March 30, 2013

Another wasted day

More or less. We had rain last night and cloudy skies with drizzle this morning. The forecast was that the sky would clear during the day warming up to about 16 degrees Celsius this afternoon. Well it’s done that alright – but work outside is impossible because of the strength of the northerly winds that are now battering us! I’ve battened down the hatches but even so with some of the gusts we’re getting, of around 50-60mph I would estimate, there’s a pretty good chance that the lightweight tarp I’ve used to cover the X-Air’s tail could well end up getting ripped from the way it’s been blowing around. I’ve been passing the time designing a T-hangar for when I eventually get to Galinat, but my time would be better spent getting the aircraft ready to fly, I think.

This is annoying and so frustrating because there’s nothing I can do about it. Yet again, after making a start on the X-Air, work has ground to a halt for several days. I was just about to get the panel out before the bad weather returned, and that was three days ago, since when it’s been impossible to take the covers off again. There’s a possibility that there might be a window tomorrow but I’ll have to wait and see. And as for when I’ll be able to get out to Castillones to see about getting my French licence, well that’s a matter of pure speculation at the moment πŸ™

There’s one small consolation. I think that if I’d put up the temporary shelter to work on the X-Air in, these winds would definitely have blown it down. And the wood that I bought to make it with a few weeks ago that’s safely stored in my cave will be just right to use as the frame for the T-hangar when the time comes. Whenever that may be… 😐

March 27, 2013

Pressing on

I don’t want to sound as though I’m crowing, so I think I ought to start by expressing sympathy for everyone in the UK who’s having such a hard time with the appalling weather that has hit many areas and caused such widespread disruption. It won’t make them feel any better when I say that although the morning here started off clear and chilly, I’ve been working outside today in jeans and tee-shirt and it’s been glorious. I checked my car temperature gauge and it showed 20 degrees Celsius and although I don’t think it was quite that high because the car was standing in the sun, I doubt that it was very far off. And also there was no wind, so it meant that things that you put down weren’t getting blown around either.

So as a result, I was able to make a bit of progress on the X-Air. I started by fitting the new elevator trim cables. The job went very smoothly and it was soon done. When I connected Ken and Peter’s X-Air’s trim I tightened down the clamping screws and then, because they were non-standard and seemed a little bit dodgy, turned the cable ends up and down and clamped them again with two small jubilee clips. Because my screws are fine and clamp the cables perfectly, this time I did a similar thing but just secured the cable ends with two small cable ties to give a nice neat job, as you can see below.

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Then I turned my attention to the main wheels. I wanted to remove the hubs and check the bearings and brake linings and then fit the new brake cables when I replaced them. The bearings and brake linings were OK, although the brake linings will need replacing at some time in the near future as both sides are getting a bit thin. But I had a problem when I came to fitting the new brake cables. Raj Hamsa have supplied them without the little cable end adjusters that attach the cables to the wheel hubs and when I tried to re-use an original, I found that the cable end was firmly stuck inside. I tried to pull it out but there was a danger of damaging it and on inspection, the original cables were nowhere near as bad as I’d first thought and were perfectly serviceable anyway. They looked worse than they actually were because they had never been cut and the excess cable had been wound into tight little coils close to the brake operating levers on both sides and this is what had become corroded. After I’d cut the excess off and sprayed with ACF-50, both sides looked quite OK, as the following pics show.

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So then it was time to start on the job I’ve been looking forward to, the panel. I had to lie on my back across the cabin to get the screws out that attach the panel front to the top, but the X-Air cabin is quite a lot bigger than the AX3’s, so it wasn’t too difficult. When I dropped the front down I found what I’d expected – a bit of a dog’s dinner with wires and cable ties all over the place.

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But things are not as bad as they look. There’s an Icom intercom/interface in the centre of the panel that used a big, heavy separate battery on the cabin floor behind the panel as a power supply. My radio and headsets aren’t compatible with it and even if I use my headsets without the radio, they each have two long-life AA batteries on board which last for months and make the current X-Air arrangement look a complete joke. So it was great to pull the battery out and when I’ve also removed the intercom and its cables, the panel wiring won’t look half as bad as it does now. But I’ll be changing it anyway and the finished article will look much better I’m sure.

