Fingers crossed! I’ve now been here in Plazac for exactly two months and as anyone can soon see from reading My Trike over that period, I’ve had a lot of ups and downs of all sorts in that comparatively short time. But despite them all, I’ve never regretted coming here for a moment. I always said that I thought I’d enjoy a much better quality of life in my retirement here than I would have done in the UK and already I’m pretty sure that that will be the case. I love the area, the climate, the people here and my house and although from time to time, I do miss having company at the moment (besides Toddie that is), I have plenty to keep me occupied. And who knows what might happen on that score, anyway, as you never know what might be round the next corner, do you.
But the other big reason for coming was to spend as much of my time as I could flying my microlight in the freedom of France compared to the highly regulated and controlled environment of the UK and this took a real knock, of course, when I lost MYRO. But I always said that I would only ever see this as putting my microlighting ambitions back a bit and not as an end to my hopes and plans, and I’m excited to say that this is how it is now turning out, far sooner than I might ever have dared hope for 😀
A couple of things have happened that have made the unexpected possible. Firstly, I received the insurance payout for MYRO. The loss adjuster acting on behalf of the insurer was a pleasure to deal with, if it’s possible to say such a thing under the circumstances, and once all the formalities had been completed, I was pleasantly surprised to see the agreed amount already in my bank account when I logged on one morning quite a bit sooner, I have to say, than I originally expected. So it’s thanks to him and thanks to my insurer for making what could have been a stressful and depressing process as painless and quick as possible.
The other thing was that I completed the sale of my business, which I’d had on the market since before leaving England and had been involved in negotiations for, for several weeks beforehand. So it was with a sense of pleasure and anticipation that I was able to start scanning the ‘microlights for sale’ ads safe in the knowledge that if I did find one that was suitable, I could enter into meaningful discussions with the seller. The only problem was that because of the ridiculously high prices that second-hand machines are being put on the market at in France (see my earlier posting entitled ‘My Table and Chairs’ which refers to this problem), I was probably going to have to search the UK market for what I wanted.
This meant that I wouldn’t be able to inspect possible purchases myself, not immediately anyway, as with everything that I still had, and still have, to do in connection with my residency here, there was no way that I could just drop everything and head back to the UK. I got round this by contacting a few trusted friends who agreed to take a look at anything that I was interested in on my behalf and reporting back to me on what they’d found. I am indebted to Peter, Ken’s brother who is now flying the X-Air which Ken and I found in Lancashire some two or three years ago and which we worked together on to get it through its permit while it was at Linton, and which I’ve also talked about and posted pictures of on several occasions here on My Trike. I’m also indebted to Rick Goddin who, although we’ve still never met in the flesh, offered not only to fly some distance, if necessary, in his Sky Ranger to view any aircraft I might be interested in, but also to repeat the process with me on board if I then came over with the thought of buying it. Many thanks indeed to these two gentlemen to whom I owe a large debt of gratitude.
I have to say at the outset, that much as I’d like to have one, my budget precluded my going for a 4-stroke engined aircraft. 4-strokes have a reputation for being more reliable than 2-strokes, burning less fuel and having more power for a given weight. On the down-side however, they are much more expensive when new, and therefore push up the prices of 4-stroke second hand aircraft, and are also more complex and costly to maintain. So that meant I would probably have to look for an aircraft with a 582 Rotax 2-stroke engine, the big brother of the 503 that MYRO had.
I spotted a very nice Thruster on the AFORS (Aircraft For Sale) web site that had been upgraded to a 582 Sprint and that fell nicely into my budget. However, the asking price was a snip and when I phoned, the seller had already taken a deposit and was putting it through permit for the new owner. This was a shame as far as I was concerned, because it was a comfortable two-seat machine with good performance and with a good, strong undercarriage that would have been ideal for the kinds of runways we have down here. That didn’t leave many other realistic choices as I’d already ruled out a 503 or 582 Rans S6 because of its inherently weak undercarriage that would always make landings a nerve-racking affair. The Rans nose leg has a tendency to collapse when subjected to anything resembling a hard landing, which can be quite a common occurrence down here, and I couldn’t face any more traumas like that 😕
My thinking was similar to when I first decided to bring MYRO down with me to the Dordogne. After the challenge of the long flight down, I don’t need a high performance aircraft for touring once I’m here. Indeed, aircraft such as the CTSW, C42 and Sky Ranger even would find it challenging to operate from most of the many short runways in this part of the Dordogne due to the longer take off and landing distances they require. Also, I will be quite happy to fly slowly and enjoy the scenery, taking photographs and videos, which I enjoy sharing, as I do so. So that made me turn to the trusty X-Air, the newer design, big brother of the AX3, of which there were three on AFORS. I phoned and enquired about all three, and these were my thoughts on each of them.
The first one in Northern Ireland was a 2001 aircraft that was priced competitively at £5900 and had between 450-500 hours on it (the seller was not specific). However, it had been totally overhauled with new skins fitted in 2010 and there had been limited hours added since then, as the seller said he had bought it for someone else who had decided that he didn’t have the money for it after all, so he had to re-sell it! A bit of a strange business, in some ways. And also it was being offered as just the bare aircraft with no add-on mods or accessories.
