Getting my new X-Air from Brittany down to Plazac was always going to be quite a project and Wim and I made the plans for it together. Wim put together a handy check-list so we wouldn’t forget anything important and on Monday I picked up Regis’s trailer and dropped it over at Wim’s so I could concentrate on getting all my tow-bar electrical connections working properly. When I’d finished only the left-hand flasher connection was still not working and I think this was down to a faulty circuit in the ‘buzzer’ unit that came with it. I’d ordered a trailer lighting board but as usual, the French supplier was hopeless and as it hadn’t shown up by Wednesday (and still hasn’t at the time of writing this post), Wim and I set to to cobbling one together from the lights on the back panel of his old trailer, an old length of 7-core cable that he luckily had and a trailer plug that I had the foresight to pick up from the local supermarket ‘just in case’.
We also had another stroke of luck. Regis’s trailer didn’t have a spare wheel, which we thought would be inviting disaster on such a long journey, and one of the tyres had sidewalls with a few cracks in as well. So Wim and I decided that we’d get another wheel and tyre at the nearest scrap-yard which is some way away at Terrasson. When we set out, Wim suggested that despite my cynicism, perhaps we ought to first try the two local small garages at Rouffignac. The first couldn’t help, but I managed to buy a replacement fuse for my rear and number plate lights that had fallen victim while we were getting the trailer light board working. However, I was gob-smacked when the mechanic at the second garage we went to took one look at the trailer wheel we’d taken with us, went out to the back and returned straight away with an identical wheel and tyre! When you think that the trailer had been made from old car bits that were probably twenty or thirty years old, this was some achievement, and I was even more surprised when he sold it to us for the princely sum of 10€ 🙂
My other problem, as usual, was Toddie. Because this would be a two-day trip, I couldn’t just leave him behind and if I’d had to bring him with us, this would have resulted in the space available inside my car being halved. But the problem was solved by Sophie, Wim’s wife, very kindly offering to look after him at their place for two nights. The extra night was necessary because we planned to leave for Brittany while it was still dark early the following morning and if Toddie was already there, this would make for the minimum of disruption and disturbance.
We needed to take a complete extending aluminium ladder and a smaller aluminium one that Wim had with us, the former to mount the wing tubes on, on the car roof for the return journey and the latter to place the X-Air’s main wheels on on the trailer. The track of the X-Air’s main undercarriage wheels is 1.60 metres and as the trailer is narrower than that, by placing the ladder across it we could safely mount the X-Air on it with each wheel in a gap between the rungs at each end of the ladder. The arrangement worked very well in practice because we could securely tie the ladder to the trailer and the aircraft to the ladder making the whole thing very safe and stable. Wim secured the ladders to the trailer the night before and so it was we left his place at Fleurac in the pitch dark at 6.30am on Thursday morning. Here’s a pic of our planned route.
Our route took us north via Perigueux, Brantome, Angouleme, Niort and Nantes up to Bertrand’s house in St Ave, a small town just outside Vannes, a total distance of 520 kms. Unlike the UK, there is no speed restriction on two-wheeled trailers in France, so we were able to make pretty good time, arriving at Bertrand’s at around 2.30pm. However, we knew that this would not be the case the following day so we knew we had to press on, get the aircraft and everything else loaded and get an early night ready for another early start the following morning. Bertrand had originally told me that he expected that I’d need two trips to get everything back but Wim and I were determined to try to get everything done and dusted in one. I didn’t know beforehand exactly what there was to bring back but it turned out that the X-Air was to come with a complete spare set of wings including covers, battens and ailerons together with various items such as a spare set of front forks and pair of main gear springs, not to mention the doors that had not been fitted. As the wings had been totally disassembled and the propeller, rudder and elevators removed, there was plenty to be fitted in and on the car for the journey back, and not only that but it also all had to be carefully stowed so nothing could rub together causing damage while in transit.