So that was it for today. I covered the aircraft up again a short while ago and it was still quite warm outside. I can’t see me getting anything done tomorrow as I’m helping Wim out and then going off to the doctor in Rouffignac later on to sort out my French medical paperwork. The weather forecast is for rain on Friday and Saturday but as we now know, forecasts here are not that reliable. So I’m keeping my fingers crossed and hoping for fine weather so I can carry on and get the panel finished, which will mean that the X-Air will be almost ready to go.

March 26, 2013

C’est fini!

Yup, I’ve now finished the work on my fireplace. Having applied the glossy coating onto the tiles a few days ago, this morning I thought I might as well finish off the job completely. So I nipped down to Les Briconautes just before they closed and picked up a can of ‘Lait de brillance’. This is a final coating that you apply to seal in and maintain the gloss and according to the can, the less you dilute it, the deeper the gloss is when it dries. I decided not to make it too strong as the new tiles would then look totally out of place with the originals, which are ‘aged’, with a shine but without having a ‘just polished’ look to them.

And I’m very pleased with the final results. Things haven’t turned out perfectly, but how often is that the case, and there are a couple of things that I’d have done differently if I’d known then what I know now. For example, the plain red hand-made tiles that I’ve used on the wood-burner platform had surfaces with ‘open pores’ on them that attracted adhesive and grout and proved to be almost impossible to get clean again. So as a result, quite a few of them have a greyish patina. I’d hoped that the cleaner that I’d bought would have done the trick, but it didn’t and that was what I meant when I said previously that it didn’t seem to have done very much after I’d used it 😐 However, I don’t think that this is a serious problem as in a way it adds to their ‘aged’ look and I’m sure that as time passes and everything becomes more used, it will become less and less noticeable. Anyway, here are some final pics of the finished job.

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So it’s job done. It’s not the end, but it is the end of the beginning. As the tiles are now sealed, I don’t need to worry about rain dripping down the chimney and can start to plan the opening up of the flue and the installation of my new wood-burner which has been standing in my kitchen since the beginning of this year. But that can wait for a little while. Starting tomorrow, I can now turn my attention back to the X-Air so I can get it back together and ready to fly again. I have an appointment with my new French doctor in Rouffignac on Thursday afternoon to arrange for my ‘Certificat d’apptitude a la pratique d’ULM’. This is a medical sign-off that I need in order to fly a French microlight. It’s similar to the UK medical declaration but whereas in the UK there’s the usual burdensome overkill of having to complete a complicated ‘official’ form and have it signed (at your cost) and stamped every year when you’re my age by your GP, here in France it consists just of a single letter from my French doctor which will last me for life. One of the many cost-saving advantages of flying microlights in France compared to the UK. How refreshing. I could begin to enjoy this πŸ˜€

March 20, 2013

Carrelage du sol

Or, in other words, my new tiles that I laid when I did the work on my fireplace. Which is still unfinished, of course, so what better way to spend the time while I can’t work outside on the X-Air instead of just hanging around wasting it. I don’t know how things are done in the UK because I’ve never had floor tiles quite like these before, but the French way of doing things is to let the new tiles dry out, which I’ve done, clean them up removing any splashes of mortar or adhesive and then apply a coating to provide protection and a good shine. And the more of the coating you apply, within reason, the deeper the gloss becomes.

There are various products available to assist you in this – to remove cement and mortar, to remove old polish or old damaged coatings, various types of coating depending on the tile material and finally, various products for ‘entretien’, or maintaining and looking after your tiles once you’ve done all that’s required. All I want to do for now is clean the surfaces of the tiles I’ve used on the floor and fireplace platform and then give them a couple of coats of sealer to provide the protection they need and make them shine. It was cold and showery again yesterday so I thought it was a good time to browse the shelves at Les Briconautes to see if I could find what I needed. As it happened, I didn’t need to browse for long because shortly after arriving, I asked a young lady assistant if she could help and she and one of her colleagues took me right to the shelf that I wanted.

I bought two items, some cleaner (dΓ©capant) and some coating, from the quite large selection of products that were available. I hope they are the right ones but only time will tell when I come to use them. And here they are.

