April 26, 2013

A delicate subject

Yes, today’s subject is the WC, the humble toilet. It’s one that almost every English person coming to France will almost certainly have to address at some time, especially if they buy an old house like I did, so we might as well get it over and done with. Mine was in a hideous shade of pink that didn’t match the rest of the bathroom, which is in white. Whoever had installed it in goodness knows when had managed to crack the foot of the pedestal when they’d tried to tighten the bolts holding it to the floor and had therefore decided to leave it as it was ie loose. And to cap it all, when I first moved in and was giving it a clean before using it, I’d let the cistern lid slide over on the tiled floor, breaking it in two places. I’d saved the day with super glue but it was obvious that the whole toilet would have to be replaced at some time. I’d been hoping to leave it until I ripped out and re-did the whole bathroom, but events took a hand.

The French toilet cistern works differently from what we’re used to in England. The English cistern uses a siphon system whereas the French merely opens up a tube in the bottom of the cistern allowing the water to flow out downwards into the toilet. As it’s a very simple system, it’s fine and dandy until the rubber sealing the tube begins to wear, at which time water flows constantly out of the cistern and into the toilet. This is what mine was doing. I’d managed to stop it for a while by putting in a new rubber but this only worked for a short time before the problem re-started.

So I decided I’d take matters firmly in hand by replacing my old toilet with a swanky new suspended design. Brico Depot have an offer going at the moment so I picked one up a couple of days ago and today I was so peeved with having to keep turning the toilet supply valve off to stop gallons of water being wasted every day that in the end I decided just to do it. I haven’t got a recent pic of what my old toilet looked like, after all, it’s not something that you photograph every day, is it? Anyway, here’s one I took when I originally viewed the house before buying it.

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It doesn’t look like much, but believe me, it was even worse in reality. I had visions of having to smash it out but after removing the aforementioned two bolts that didn’t hold it to the floor, I was able just to lift it out and carry it out into the garden. I did then have to attack the floor around the outlet pipe with a cold chisel, because the new suspended WC needs a vertical inlet no more than 14 centimetres from the wall, whereas the old one’s was over 23 centimetres. This was the only time when I was a bit concerned, because obviously I had no idea what I might find when I got under the floor. Here’s a pic of what I eventually found. Note the hole in the top of the pipe that I guess someone had made by accident, and then filled with a blob of silicone 😐

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I was pleased to find that whoever had fitted it had used a standard 100mm diameter PVC tube and that after breaking my way into the stones of the wall itself there is a joint just beyond the surface of the wall. At that point I nipped down to Les Briconautes and picked up a joint collar and a 90 degree bend together with a small can of PVC pipe jointing adhesive. It was only when I got these home and began to measure things up that I found that in order to get to the 14 cm distance limit that I’d mentioned earlier, I’d have to cut back the pipe in the floor and also the horizontal stub of the new 90 degree bend and also reduce the length of the jointing collar. Having done this it then occurred to me that I’d be better off having just a single 90 degree bend with female joints at both ends so off I went again to Les Briconautes to pick one up (only another 4€) plus a bag of concrete and a small bag of cement to make mortar with when I get to the finishing-off stage.

It was an interesting journey, because it appears that a classic car rally was using the route that I took. Initially, there was just an elderly grey, UK registered Sunbeam Talbot convertible with a strap over its bonnet in front of me, but later when I returned there was a stream of classic Astons, Jag D and E Types, Porsches, Healeys, Ferraris and lots of other types streaming past, together with all the support crews in vans with trailers. I did a quick search but haven’t yet managed to find out any more details.

Back home again, my thoughts about using the single bend were proven right, and in no time at all I had the pipe in the floor cut back and the new bend fitted, as the following picture shows.

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I’d used my angle grinder to make the cut edge of the pipe nice and straight and even though I was cutting plastic, I realised when it was too late that the machine itself was blowing clouds of dust into the air. I dashed to open the window and the kitchen door before it managed to penetrate the whole house again – what a nightmare that was πŸ™ – but some must have. Making the new joint with the special adhesive was a piece of cake and then I was able to drop some of the stone I’d taken out earlier back into the hole and pour in some concrete to fill up the gaps and support the pipe.

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The above pic shows from the footprint of the old toilet pedestal just how much I’ve managed to move the outlet pipe back. I’m just relieved I was able to do so as easily as I did. I’m not quite at the making good stage yet, I still have to finish breaking out the old tiles around the edges of the hole, but it won’t be long before I’ll be able to fit the metal frame to take the new WC. Until then I won’t have a toilet, so I won’t go into what that means in reality. I’ll just leave it to each individual reader’s imagination πŸ˜‰

Foot note to today. It was exactly one year ago today that my UK house sale completed, I finished loading up the 7.5 tonne van with the help of my son and step-son, that I’d hired to bring my stuff down to France and started my journey that night to my new life in France.

April 23, 2013

Back to life

Well, if I was whacked out on Sunday night, by Monday night I was totally knackered! I only managed the two jobs that I’d had planned the day before, too, but they needed a lot more effort than I’d originally bargained for. For starters, I managed to get all of the light wood ear-marked for the ‘decheterie’ onto my trailer in one load but it took me most of the morning because I had to do quite a lot of hand cutting. This was to separate some decent size stuff that was worth keeping to be used to get fires going, from the real waste and by the time I’d finished, I set off in just enough time to get there before the ‘decheterie’ closed its doors at mid-day.

I had my lunch when I got home and then it was time to get cracking on the front grass. First I had to get my ‘debroussailleuse’ out, which I hadn’t used since the early part of last summer, to slash at some long weeds in one of the front corners. In fact I then ended up going around most of the edge of of the grass and eventually outside onto the bank that drops down from my garden to the small ditch at the side of the road. The reason for that was that the tractor had recently been along and trimmed the grass at the edge of the road and by cleaning it all up now, as it’s getting hotter, things will start growing more slowly and the front of my house will hopefully stay looking quite tidy for a while. The machine has a little two-stroke engine and it was a little bit troublesome, needing me to clean the plug a couple of time, but I got the job done. Then it was time for the heavy stuff – cutting the grass itself. It was a good day for it, sunny but not too warm, but the job took me from around 1.30pm until gone 7.00pm to complete, working solidly. And didn’t I know it at the end of it! It was pure luxury to finish, clear up and get under a hot shower, but I still felt the effects this morning though πŸ˜‰

But I think it was worth it. Here’s one of my ‘view’ shots made by stitching together a couple of photographs, that shows the front grass from the house down to the road. After all the effort, I was well pleased with the results anyway.