Next there was a 2000 aircraft with Mylar skins that were fitted in 2010, that was priced at £6999. The airframe and engine had 325 hours on them and although the engine had been regularly maintained, it had never been overhauled. The seller said that the engine was in excellent condition and concentrated on singing the praises of the Mylar skins. However, the official life of a Rotax 582 engine is 300 hours, after which they are running ‘on condition’. This was also the situation when we found Ken and Peter’s X-Air a few years earlier, and much as it sticks in the seller’s throat, it does mean that the price of the aircraft must be significantly marked down as the new owner has to allow for an engine and gearbox overhaul costing £2000 at any time, no matter what the seller’s previous experience of the engine has been. The seller also suggested that this consideration was outweighed by the aircraft having Mylar skins. Now Mylar is not the same as Ultralam, which is what MYRO’s skins were made of. Ultralam is very UV resistant and as a result, skins made from it have very long lives. Indeed, MYRO’s were the original ones from when it was new in 1994, which emphasises this point. However, Mylar is made from the same material as Dacron and so has a similar resistance to UV and this means that Mylar skins will last no longer than Dacron if exposed to similar conditions. That means that the main argument for Mylar has to be one of performance, fuel economy mainly rather than airspeed as the latter is more or less dictated by the design of the aircraft’s wing. On this point the seller was vague and couldn’t quantify what the improvements were compared to a Dacron covered aircraft. I offered a price much lower than the asking price which the seller turned down and I see the aircraft is still on AFORS but at a new ‘final’ reduced price of £6650. I still don’t think he’ll get it, but who knows, but I crossed it off my list in any case.
This finally made me turn to the last aircraft on my list, a lovely X-Air being sold in Kent, not far from where I used to live. And it also turned out that the seller and I had a lot more than that in common. He had done his training with Rosie at Canterbury, the same as I had, and he’d finished it off in the X-Air in question, which he’d finished building in 2004. So in fact, Rosie had flown this actual aircraft. It also turned out that it had received its annual permit inspections from Jim, who used to inspect MYRO when Rosie owned it and although we’d never met, I’d spoken to several times about the original flexwing ‘our trike’ that Ken and I had bought when we first decided to get into microlighting, and when I first started to write the My Trike blog. So it’s a small world!
The X-Air was at Ashford, Kent (and still is at the time of writing) which meant that Peter only had a very short distance to travel to view it for me after my initial conversations with the seller. Here’s a pic of the aircraft in question.
Although it was completed eight years ago in 2004, it still only had 135 engine hours and 120 airframe hours on it, less than a tenth of MYRO’s figures! It had never needed new skins in that time, of course, and had always been hangared meaning that its skins were in excellent condition, as Jim confirmed to me in a phone call. But it was being sold with a new, unused set of outdoor covers in any case, which I found a further attraction, being as the aircraft might have to be left out in the open for a year or so before I am in a position to be able to afford a new hangar. It was also being offered with an ICOM A3 transceiver package fitted that included a pair of headsets, which I also found attractive as my Vertex isn’t officially approved for use in France (or the UK for that matter) while the ICOM is (well, more or less anyway). It also came with a DUC two-bladed prop, which I’m told is a very efficient design, carburettor heaters to prevent icing, which are an extra, and a tail-mounted strobe which is also an extra. All in all I thought this was a great package and after Peter had nipped down to view it for me, the seller and I agreed a price and I paid him a deposit.
This was the easy bit done, and in fact this all happened a few weeks ago. I didn’t want to mention anything, however, until all of the necessary arrangements were in place and the final part of the jig-saw dropped neatly into position this morning when I received an email from the French insurance company that I’d been referred to by my friend Wim. ‘Insurance, what’s the problem?’ you might ask. It’s this. Just as with MYRO, I don’t want to keep the aircraft on the UK register because of all the hassles and on-costs that that would involve, especially if it was operated in France. So it will need to be insured by a French insurer who must be prepared to take it on initially with its UK registration, which will then be changed. I’ve had the same issue with my car, which I also have here and am in the process of transferring to French registration. And today I got the email saying that this is OK, that the change must be made within a month of the aircraft coming to France, which suits me, and detailing the costs involved. The main difference between France and the UK is that French insurers only offer ‘all risks’ cover, like I had on MYRO, on aircraft valued at 10000€ or more, so this excludes the X-Air and I will therefore have to carry the ‘hull damage’ risk myself. But surely lightening can’t strike in the same place again can it? 😯
My plans are to return to the UK to evaluate the aircraft and complete the purchase this coming week. There is a complication insofar as I can’t leave Toddie behind as he’s much to old to be left in kennels, so I have first to return by car to the UK with Toddie (Wednesday 22nd), complete the purchase and probably fly it to Headcorn airport (Thursday 23rd), carry out general handling and familiarisation flights at Headcorn (Friday 24th), depart for France in the X-Air from Headcorn, leaving my car and Toddie at my stepson’s (Saturday 25th), arriving at Galinat airfield in the Dordogne (Sunday 26th), returning to the UK by a Ryanair low cost flight from Limoges (Tuesday 28th) and finally, returning to France by car with Toddie (Thursday 30th).
And that should be that! After all this toing-and-froing, my plans for my retirement in Plazac should hopefully be back on track after all the upsets and disruption that have occurred over the past two months. I hope so anyway, but we’ll have to wait and see. In any case, I’m looking forward very much to the long flight down again and just keeping my fingers crossed that the weather will be kind – and that the vis is better, so this time I actually get to see a bit of France along the way 😀