3 before I allow the chance for it to start getting at me. Apparently she’s flying a gyro at Popham today so that’s out for a couple of days which is a pity as the weather is perfect today. But if the news is not too bad tomorrow, at least I’ll then be able to make some plans.

Thanks to everyone who has messaged me here and elsewhere. All of your kind comments and words of encouragement are truly appreciated and have been a great help to me. It’s great that there are friends out there who I didn’t even know about and it’ll be a long time before I forget the support and encouragement that I’ve received.

May 8, 2011

Absolutely devastated

Following a landing accident yesterday afternoon at Linton I’m afraid to say that it looks as though MYRO has been destroyed. I took off in fairly good conditions with a modest breeze from the ESE but nothing to cause any alarm and the flying conditions were better than I’ve enjoyed on many occasions recently. It was sunny with broken cloud and as things warmed up there was the occasional thermic bump but nothing much to write home about. I headed down to Eastbourne and had one of the most enjoyable flights for some time.

The flight lasted around 1 hour 40 minutes and when I got back to Linton I joined downwind to land on runway 11. With the wind blowing from the ESE there was a bit of a cross-wind but again, nothing like as much as there has been on some occasions recently on that runway. After settling down, the approach was going well and MYRO was steady right until I’d cleared the threshold and closed the throttle to land. The next thing I knew just before I touched down was that MYRO was suddenly being blown strongly to the left, off the line of the runway and into an area of rough grass and scrub that adjoins the runway. Obviously although I was practically at touch down speed, I had no choice but to open the throttle and attempt a go around because if MYRO had gone into the rough I think there is no doubt that it would have immediately flipped over onto its back.

I thought for a moment that I’d succeeded in getting MYRO back into the air but unfortunately it wasn’t to be. I’m not sure if it was the same or another gust, but unfortunately MYRO’s airspeed had decayed to such an extent that there just wasn’t sufficient control authority to counter the continuing wind from the right and at a height of about ten feet or so, the wind caught and lifted the right wing. From that moment on there was nothing I could do except wait for the impact which became even more inevitable when the left wing tip struck the rising ground some way off to the left of the runway where the wind had taken me. The nose wheel took the main impact and folded up sideways under the pod and then the nose hit the ground shattering all three prop blades although amazingly when MYRO came to rest, the engine was still running and I had to switch it off.

The damage to MYRO’s nose was quite extensive but fortunately the design of the tubular structure did its job and as it collapsed it absorbed the impact and left me virtually totally unharmed except for a slightly sore shin where the panel hit it. I was incredibly lucky with hindsight, although I didn’t think so at the time, because I was able to open the door, extricate myself and climb out.

I made a phone call and a couple of the guys at Linton came down in case I needed a hand. In fact I was able to pull MYRO back to its usual parking spot on its main wheels but it was nice to know they were there just in case. I’ve just got back this morning from viewing the damage and to say that I’m devastated is a total understatement. I put so much of myself into rescuing MYRO and the hundreds of hours that were needed in getting it flyable again that the loss feels incredibly personal. MYRO is insured so I’ll be passing the news across to them tomorrow morning and then it will be in their hands. I know that I was lucky that I was able to walk away without a scratch after seeing the state that MYRO’s in but I feel that I’ve lost an old friend that I’ll never be able to replace no matter what happens though and that is pain enough at the moment.

There is in fact a footnote to all this. Just up the road from the airfield at Linton, there is a weather station that is part of the Wunderground network. This pic shows just how close it is.

Loose Weather Station

Wundergound weather stations all keep a weather history log for every day that they are active and this morning I chanced to check on the Loose weather station, the name of this one, to see if I could find any explanation for what happened yesterday. This is what the history log looks like.

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I didn’t take an exact note of the time the accident happened but I recorded that the flight ended at 15.10 hrs in my log book. When I checked the wind speed that was recorded by the weather station at around that time, I was astonished to see the following.

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The record shows that at almost exactly that time, there was a freak gust of something like 15mph from a direction that would make it almost exactly 90 degrees to runway 11. OK, 15mph is about the cross-wind limit for an AX3 but if it comes in the form of a gust just as you are about to touch down at slow speed with the throttle closed, could this explain what happened? Or is it just a coincidence? I suppose it’s something I’ll never know.