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And so onto today. I’ve been champing at the bit for a few days because the new panel has been ready to be fitted in the X-Air for a little while. Well, today was the day. It took me much longer than I expected to get it into place and all the screws tightened up, mainly because access to several of the nuts on the back was quite restricted and I wanted to be careful not to do any damage to the front or the rear. Finally, all were tight, the panel was secure and I’d double-checked all of the connections I’d made. So it was time for that magic moment- the first engine start-up. I primed the fuel, set the choke, turned on the master (nice red LED, good) and set the mag switches to ‘on’. Then I turned the starter key and… nothing πŸ™

It’s funny isn’t it, how when something like that happens our first thought is that we must have done something wrong. I’d already removed the starter switch and was about to pull the three connections off, when I thought that everything had tested fine on the bench, so it couldn’t be something I’d done. So I went looking for something else and in a very short time found that the starter solenoid earth was so loose that you could turn the nut with your fingers. That turned out to be the easy bit because of the unconventional way that the previous owners had mounted it, but after disconnecting the battery, removing the solenoid and its mounting and replacing the dodgy connection with a new bolt, it was eventually back in and ready to try again. This time with the master switch ‘on’ the engine kicked when I turned the key, so I’d confirmed that the problem wasn’t down to me, as I’d suspected.

With the starter switch securely refitted in the panel (it needed tightening anyway) this time the engine burst into life and I was relieved to see that all of the engine gauges worked. I knew that the temperature gauge would because as soon as I switched the master on, it gave a reading just because of the heat of the day, but I was relieved to see that the new rev counter was OK and also that the engine hours gauge functioned. I haven’t received the new EGT senders yet from the UK so I have still to confirm that the gauge I’ve transferred from MYRO, which was originally installed from new, is still OK. I seem to recall that one side of the gauge wasn’t working at the time I came to France (it may have been the CHT gauge, though) but I think that was more to do with a broken connection than anything else because I hadn’t strengthened the very thin sender cables and connections in MYRO the way I have done in the X-Air. All will be revealed in the fullness of time, as they say.

I also still have to connect up the fuel pressure gauge. I have the tubing and a ‘T’ piece but as I need to get hold of some small hose clamps, I decided to leave that job until I have them. So how have things turned out? I’m very satisfied with the new panel but people will need to judge for themselves. Here’s how the panel looked originally.

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And now here are a couple of shots of the new panel. The fibreglass used in its construction is much lighter than the old panel, which is good, but it means that it flexes easily and may cause the instruments to vibrate more, which is bad. We’ll have to wait and see.

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I just have to get hold of the small hose clips now to finish connecting up the fuel pressure gauge. But tomorrow I must first do a bit of shopping and later I’m looking forward to dropping in on Victor and Madeleine. Tonight, though, I can go to bed knowing that the X-Air has life flowing through it once again, which is very satisfying πŸ™‚

April 21, 2013

Whacked out!

If you’ll excuse the expression. My first job today was picking up another bottle of gas before the Carrefour in Rouffignac closed and after that I sorted out the X-Air panel wiring. When I checked, I found that I’d wired the other 12V socket, the DIN, in the same way as the cigar lighter socket ie it would only work with the engine/mag switch(es) turned ‘on’, so I changed both, so they will work independently of them, when the master and aux switches are on. The engine hours gauge, though, will still only work when the engine/mag switches are ‘on’, which is definitely how I want it to function.

Then it was time for lunch and after that it was time to get down to the hard stuff, namely collecting all the branches left on my front lawn after Christian had finished his pruning work yesterday. I didn’t just have to get them off the grass, I also had to chop the thin stuff up so I can take it to the ‘decheterie’ tomorrow in my trailer and saw the heavier stuff up that I want to keep so I can burn it in my new ‘poele a bois’ next winter. Well, I did it, and quicker than I thought I would, but now I’m pretty whacked out and ready for a sit down. I can’t watch TV because I haven’t replaced my satellite box yet, so I’m enjoying a second glass of Cabernet Sauvignon while I type this. And I may even have a third, to finish off the current wine box and start the next, and then I’ll start clearing up and thinking of taking a nice hot shower. Tomorrow I really MUST cut my front grass or I’ll be disappearing again into the jungle at the rate it’s growing. So that’s two jobs on the list already for tomorrow. Ah well… c’est la vie en France. And don’t I just love it πŸ˜€

April 20, 2013

Almost there…

I totally finished off all of the wiring on my new X-Air panel today. Yesterday I’d left off the connections to the EGT gauge but on reflection, I decided that this would be unwise. I’ve ordered some new senders from the UK as the ones available over here are 50% or so more expensive. I can have them delivered from the UK for less than the cost of just the senders bought locally before adding carriage. All of the other panel connections are made by flying leads and if I left the EGT sender connections off, it would be difficult to fit them when the time comes without removing the whole panel again, which I obviously don’t want to do 😐

So I decided I should make the EGT sender connections in the same way, using flying leads. I happened to have a short length of light 4-core cable that I bought in Maplins quite a while ago and as the EGT gauge needs two pairs of connections, this was an ideal start. However, the cores are extremely light, which is fine for the tiny currents generated by the EGT sender thermocouples, but I needed to find a way of making connections that would be strong and at the same time resilient enough to employ the usual crimp-on plug-in type connectors. I did it by soldering the connections straight onto the pins on the back of the gauge (easy with my nice new high power soldering iron), strengthening them with rubber shrink-sleeving and then holding that end of the cable solidly in a fixed position by connecting them to the heavier cables of the main bunch with cable ties. I then needed to boost the size of the cables at the other end so they could take the crimp-on connectors and I did this by separating the cables into two pairs, soldering on some heavier cable ends that would take the crimp-on connectors and methodically strengthening the weak cables and the soldered joints with shrink-sleeving as I went to give me the overall strength that I needed. I was very happy with the result which I think will work fine. All I’ll need to do when I have the new senders will be to cut them to length and add crimp-on sockets to make the final connections. Here are a couple of pics that show what I’m talking about.