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I don’t know what the cleaner contains, but you can see from the information on its container that it is quite corrosive so hopefully it will be effective. The coating is described as ‘longue durΓ©e’ (long lasting) and after cleaning the tiles off, my intention is to apply a couple of coats in the hope that the new floor tiles will then be very similar to the existing ones. Although it’ll mean missing a day working outside, I need a couple of dry days to do the work so I know that I won’t get any rainwater dripping down the chimney and with a bit of luck, I’m hoping to do the cleaning this afternoon and the coating tomorrow. Then I’ll finally be able to get my wood-burner installed. I can’t wait, it’s been a long time…

March 18, 2013

It’s still the weather!

I’m nearly pulling my hair out here. We’ve had a nasty chilly, wet morning so I’ve been stuck indoors yet again. There’s hardly been a day since I’ve had it that the X-Air hasn’t been rained on and I’m getting totally fed up. Good grief, we’re nearly a quarter of the way through the year already and all we’ve had is rain, rain and more rain. Except when it was snowing, of course. I know that it’s been worse in the UK and the forecast is that they will have cold weather, and possibly even more snow, there right through to the end of the month. But this is south-west France for goodness sake, not the UK. I know it’s only a few hundred miles further south than my old home, but one of the reasons for coming here was to enjoy some better weather and I feel that I’m still waiting for it to happen! The forecast is that we could be up to 21 degrees Celsius by the end of the week but in the meantime we’ve got to look forward to… yes, more rain. Through the rest of today, although it’s dry and bright outside for the moment, and also through tomorrow and Wednesday. So I won’t be able to do much, if anything, outside for at least another couple of days or so, and I don’t really want to start on anything much indoors because everything that needs doing is fairly major – like the kitchen or bedrooms.

This is very, very frustrating 😐

March 17, 2013

Weather – another weekend written off

I’ve been struggling with Windows 7 on my PC since before I moved to France, but that’s another story. I decided that I’d had enough on Friday evening and began the move back to Windows XP, and by the time I’d finished doing that yesterday morning and then made a trip to the supermarket, it was too late to start doing anything on the X-Air before the final matches of the 2013 Six Nations Rugby kicked off in the afternoon. And quite honestly, although my car temperature gauge showed 10.5 degrees Celsius on my return from the shop, it still felt ruddy cold outside in the wind.

Well done to Wales who annihilated England, who feebly surrendered their quest for a Grand Slam almost without a fight, like a bunch of pussies. If they had played the way they did today all the way through the tournament, they would have won the Wooden Spoon, not France. They played like a bunch of junior school-boys, just chucking the ball back to get rid of it when there was nobody there to receive it and all manner of pathetic mistakes like that. I’ve seen school rugby teams play better and if we had made the kind of elementary mistakes they were making, we would have been on the receiving end of a massive blast from my old school First XV coach. There’s no shame in being beaten by a superior team after a good fight but to surrender so meekly was inexcusable in my view.

But enough of that. My plan today was to get back outside and at least fit the new elevator trim and brake cables to the X-Air, but the weather looks to have thwarted that idea. It’s cold and drizzly outside, just as the forecast said it would be, so it looks as though I’ll be staying indoors and finishing of the re-configuring of my PC. I could consider getting togged up and rotavating in the old vegetable beds on my front lawn, but there are several daffodils and michaelmas daises in that area and I don’t have the heart to dig em all up πŸ˜‰

March 15, 2013

Work starts at last on the X-Air

These last few days we’ve had some rather chilly weather, not as cold as in the UK but cold enough in the wind not to want to be working outside. So I’ve busied myself putting up a coat hanger on the loo wall, a new light in the kitchen, stuff like that. But today, although there was still a little bit of a chilly breeze outside, I decided that I really must get going on the X-Air.

I replaced the front wheel bearings a few days ago but didn’t re-fit the wheel at the time because the Loctite needed to cure, so that was the first job. Then I got started on fitting the tail. It was pretty straightforward because the X-Air is more or less the AX3’s big brother so goes together pretty much the same. I had thought about replacing any corroded nuts and bolts but haven’t been able to do an inspection because of the weather to find out what I need to order. But luckily I haven’t found any that are that bad so far, so maybe I’ll either put the aircraft back together and then go back and replace just the worst ones or even leave it to next year. I’ve got plenty on my hands just now and don’t really need the work.