Bertrand and his wife Pascale had very kindly offered to put Wim and me up for the night and to entertain us to dinner that evening, so as we were coming to the end of the loading, they both went off to get the meal ready. By that time it was around 6.00pm or possibly a bit later and when we’d finished getting everything loaded, Wim and I were both horrified to see that because we’d loaded the X-Air a long way forward on the trailer, the front of the trailer tow-bar was only a couple of centimetres above the road surface! We couldn’t possibly leave it like that, of course, so we had to untie everything on the trailer and move the aircraft further back. This involved us each taking an end of the small ladder, lifting it and the X-Air up and moving the ladder back behind the trailer’s wheels. We succeeded in doing it and after replacing and securing everything else that had to go on the trailer, the trailer hitch was raised high enough for the journey. In fact I still wasn’t very keen because I knew that in England, our whole arrangement would have been stopped if it had caught the attention of the police and I suggested that perhaps we should make the return journey under cover of darkness, leaving that same evening. Wim wisely advised against this because both of us were pretty tired after the day’s exertions and he said that in any case, this was France and nobody would bat an eye-lid anyway. In fact he was absolutely right. In the whole journey of over 1000 kms there and back, we only saw ten CRS police vans that were in a convoy on some sort of exercise and obviously would have had no interest in us, and a small blue police car that zipped past us with a flashing roof light on the way to an incident somewhere. How different this was to England where you can hardly drive for a mile without there being wall-to-wall traffic police in marked and unmarked cars and all manner of other surveillance devices such as lasers and speed cameras. But that’s another story.
Bertrand and Pascale are moving house and Bertrand had suggested leaving the car and trailer at their new property a few kilometres away from their current home where they would be safer. We decided that as where they currently live is closer to the main road, we’d park them right outside for a quicker departure and take the risk, which we thought would be non-existent as St Ave is hardly Brixton or Central Manchester! Wim and I had a most enjoyable dinner with Pascale and Bertrand and turned in by about 9.45pm. Both of us slept pretty soundly but although I soon went back to sleep afterwards, I was awoken at 4.00am when the boulangerie next door started pounding the dough for the morning’s supply of loaves! We were up at 7.00am and breakfasting in advance of our departure when Bertrand joined us and shortly afterwards saw us off, before returning to his bed! It seemed that our leaving coincided exactly with the St Ave morning rush-hour but pretty soon we were on the main road from Vannes to Nantes heading south. French main roads are almost without exception beautifully smooth and we had hardly any problems as a result of the low height of the trailer tow-bar. This was the case for the whole journey and it only bumped the road surface on a tiny number of occasions, at a few rural railway level crossings and on speed bumps in some of the larger villages and towns. We pulled up shortly after it became light to see how things were doing and whether any ropes or ties had become loose and here are some shots I took at the time.
The last shot gives a pretty good impression of just how large the whole package of car, trailer and aircraft actually was and although we caught the eye of a few people on motorway bridges and of pedestrians and small boys in the towns and villages we passed through, it was surprising how on the whole we didn’t seem to attract too much attention. More to the point was that for reasons of safety, I had decided to restrict our speed to a maximum of 50 mph (80 kph). So we had another long day in prospect and after checking that everything was secure and nothing at all had shifted on the trailer, we therefore pressed on. From around Niort, Wim knows the road pretty well and whereas previously we had been referring to the satnav, from there we switched it off and I followed Wim’s directions. It worked out pretty well because much of the route we passed over had been recently re-surfaced and was therefore very smooth. Apart from making a few stops for drinks and comfort breaks, we decided not to stop to eat and to press on instead. The trip up to St Ave had been punctuated by rain and even the odd thunderstorm. We had been fortunate that apart from the odd light shower, the rain had held off while we had loaded up the car and trailer. Rain had also been forecast for our return journey, but in aviation met parlance, we were lucky to actually find ourselves in the relative high between two lows. This resulted in an almost cloudless blue sky to start off with only a few clouds beginning to build up as we drove south, which was really good news for us.
We hit the after-lunch rush-hour at Angouleme just as people were returning to their places of work but this didn’t delay us by very much, and we hit Perigueux, the only other place where our journey could have been similarly affected, well before knocking-off time. And so it was that we arrived at Plazac in fine, dry weather shortly after 4.00 pm. Nothing had gone amiss and everything had run smoothly during the whole journey and I thought that we had been very lucky that this was the case. I said to Wim that the idea of something like suspension failure on the trailer 500 kms from home didn’t bear thinking about and he agreed. But no matter, it hadn’t happened and we’d arrived home safe and sound with the X-Air and now it was time to unload before getting ourselves over to Wim’s where Sophie would have a meal waiting for us.
And so the day came to an end. After a most enjoyable dinner with Sophie and Wim, I returned home with Toddie and we were both in our beds by 11.00pm. Rain had been forecast for this morning but in fact I awoke to a beautiful bright but chilly Dordogne morning, and here are a couple of pics I took of the X-Air in its (temporary) new home.
It was quite a project, indeed an adventure, getting the X-Air here and it’s an enormous relief seeing it in my back garden at last. It was a demanding task that would hardly have been possible at all without the help of Sophie and Wim. I count myself as incredibly fortunate to have such lovely friends here in Plazac and just saying ‘Thank You’ hardly seems like enough.