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I’ve tested the wiring on the bench and it all seems to be fine, except I’ve made one logical slip-up. The hour meter takes power from the starter switch but can only work when the mag switches are ‘on’ ie not earthed, as only then is an earth made for the hour meter. This means that with the mags ‘off’ the hour meter won’t keep running even if the starter switch is inadvertently left in its ‘on’ position. For convenience, because the cables were in close proximity, I’ve connected the hour meter and car cigar lighter sockets to a common earth. However, I hadn’t realised that this means that the power socket will only be live while the engine is running which would not be a disaster as it’s only intended to run a GPS while in flight. However, the DIN socket becomes live when the ‘aux’ switch is turned on independently of any other switch except the master, which is how I intended both power sockets to work, and I think I’ll modify the car cigar lighter socket earth tomorrow so it works in the same way. Best to do it now because if I leave it I’m sure I’ll regret it later πŸ˜‰

April 19, 2013

Timber!

After my electrical ‘incident’ I’ve ordered several new items to replace the ones that were damaged, including a new microwave oven. The new one arrived yesterday, of course, while I was out on soldering iron business so I had to go down to the little post office in Plazac before mid-day when it closes, to pick it up. When I got it home and began to unpack it I immediately found that whereas I’d ordered one in ‘inox’ (stainless steel), the one that had been sent was black. This is getting a bit like wading in treacle. I seem to be beset constantly by the mistakes of others that keep dragging me backwards all the time. Because of the mistake, I then had to contact the internet merchant that I’d bought it through, which was not easy because (a) you have to dial a premium rate number and (b) they then divert you to another premium rate number to maximise the profit that they can make out of you. At the same time they give the second number out very, very quickly and somewhat indistinctly so you have to keep replaying it before you get it right. Clever eh? And really, really annoying. This French thing and customer service (or lack of it) is beginning to get my goat!

After sorting the mess out (I hope) at my expense, of course, as it will take at least 5 days for a replacement to be delivered, I turned my attention back to my X-Air panel. I’d just got going nicely and was close to finishing it off when my phone rang. Christian said he’d be right round to prune my giant lime tree that stands in front of my house. When he came I had to give him a hand, of course, and here’s a pic of the work in progress. Just three final small high branches left to be sawn off at a later date when Christian has his long ladder with him.

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The branches that he took off will make quite a bit of difference as the tree hasn’t been pruned for years and quite a bit of foliage was hanging almost right down to ground level. Last year when I backed up the van containing my belongings that I’d brought over from England before moving in, I had to break off quite a bit of low hanging stuff before I could get close enough to the house and naturally it’s grown some more since then.

Afterwards I did manage to get the new panel finished, after giving Toddie his dinner, of course. What I want to do always has to come last on the list! Here are a couple of shots of the panel back, a bit less distinct than they might have been because of the sun that was by that time streaming through the glass in my back door.

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With a bit of luck, who knows, unless there’s a small local earthquake or some other minor natural disaster over which I have no control, I might even get it fitted in the aircraft some time this week-end. That’s if I’m very very lucky, of course 😐

April 18, 2013

Zapped!

And almost in more ways than one, as I’ll explain in a moment. And not by the sun either. The forecast for today was more or less correct. After yesterday’s glorious 28 degrees Celsius plus we were told to expect 18 degrees today. And they weren’t far off because the temperature rose to a comfortable 19 or 20 degrees Celsius. So I was able to walk around in shorts, tee shirt and flip-flops without feeling too cool. Whether I looked cool is another matter but I’m of an age when I don’t worry too much about such things πŸ˜‰

This morning I nipped down to Les Briconautes to see whether they had a high power soldering iron but the best they could do was 60W and at what I thought was rather too high a price. So I decided to go straight to Brico Depot in Trelissac to pick up one of their 100W puppies. The route from Montignac was different from my usual one and it made a nice change. After the rain we’ve had recently followed by the warmth of the past few days, all of a sudden the countryside is looking lovely as the trees are turning green and the meadows are covered in lush long grass and little yellow flowers. Just like my front lawn 😐

As soon as I got back home with the new soldering iron I decided to give it a go. It was one of those trigger operated, pistol types that only take a few seconds to heat up and initial signs were quite encouraging. After a few minutes use I thought to myself that the soldered joint I was working on was making a bit of a lot of smoke even with the amount of extra flux I’d put on it. Next minute I realised from the smell (that familiar smell of burnt plastic) that it was coming from the soldering iron itself! I’d released the trigger by that time of course, but the smoke still kept coming out in billows, so I yanked the plug out and ran outside with the iron in my hand. Toddie thought it was a good game.

So I had a quick bite to eat while it cooled down and the smoke had been reduced to a few light wisps and then I headed of back to Brico Depot with it. So all of a sudden a soldering iron ‘Γ  petit prix’ had become rather expensive, but there was no alternative. Brico Depot seemed unsurprised when I presented them with the offending item and asked if I wanted to exchange it or have a refund. I asked if they had another high power soldering iron that I could buy instead, and the young man said only 75W, not 100W like this one. I said I’d prefer that if it wouldn’t catch fire like this one almost had!