The tail went back on pretty smoothly as Bertrand had left all the fixing bolts and pins in situ as I’d asked, so it was easy to see what was what. There was however, one thin curved batten taped to the horizontal stabiliser struts which for the life of me I can’t fathom for the time being, so I just put that to one side for now. Here are some pics I took at the end of the job around 5.25pm, when it was just beginning to get quite cold outside.

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I didn’t find anything major needing attention while I was doing the job and everything went together pretty well actually. I reconnected the rudder and elevator controls but didn’t connect the elevator trim cables as they are a bit rusty and I have replacements for them. So tomorrow I should be able to get into the cabin and fit those and also the replacement brake cables that I already have. And when I fit those, I’ll also be able to inspect the brake shoes and check and lubricate the main wheel bearings. Then it will be time to start on the new panel, which I’m really looking forward to.

The wind will be southerly tomorrow with a maximum temperature of around 14 degrees Celsius, so it will be a bit more pleasant than today. Hopefully in that case I should be able to get a good bit done πŸ˜‰

March 7, 2013

la famille Stupide

Yes, I think ‘Monsieur et Madame Stupide’ must have lived in my house before me and I’ll explain why later. First, a little background information. My front lawn isn’t really a lawn in the proper sense of the word. It’s more of a slightly tamed wild grass area and when I take Toddie for a walk on the open field opposite, the grass on there is probably of better quality than what’s on my lawn. But I’m not too worried for the time being. Making it into a neatly manicured and tended ‘lawn’ in the style of Wimbledon isn’t much of a priority for me at the moment and probably isn’t on anyway if last Summer is anything to go by. A few weeks of drought and it would be reduced to a dry dust-bowl the way it was then.

But that’s not to say that at some time I wouldn’t like to make some real improvements over what’s there at present. Apart from the poor quality of the grass, there are several things I’d like to deal with. There are lots of little trees that have been allowed to root themselves in the grass and if it’s not cut regularly, they sprout upwards and can become quite sharp underfoot if you tread on them in bare feet or flip-flops, so I’d like to get rid of them. Also, someone in the past laid down an area to vegetable beds, and although these are now long-gone, they are still apparent as an area of waves in the lawn that take up almost a quarter of the surface. So I’d like to flatten those as well. And the final thing that’s been nagging me is a hump which is sandy with bits of plastic sheeting coming out of it. Because of the sand, I thought that someone had dumped one of those large ‘builders’ bags’ with some sand in, there to dispose of it and the plastic was the bag beginning to be uncovered. As it happens, I was wrong, as I’ll explain later.

I had in my mind to deal with the old vegetable beds this Spring if I could, not because it’s urgent but because it would be nice to do so if the means came up. And by ‘means’, I mean a cheap rotavator, or ‘motobineuse’ in French. I’ve been keeping my eye on the small ads for a few days and last night a really good one came up, not some own-name made-in-China model of which there are always a few, but a Honda F300. And for only 100€, much less than a quarter of what you’d pay for an equivalent good quality new model. The other, slightly newer, F300 that I’d seen previously was 400€ ‘prix a debattre’ (price negotiable), and as I’ve learnt my lesson about umming and arring as ‘bargains’ are always snapped up before you know it, I phoned straight away and agreed to buy it. And it was only about thirty or so miles away for once, too, which made a nice change πŸ™‚

So this morning Toddie and I headed off with my trailer for the village of Cressensac in the Lot for a meeting with Maurice, the motobineuse seller, at 10.00am. Despite there being a ‘route barree’ (road closed) in one of the villages that we came to, my trusty Satnav once more took me straight there, and a quick mobile phone call had us outside Maurice’s house just after the appointed hour. Now Maurice is an elderly retired gentleman, older than me but a wily old bird for all that. He showed me the machine and demonstrated it to me and when I was hooked, told me that there was ‘une probleme’. After me, he’d received dozens of phone calls and someone had offered him 130€, so he couldn’t let it go for the 100€ that he’d advertised it for. This was no time to be quoting the Law of Contract and all that stuff. At 100€, the motobineuse was a snip and at 120€, which I agreed to pay and he ‘reluctantly’ accepted, it was still a bargain. Take a look for yourself. When I’m finished with it, cleaned up, which he hadn’t done, I’m sure I’ll get at least 150€, and probably even more, for it πŸ˜€