May 7, 2011

Very bad news

Bad news today. Very bad news. I don’t feel up to writing about it just now. Maybe tomorrow 🙁

May 2, 2011

Chalk and Cheese

That’s the difference comparing this long 4-day week-end with the last one just a week ago – for microlight flying anyway. Last week-end I managed to fly all four days – this week-end, none. The reason? Yes, you’ve guessed it, the old enemy – high winds 🙁

With high pressure sitting over Scandinavia and with lows over northern France and out to the south-west of the UK, we’ve been on the receiving end of some very nasty, strong, cold north-easterly winds. We’ve had lovely clear blue skies but with winds that you wouldn’t believe – day after day. They started to pick up on Thursday and for the last four days we’ve had continuous day-time winds of not less than 15-20 mph with gusts as high as 40 mph. And today seems worse than the previous three. Those wind speeds are way above the safe limits for microlight flying so MYRO has spent the whole of this long week-end tied down at Linton. I went down yesterday to do a little bit of tidying up work in advance of the move over to Stoke but I couldn’t do everything I wanted to because the gusts were too strong to even think about removing the wing covers, that were being billowed out by the continuous force of the wind. In fact it wasn’t much fun working outside on the airfield in it at all.

But having said that, I did manage to get some flying in over this week-end after all 😉 The annual Microlight Trade Fair and Fly-In was being held at Popham (near Basingstoke) on Saturday and Sunday. Usually hundreds of microlights fly there every year and many camp over for the two days. Well, that didn’t happen this year because of the high winds but quite a few of the more robust pilots did make the trip. We flew in as well – but not in a microlight though. Instead Ken, Peter and I flew over from Biggin Hill with Tom in his retractable gear Piper Arrow 200. It was a lot of fun – and the first time that I’d been in a Piper Cherokee since I flew G-KATS, a Cherokee 140, back to Biggin Hill from Le Touquet in 1984 – 27 years ago! Here are a couple of pics I took – the first is as we climbed out of Biggin and the second is as we flew over Epsom racecourse heading for Popham.

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Popham was a bit disappointing – I went two years ago but not last year when I was told it was hit very hard by the recession. It was similar this year, and what with the high winds as well, visitor numbers were again well down. It was a great shame because if events like this don’t get support, they will of course, die away. Part of the reason though is because of the way in which the UK microlight market is subjected to extreme over-control and restriction which means that fewer and fewer new models are being introduced. This compares to the myriads of new ones with innovative technical ideas also, in France, for example, where there are none of the ridiculous controls that we have over here. So typically British don’t you think – make sure you introduce as many laws, rules and restrictions as possible to keep the ruddy plebs down and under tight control…. 😡

The highlight of the day for me came when I was offered the front right-hand seat for the return journey and was able to fly Papa Romeo most of the way back to Biggin. It was great to be back doing it and I’m so grateful to Tom for handing the controls over to me. It soon came back and I was feeling pretty comfortable after a few minutes. It was a brilliant feeling to be back flying a Group A after all those years and I just wish I could afford to continue doing it (not that I’d now give up flying microlights, of course, even if I could …) 😕

I’ve just got myself another Canon camcorder off Ebay. I decided that much as I love my present one, it isn’t ideal for the kind of use I’m putting it to. It’s a Canon model MVX450 that uses MiniDV tapes. The recording quality is very good but it’s a bit heavy to mount on MYRO’s panel with the suction mount I use and also I think it’s also not the best type of camcorder for me because of the amount of vibration it’s subjected to in MYRO. So I’ve gone for a solid-state Canon – the FS19 that has a 5 hour internal flash memory store and can also record directly onto SD or SDHC memory cards. It also only weighs 225 grams compared to about 400 grams for my current model once you put a tape in. I’m told that the quality of the output of these solid state models has leaped dramatically in the last couple of years or so and the material I’ve seen on YouTube etc seems to support this. I can’t wait now to get my hands on it and give it a go!

Well, as I type this it’s Monday afternoon, the sky is clear and blue but the wind is still blowing a hooley. So the Bank Holiday is finished in microlighting terms after really hardly getting started, but there have been compensations. After finishing at Biggin on Saturday, the four of us went off for something to eat. After a few Millers and a half-rack of ribs I think I’d probably have been over-weight to fly MYRO but it was a great way to finish a boys’ day out 😉