So I got home again by late afternoon and again thought I’d give it a go. And I’m glad to say that this one worked a treat! It quickly melted the ruddy great old soldered joint that I’d been trying to work on and although the new joint wasn’t the prettiest I’ve ever done, it did the trick in moments after I’d been struggling for ages with my original old 30W iron and the new Brico Depot incendiary model. It just goes to show – when you need to zap something you not only need the power, you also need the correct tool for the job. Which this final soldering iron surely was πŸ™‚

April 17, 2013

Another excellent day

As I’m sitting here typing this, I’m stuffing my face with a large bowl of vanilla ice cream. It’s a fitting end to a gorgeous day when we’ve enjoyed unbroken sunshine from dawn to dusk and a temperature of over 30 degrees Celsius. The forecast was for only 28 degrees but when I nipped out in the car just after 7.00 pm it was still showing that and the evening had already begun to cool down a bit. I spent the whole day working outside on the X-Air panel wearing just swimming trunks and although I’ve caught the sun, I don’t feel as though I’ve been burned. I think it’s still a bit too early for that, but I could be wrong.

I’d hoped to get the panel all wired up today but it didn’t happen. The main reason for that was that I’m re-using old switches etc that were previously soldered. This is always a problem – new items can be soldered in much more quickly in comparison – but this isn’t what rather annoyed me. That was because whoever wired up the old panel soldered almost everything when it wasn’t really necessary. And that wouldn’t be so bad either except they didn’t do a very good job. So switch terminals that could have accepted blade connectors have enormous lumps of solder on them, and where terminals have been bridged across there are lumps of ugly bare wire. If the terminals in question weren’t common earths, this would be totally unacceptable, of course. But before I started, I thought I’d see how the panel will look when placed in position in the aircraft.

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I did the best I could but progress was not as fast as I would have liked. I eventually got to the point when I wanted to solder the leads from two LEDs onto a common earth on one of the mag switches when I had to admit defeat. My little 30W soldering iron just couldn’t supply enough heat to run the volume of solder and make the joint and to have continued might have resulted in damage to the switch. The solution will be to buy a 100W iron which I know I can get from Brico Depot for 7.95€ and that’s where I was going this evening before I decided that I might as well wait until tomorrow and buy an iron locally, and turned back for home.

When I arrived home, the evening was already beginning to cool a bit and while I was knocking up a spaghetti bolognese, this is what I spotted in my front garden.

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That’s Aurelie and Benjamin’s cat Scratchie in my bird bath. I know there’s a bit of a thing about private swimming pools around her, but isn’t this taking things a bit too far? Actually, I think with today’s sun it was probably dry, but he’s still got a bit of a cheek, don’t you think πŸ˜•

April 16, 2013

A long day

It was a lovely day today for working outside – sunny, no wind but not too hot because the sky had a thin curtain of very high cloud. I spent the whole day working on my new X-Air panel. The work took longer than I expected – it took an hour or so just lining the panel up and drilling the holes to mount it when it’s finished – but just as the evening began to die I got to where I wanted to be, with all of the gauges and switches mounted ready for wiring up tomorrow. I’d hardly stopped all day and I was glad to be able to cover the aircraft up and go indoors for something to eat and drink.

It hasn’t turned out too badly. I’ve made a couple of silly mistakes but it’ll probably only be me that notices them. Trouble is I’m a bit of a perfectionist and am always highly critical of my own work. Here’s how it looked at the end of the day.

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It’s not my finest work I have to admit. What doesn’t help is that the fibreglass it’s made from is of such poor quality as I mentioned in a previous post, the main problem being that the gel coat is just so thin. As soon as you get near it with a tool no matter how hard you try, it flakes all around the edges of any hole. But c’est la vie – at least it’s a considerable improvement over what was in the aircraft before πŸ˜‰

April 14, 2013

MYRO – what now?

Up to now, I’ve purposely avoided posting pictures of MYRO since the accident because I’ve always thought that doing so would somehow validate the spiteful invasion of my privacy perpetrated by the despicable Bob Thompson and his wife when immediately afterwards they plastered pictures of it over the Internet and the microlight forums. I made my views on the matter pretty clear at the time and as far as I and others are concerned, they can now stew in their own juice because the nastiness that they stoked up has more to say about them than anything else. However, although I will stick to my original decision not to publish any pictures of the accident itself, as I am considering what my next steps will be for MYRO, I have now decided to show some pictures of it. Anyone who has been following my postings about events down here will know that ever since the accident, around ten months now, I’ve kept MYRO safely under covers in my back garden until I get around to deciding what to do with it. And I’m pleased to say that it hasn’t fared too badly in that time, as the following pictures show.

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I did have to clean it up a little bit before I took the pics because as I found when it was parked under covers at Linton when I first acquired MYRO, the passage of air through the airframe when it’s parked outdoors deposits a weird black greasy film over everything. This affects the inside of the covers, the upholstery, the panel and instruments, the screen, in fact just about every surface. The situation was made worse because although MYRO was covered by a tarpaulin, the doors had been left off and the cabin was therefore completely open. The black film comes off quite easily when washed but looks awful, especially if it’s had the chance to build up a bit as now. We had a lovely day today – sunshine all day and 26 degrees Celsius – so I thought now was the time to sort MYRO out a bit, especially as I need some gauges out of its panel and the panel needed to come out in any event.

So today I gave everything a clean up, removed the panel and also emptied the tanks which still had the best part of 15 litres of fuel in them. My aim then was to seal MYRO up as far as was possible (that’s why I taped the broken nose back on again – to fill the hole up), replace the doors and wrap it up in a kind of cocoon to stop the air blowing through it. Hopefully that will then do the trick and MYRO will be preserved in its present condition until I decide what should be done with it.

The next two pics show the cabin after I’d taken the panel out and MYRO all wrapped up and replaced in the corner of my back garden. It’ll be interesting to see if fixing the cover in that way does the trick and keeps MYRO cleaner than it did up to now.

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So what are my thoughts about the future of MYRO? Well, as I now have the X-Air which is much more suited to the Dordogne than the little AX3, the easy thing would be cut and run, get rid of what remains of MYRO and get on with my life down here. I may still do that, but there’s another interesting idea for consideration. In France there is a large number of very cheap Weedhoppers, which is what the AX3 actually is, without engines, many of which are being offered for sale as parts, and the longer time goes on, the more of them there are, of course. So repairing MYRO would be a real possibilty and as AX3s are a bit like Trigger’s broom, it would be quite an easy and cheap proposition. There might be a question-mark over covers because some of MYRO’s were damaged in the accident and repairing Ultralam covers can get quite expensive, let along buying new ones. The repair itself would be quite straightforward without the intrusive presence of the BMAA Tech Office and all the rigmarole that goes with it but at the end of it, MYRO couldn’t be registered again as a British permit aircraft. That would not be a problem, of course, because my intention always was to transfer MYRO to the French register and as things are, the UK register merely records MYRO as having been exported.