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So we loaded the machine onto my trailer and after declining ‘une tasse de cafe’, which Maurice graciously offered me, Toddie and I headed for home. The drive was glorious and as the Satnav was taking us direct cross-country (this still amazes me – it would be impossible with just a map), we passed through some of the most beautiful French villages and scenery imaginable. We got home in time for lunch and after one of my famous salads, which I’m back on again now the weather is warmer, I was wondering what to do with myself. It was too late to do anything on the X-Air so I had the idea of using my new motobineuse to dig the sandy hump out and find what was under there. What I found amazed me! Someone, probably M. Stupide, had dumped a tarpaulin containing sand in a dip in the lawn and then buried it to conceal it! The tarpaulin covered a circular area about 3 metres in diameter and was several inches under the surface, apart from where it was beginning to break through and getting it out was no mean job. Take a look for yourself.

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To say I was gobsmacked is an understatement! I can think of no reason why anyone would do such a thing, as taking it to the tip would have required far less effort, I’d have thought. But anyway, after judicious use of the new machine involving keep having to stop in order to unwrap plastic and string from the blades, pulling out the tarpaulin, shovelling the sand-earth mixture and levelling it a bit, I eventually got the lawn surface back into some kind of shape.

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Ideally, it could now do with treating with weed-killer and a bit of grass seed, so I’ll see what I can do. I was amazed at the amount of rubbish I removed from the ground, as the final pic shows.

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But anyway, thank you M. et Mme. Stupide because I needed the exercise and it was nice working outside as well. It was so warm that I had my top off but I think I managed to avoid ‘navvies bum cheeks’ on this occasion. I’ve put the motobineuse under cover in the shelter at the end of my house and if the weather holds up, maybe tomorrow I’ll get some work done on the X-Air. Sadly, light showers are forecast for most of the day, but then again they were also for today, and it was glorious. So fingers crossed πŸ˜‰

March 5, 2013

Not so good

So far this week, although we’ve had nice temperatures around 15 degrees C, unfortunately we’ve had some very strong, gusting winds to go with them. It’s a strange combination after the recent cold weather – the wind which was previously coming at us from the north and had a chill edge to it, is now blasting at us from the south-east and is quite warm. I don’t know who’s the more surprised, Toddie or me πŸ˜•

But anyway, it hasn’t been comfortable working outside because of the strong gusts, so I decided to batten down the hatches and stay indoors for a day or two until they’ve passed. The gusts have been forecast to be as high as 117 kmh (70+ mph) today, so we’re not talking about a light breeze here, and could still be more than 60 kmh (40 mph) tomorrow. Although they are forecast to become fewer and farther between, it doesn’t look as though things will be getting back towards normal much before the week-end, so I doubt I’ll be getting an awful lot done on the X-Air until then. The best laid plans… 😑

March 2, 2013

X-Air Start Up

I didn’t really get as much done yesterday as I wanted to, but as I’m retired, nowadays I don’t have to worry too much about that sort of thing πŸ™‚ The main reason was that I really needed to get a hair-cut but when I first popped my nose through the barber-shop door, there was a bit of a queue. So I went off and did a bit of shopping and came back again at about 11.55am. Sacre bleu! This is France, monsieur. The barber stops for lunch from mid-day to 1.30pm, so how could he possibly start doing a hair-cut at that time of the day πŸ˜€

So I had to go back again after my own lunch, which meant that after I’d got home again and removed the X-Air’s covers, there was only time for me to attach the prop and run the engine for a bit to blow the cob-webs out, warm it up and get rid of any moisture hanging around in the crankcase. Considering that it still has the fuel that the previous owner put in the tanks in the Summer and I haven’t even taken the plugs out, I was pleased to find that it started really easily and sounded great. Nothing nasty like a big mag drop or anything like that and although one cylinder did drop a little bit more than the other, I’m told this is fairly usual on Rotax 582s. When I’d finished, a young member of my neighbour, Jean-Claude’s family who has a quad bike and was attracted by the sound of the engine, came over to take a look and find out a bit about ULMs. If you click on the pic below, you can see the short video that I shot and put into the Video Gallery.

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While I was at it, I also put the little video I made showing Wim’s Weedhopper in the gallery and also one I made when I first came to Le Bousquet showing Jean-Claude mowing my long grass with his tractor.