So what now? Well, nothing actually because I can afford to bide my time. When I’ve finished getting the X-Air sorted, I’ll strip MYRO’s wings down to the tubes the way the X-Air’s were for easier storage. Then I’ll contact a few of the Weedhopper sellers – there’s one offering one for parts only about 20 kms away down here in the Dordogne – to get an idea of what’s actually available and what the repair will cost. Then we’ll see … πŸ˜‰

April 13, 2013

Moving on again

After my electrical episode, I contacted a local electrician the next day who said he’d be along at 5.30 pm to see what was up. Typically, he didn’t turn up and I’ve had no further word from him at all since then, so he’s definitely not going onto my Christmas card list! Luckily I had my generator to fall back on so with a couple more extension leads that I got hold of at the local Carrefour, I was able to run some temporary lights and my little fan heater and boil a kettle, so life wasn’t that uncomfortable. On the second day after the disaster I contacted another electrician who turned out to be a real diamond. He said he’d drop in at 2.30 pm the same day and turned up early at 2.15 pm. What a difference! He spotted the problem in a few minutes (local knowledge I guess) and had the whole system back up again in less than half an hour. He then went round the whole house and checked every socket and power outlet before declaring the whole thing safe and after the best part of an hour’s work charged me only 35€ for his services. I told him that once I’d resolved the issues with EDF and most likely had the house converted to single phase, I wanted him to come back, replace my old fuse box with an earth-leak contact breaker system and check the whole of my electrics out, replacing the bits that needed it, and I look forward to giving him the chance to do so.

Once he’d got the system back up and running, I was still, of course, left sitting on a heap of damaged electrical equipment, including my SFR Neufbox that had provided me with both Internet access and my VOIP based phone system. Plus the Philips DECT three handset network that I’d brought with me from England and had plugged into the Neufbox was also defunct. I phoned SFR customer service and the young lady on the other end of my (mobile) phone originally told me, with much laughter from both of us as we conversed in French, that SFR would send me out a new Neufbox and that I should then just return the old one. However, she then went off the line for a few minutes, literally as my mobile connection dropped out, and when she phoned me back she said she had some better news for me, and that if I took my old Neufbox to the SFR boutique in the Leclerc shopping centre at Trelissac (about 20 kms away on the way to Perigueux), a new one would be waiting for me to pick up in 2 hours time. What brilliant service! And it was! So after picking it up I also then nipped into Leclerc and bought a new Gigaset three handset DECT phone system with the result that the same evening I was back up with Internet and phone. Mind you, it took me over half of the next day to reload my telephone directory into the new system 😐

Since then I’ve decided that there’s no point waiting for EDF to make its decision about compensation, especially as I haven’t even written them a letter yet, and that I’d have to start purchasing replacements for the main things that have been damaged. I’ve purchased a couple of items from the UK, such as a new Freesat box, Humax this time, and a Gunson automatic battery charger, and I’m mulling over whether to buy a new DVD player as well from the UK, where it looks as though such things are much cheaper than here in France. Obviously, though, I’ll have to source a new microwave locally so I’ll start looking around for one in the early part of next week.

In the meantime, what of the X-Air? Well, some fuse holders and fuses that I’d ordered from the UK arrived a couple of days ago. I’d tried to source these locally but when I only want a couple of glass fuses, I resent having to buy a whole box of the ruddy things because the local supplier refuses to break it down. I’m afraid that I still think that in many aspects, the French have quite a lot to learn about customer service and giving the customer what he wants, especially at this time of economic uncertainty. It was cheaper for me to order in the UK and pay carriage for just what I wanted than to buy two boxes of fuses locally that would probably then just be sitting on a shelf in my ‘cave’ for ever. Well done British enterprise, and especially Vehicle Wiring Products of Derby who I used a lot when I was still in the UK and will probably keep doing so even though I’m now over here.

So I’m just about set to complete the new X-Air panel. Today has been glorious – temperature 20 degrees Celsius or a bit more even and sunshine all day – but even though the RPM gauge that I bought through the small ads arrived today, I decided not to press on with the panel and to cut my grass for the first time this year. It was very long all around the X-Air and as all my neighbours had their mowers whirring away, I thought I might as well do the same. In any case, it will make working on the X-Air much easier now, and as the whole week is forecast to be dry and sunny with the temperature getting up to 26 degrees Celsius mid-week, there will be plenty of opportunity. The RPM gauge is even better than I expected, by the way, and I think it was a very good and wise buy, as pictures of the panel will ultimately show. That’s if it works, that is! I’m sure it will, as the seller assured me that it’s in perfect working order πŸ™‚

So it’s just a matter of dropping all the gauges etc into the new panel and wiring them all up. It’s not as complicated as it sounds as the following system diagram shows.

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I’ve made some to changes to the system that was installed as I said I would. For a start, the Aux switch now just controls the power sockets, which I think is sensible, and the key switch becomes live only when the Master is turned on. As well as operating the starter itself via a 10A fuse, it is also a switch in its own right when it returns to its ‘On’ position after the starter has been activated, so I’ve used it to run the Hobbs (hours) meter which I think is the best option. Also the temperature gauge only works when the Master switch is in the ‘On’ position. So it’s quite simple and straightforward, really, which is often the way of things when they’ve been thought through. I’m a firm believer in the old saying, ‘If it looks right, it probably is’ and I think this is true this time. Before any UK X-Air owners reading this say, ‘Oi, my system’s different to that!’, don’t forget that UK aircraft have a push button starter, whereas mine has a key start, and I’ve also installed the 12V power sockets that I want and stuck to the Rotax approved wiring system. And the nice thing is that it’s ‘what I want’ and not what someone in the back of the BMAA Tech Office thinks I should have πŸ˜€

So tomorrow’s the day of the big leap-forward and by the end of the day, I’m hoping to have the panel finished, fitted and the X-Air’s engine running again. And finally, two little bits of extra news. My neighbour Jean-Claude has said that he’ll have no objection to my eventually taking off from his field to fly the X-Air over to Galinat, which is great news, because it means that I can finish all of my work on it here at home and not have to transport the aircraft by road and assemble it on the airfield. And the last bit of news is the best of all. I bumped into Christian, the owner of Galinat today, and in our conversation mentioned that we needed to discuss what rent I’d be paying. He gave me a very old-fashioned look that only the French can do properly and said, ‘Roger, all we all do is look after the airfield together’. So that’s it – what a super surprise and how lucky I am with the way things are turning out. But maybe it shouldn’t really come as a total surprise because, after all, C’est la France!

April 11, 2013

Extraordinary experience

I could hardly believe this. Two days ago I was indoors working on my new X-Air panel when all of a sudden there was a loud buzzing sound on my PC sound system, the lights in my house started flashing and the computer began going haywire. Lots of other weird things began happening and I realised that there was some sort of electrical fault in progress but didn’t know what. Then there was a strong smell of burning plastic and when I touched the energy saving light bulb next to my computer it was much too hot to touch. Same thing with the strip light I only recently put up in the kitchen – I took the cover off and the choke inside was so hot that I couldn’t put my finger on it. When I went back into my lounge there were clouds of smoke coming out of my DVD player and I knew it was time to disconnect everything. Turns out I was too late but I’ll come back to that in a second. When I got my test meter out and stuck it in a wall socket it read 400 volts!!

I got the EDF (Γ‰lectricitΓ© de France) engineers in immediately that evening and they confirmed that the supply itself was OK – the fault was in a box on my wall – but that my house is being supplied with 3-phase electricity. I was incredulous! Nobody had told me and as anyone knows, 3-phase is for industrial applications, needs special wiring, sockets etc and is NOT for home use. Not only that, it’s more expensive (no wonder I’ve been getting big bills) and in a domestic situation it could be very dangerous. As my friend Bruce has confirmed to me as an ex-engineer, shocks from 220V and 400V can both kill you, but the chance of surviving one of the latter voltage is negligible. As I’d just seen with my own eyes, if I hadn’t been at home when this all happened, there’s a very real chance that the house could have caught fire once items such as the DVD player had burst into flames, which from the smoke it was emitting, I’m sure it would have done if I hadn’t had time to disconnect it.

So far I’ve found that the following items have been destroyed:

– Microwave oven
– DVD player
– CD/music system
– Satellite receiver
– DECT phone system
– SFR internet/telephone system
– Kitchen light
– Coffee machine
– Automatic 12V battery charger

In fact the list includes more or less everything that was either operating at the time or plugged in on standby. Luckily my new TV was not plugged in and my fridge and freezer both survived, but just by luck I think. The same goes for my computer system which I was amazed to find was still working when I connected it to a 230V supply from my generator, which luckily I had to fall back on for necessities such as temporary lighting and heating. SFR have been marvellous and so helpful – a young lady arranged for me to pick up a replacement Neufbox this afternoon and having bought a replacement DECT phone system at the same time for 79.90€, at least I’m back up already with internet and phone connections.

I’ve contacted my home insurer to see whether I’m covered but I am not prepared to let the matter rest as far as EDF is concerned. I think it’s monstrous that when I signed up nobody told me that my house had a 3-phase supply because if I’d known, I’d never have accepted it. And they also came in in December and changed my meter and still nothing was said. The engineer gave me some waffle the other evening about how 3-phase is common in the countryside because of the need to operate machinery but even he had to agree that there wasn’t much use for it in a house which had been converted nearly 40 years ago and should have been changed over to single phase, a quick and simple operation. I can tell you, I’m livid that EDF can have been so sloppy and apparently have such scant regard for the safety of their customers. I phoned my estate agent this afternoon and asked why wasn’t I told about this before I bought the house, and how come I’ve got a Diagnostics dossier that’s an inch thick that analyses everything including the paint on every wall in the house to say whether it contains lead or not but mentions nowhere in the electrical section that the house had a very dangerous 3-phase electrical supply.

The way I feel at the moment, sitting in a house that came close to catching fire and having been unwittingly exposed to the risk of death from electric shock, there’s no way that this thing is going to stop here 😐

April 7, 2013

Some useful progress

Today started off gloomy with a distinct chill to the air and as I needed to work on the new X-Air panel outdoors because of the dust the drilling would make, I wasn’t inclined to make an early start. Luckily it brightened up later on, although it never became what you would call warm, so I set up my new Workmate outside the back door in what sun there was, started Frank Sinatra Live at The Sand Hotels 1966 playing on Spotify and got going.

I seem to have changed the panel layout every time I’ve looked at it, which may not be a bad thing really, because better to keep improving the layout before you’ve started drilling rather than after. I’ve finally arrived at what I think is the right panel for me – it will do what I want it to and I also like the way it looks. The picture below shows what I’ve finally arrived at.

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I’ve decided to use the altimeter and VSI out of MYRO, mainly because they match. I’ve got a large altimeter (and a small one as well, actually) that was in the X-Air, but there was no VSI and if I just used the one from MYRO, the two instruments would not be similar in appearance. By using the small ASI in kmh that was already in the X-Air rather than a large diameter gauge that I have that reads in mph, I’ve been able to mount the ASI, a slip ball that I already had from AX3 G-MYME, I think and a 12V cigar socket in a vertical bank in front of me, thus saving some useful space. This means that I can keep the engine hours gauge over on the left on the pilot’s side of the panel and still keep plenty of space in front of me to Velcro mount my GPS, with the added bonus that the 12V socket it needs is conveniently close to it. And I’ve had a bit of luck there. As I mentioned in a post last year, I broke my car satnav lead many weeks ago when I drove to Nimes to see some floor tiles and in an attempt to keep the satnav working, I bought a replacement with a short curly lead. This turned out not to be suitable for my car cigar lighter charger and I almost decided to throw it away. It now turns out that that lead fits the 12V socket that I’ve fitted into the X-Air panel absolutely perfectly, and as it has a short curly lead, I’ll be able to avoid the problem I had with MYRO, of having a long GPS lead draped across the cabin with a bunch of lead coiled up next to the satnav itself. Lovely πŸ™‚

I’m mounting four engine gauges in a bank on the right of the compass, which I’ll be keeping in the centre of the panel, as it was originally in the X-Air. I have a small RPM gauge that was in the X-Air but I won’t be using it, for the weirdest of reasons. When I went to view the X-Air the first day up in Brittany, lo and behold there was a small live fly crawling around under the glass of the RPM gauge. Well, to cut a long story short, that fly’s dried up corpse is still in there and there’s no evidence of how it got in or, indeed, any way of getting it out. I’ve tried to crack the gauge apart without doing (too much) damage, but it has proven to be impossible. But as luck would have it, two RPM gauges from Rotax 2-strokes were recently advertised on the internet small ads over here, and having contacted both sellers, I’ve agreed to buy one of them. At only 43€ including delivery it won’t break the bank and as a bonus, it also looks to be in much better condition than the one containing the poor dead fly that I’ll probably be chucking away. What a way to go eh 😐

Only the water temperature gauge comes from the X-Air. It has neither a fuel pressure gauge nor an EGT gauge at the moment so I’ll be using the fuel pressure gauge that I bought new for MYRO (a good idea because if it isn’t used, it will probably gum up like MYRO’s original one did, if it hasn’t already…) and checking to see whether I should use MYRO’s EGT gauge, which I also bought new, or buy a new gauge and sensors. As I mentioned in an earlier post, I don’t want to strip MYRO unnecessarily, but because of the damage to the pod nose, the panel will have to come out at some time anyway, and I’m thinking that I might do it now while I’m in a panel-kind-of-mood, before gauges etc start to deteriorate.

I’m fitting the switches in what I think is a logical order, fairly high up in the panel below the compass. The reason for that is so I can Velcro my Vertex transceiver and interface in the space below them, as far as possible avoiding interference with them by the connecting cables. That was a slight problem with MYRO because the space available on the AX3 panel was a bit less, so things should be better this time around. The 12V main fuse I’ve shown in the diagram is the one I’ll be moving from up near the engine, as mentioned in my previous post, and there will also be a 10A fuse for the electric starter next to the key, much as I did in MYRO. I’ve now decided to fit only the single 12V DIN socket, the reason being that I think it’s a good idea to have one, even though I never ever needed one, let alone the two, that I fitted into MYRO’s panel. And finally, there will be two more panel-mounted fuse holders adjacent to the DIN socket, which will be for the DIN socket itself and the 12V cigar socket on the other side of the panel.

I made good progress with the layout today, but didn’t get anywhere near to finishing it. Even so, it’s taking shape as shown in the following pic.

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The fibreglass in the X-Air panel is a lot lighter than what was used in the AX3. Both the gel coat and the mat are much thinner and as a result, I’m finding that the hole cutters are making the gel coat more chipped and ragged around the edges of the holes than I would like. But there’s no point getting upset as there’s nothing that I can do about it and I’ll just have to see if I can tidy it up a bit with a few dabs of black paint. The X-Air gauges also all had odd bolts and screws and unfortunately I haven’t been able to get hold of any suitable screws. So on Saturday I picked up a lot of small stainless bolts, nuts and washers (you fill up a small plastic envelope with as many as you can fit in and pay a fixed price) and I’m using these to secure the gauges, as the picture shows. I like the result better than I thought I would. And the other thing that I like a lot, is that I can do all of this without having to report to the BMAA Technical Office for approval and pay through the nose for the privilege. Now that really is progress in my book πŸ˜€

April 6, 2013

Afterthoughts

I’ve been having some further thoughts since I did the X-Air’s re-wiring. Although the two in-line fuses up near the engine are OK and will work, I’m wondering whether I might re-position them. This would only be for the sake of appearances, mind, and wouldn’t affect their functionality. The one in the battery charging line I’m thinking about moving back behind the cabin where you could get at it by pulling down the interior cover behind the seats. This shouldn’t ever need to happen and it would reduce the size of the bundle of connections up near the engine. Similarly, I could get rid of the other one by changing it into a panel mounted fuse. This would not only improve the appearance up near the engine but also improve accessibility.

If I’m going to do it, now’s the time while the panel is still on the bench. Knowing me, I have to implement a good idea even if it involves more work, so stand by for future bulletins πŸ˜‰

April 3, 2013

Re-wiring the X-Air

Wiring up an engine ‘Γ  la Rotax’ isn’t that difficult once you know what you’re doing so long as you take your time and are careful, as I found out when I installed MYRO’s wiring loom from scratch. And having done it before, it’s easier second time around, of course. Having seen the back of the X-Air’s panel, I already knew that it needed to be sorted out and once I’d examined it more closely laid flat on the bench, I was pretty certain that some rather unconventional things had been done. Sure, it all worked, but that didn’t make it right. Anyway, I needed to confirm my suspicions by checking the wiring in the aircraft with my Robin meter before deciding what to do about it.

And today my suspicions were confirmed. The Rotax approved wiring diagram shows a connection direct from the black lead on the voltage regulator via a 16 amp fuse to the positive battery terminal. This is the main charging lead. On the X-Air, there was an un-fused connection from under the panel via a length of light-weight 2-core lighting cable, to the battery from a switched circuit controlled by the key. It had been charging the battery all right, but there was no way that I was prepared to leave it like that. The main 12V supply to the panel also has to be connected directly to the black voltage regulator lead but Rotax requires there to be a 15 amp fuse in the line. In the X-air, the connection had been made via a panel fuse direct to the key rather than via the master switch. This meant that the starter could be operated via the key switch but without the master switch being turned on, which didn’t seem at all right to me.

The X-Air has separate magneto switches, of course, which I am not a great fan of. MYRO had a rotary key switch – Mag Left, Mag Right, Mags Both, Start – which I much preferred as it’s secure and the aircraft cannot be started and flown without the key. On the other hand, any aircraft with separate magneto switches can in theory be started and flown just by switching on the mags and swinging the prop. And what’s more, although a thief wouldn’t have any electrical instruments (eg rev counter, water temp gauge) he would still have the basic flying instruments – ASI, VSI, Altimeter – which is all he’d need to fly the aircraft. Nevertheless I have decided to keep the separate mag switches which is the conventional arrangement for X-Airs and anyway, I’ve no intention of stripping equipment unnecessarily out of MYRO as who knows what the future might hold in that respect πŸ˜‰

I have already produced a new panel layout and wiring arrangement for the X-Air and all that remained today before going ahead and making it for real was to confirm my suspicions about the wiring and make the necessary changes to the aircraft wiring in order to bring it into line with the Rotax recommendations. So that was today’s job. There are two panel fuses in the existing X-Air panel and I want to re-use them, but not in their present functions. In fact I’ll need an extra one, because I want one 10 amp fuse in the starter solenoid circuit from the key and one each of something like 2 amps in each of two panel mounted power sockets controlled by the aux switch. The next question was what to do about the 15 and 16 amp fuses needed for the main 12V supply and the battery charging circuit? I was in luck here, because on the horrible big old electrical filter that I’m scrapping from the existing panel there happen to be two in-line fuse holders (how you’d have got to them under the existing panel is another question) and these were suitable for the job so long as the fuses in them are changed for ones of the correct value before putting the system into service. So having worked all this out I was ready to tackle the job.

X-Airs have two multi-connection plug/socket arrangements, one up near the engine and the other under the panel. There is nothing mystical about them as they do no more than make the same connections that are made individually on the AX3, for example. And in fact they wear, get damaged and can be a source of problems, as I know from having worked on Ken and Peter’s X-Air’s wiring. I suspected the worst when I inspected my X-Air’s wiring up near the engine. There was a large lump of insulation tape with wires coming out of each end and when I removed it, what did I find, but more insulation tape, as shown by the following pic.

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The connection to one of the mag leads appears not even to have been made, although it’s possible that the two parts were touching and held together by the tape surrounding them. Now experience has taught me never to trust insulation tape, so it all had to come off, and the awful mess that was below is shown in the next picture.

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It looked like all the connections that would have been inside the multi-connection plug/socket that I mentioned earlier, if it had been there, and the lead from the water temperature sender didn’t even have a connector – its ends had just been twisted together! It meant that the whole lot would have to be re-done, but I didn’t mind that because I prefer to have connections that I’ve made, that I can trust, rather than someone else’s bodge-up. And in any case, it would also give me the opportunity to take out the nasty light-weight 2-core lighting cable that charged the battery and connected the key to the starter solenoid and put in something proper that reflected what Rotax actually requires.

My friend Wim dropped in for a cup of coffee this morning, which was enjoyable as always, and I got cracking around lunch time. By the time I’d finished and got the X-Air put to bed and covered in readiness for more rain tomorrow, it was nearly 8.00pm. But it was a day well-spent. The final pic below shows what the main part of the wiring looked like in the end.

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The fuselage is now ready for the new panel, which I can get on with over the next day or so while it’s raining. That’s OK because I’ll be working on it indoors, so for once although it’ll be raining, no time will be lost. Sometimes even small wins are very gratifying πŸ˜‰

April 1, 2013

A bit more done

As is usual at the moment, yesterday started off a bit chilly and dull but as it brightened up by lunch time, I was able to get on as planned with the X-Air panel work. To start off with, I had to remove items I didn’t want to keep, such as the intercom/radio interface together with its big, heavy battery, and gauges that have no power connections, like the altimeter and ASI. Then I had to detach the connecting wiring after making a note of how it was connected and take out the panel itself. Here’s how it looked after I’d done that.

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By this time, the panel itself was looking in a bit of a sorry state as the following pictures show.

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But what concerned me most of all was what was behind it. I was already expecting the worst after initially seeing the dog’s dinner of cables and connections when I first dropped the cable down the other day but it was what I saw when I looked a bit more closely that really alarmed me. See below.

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It’s the number of cut cables that there are with open ends many of which can clearly be seen above. I originally wanted to make up a new panel because of the appearance of the old one, but now I’ve seen the back of the old one, it’s obvious that it would have needed to be re-wired quite urgently anyway. And that’s not all. I’ve spent most of today with the old panel in front of me on the bench working out what’s connected to what and getting an idea how I’ll re-do it. Something rather important has struck me. UK X-Airs are wired up with a master key switch which controls everything electrical. This is then connected to an aux switch through which a radio interface, an external power socket and, most importantly, the starter button are run. This means that without the key being in and turned, the starter is inactive.

My French X-Air doesn’t have a starter button. Instead there’s a key switch that operates the starter. There’s a master switch but that only switches power through to the water temperature and engine hours gauges and also a ruddy great electrical filter (the large black box in the picture above) that I’ve taken out and will be discarding. The master switch becomes active when the key is turned – but so does the starter, so the starter can operate independently of the master switch on the turn of the key. And this means that if the mags are on, the engine will start on the key with the master switch turned off.

This is a completely unacceptable state of affairs. MYRO had a conventional aircraft mags/starter rotary key switch and when I re-wired its panel, I made the master switch a proper master so nothing was live, including the starter, until it was switched on. I’ll be doing a similar arrangement for the X-Air, the difference being that this time the mag switches will be separate from the starter switch. The problem with having separate mag switches is having some kind of arrangement so the engine can’t be started by swinging the prop. I have to admit that I haven’t got around to solving that one yet and it may not be possible without having the kind of switch that MYRO had. Mind you, the same applies to all UK X-Airs too, so maybe it’s really not worth bothering about 😐

By the way, I had company while I was doing the work outside yesterday to remove the panel. Mind you, he wasn’t very much of a help, as the picture below shows, sleeping on the job most of the time.

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