December 31, 2013

Last chance!

The weather forecast for today hadn’t looked up to very much and I’d more or less given up hope of getting a final flight in this year. However, I had to go to the supermarket this morning as it’ll be closed tomorrow and on the way back I noticed that although the day wasn’t that bright, the wind wasn’t blowing anything like as hard as had been forecast and there were also very few gusts. So as this would definitely be the last chance to get airborne in 2013, I decided that after unpacking my shopping bag, I’d get changed, have a quick snack, get across to Galinat and get 56NE’s covers off for a short afternoon flight.

And I was really pleased that I did, because after walking and checking the runway, which was rather soggy even though it had been recently cut, I got a very pleasurable 45 minutes in and it wasn’t even that cold. And surprisingly, I even kept finding little pockets of lift here and there which at one time got me up to 2000 feet from my planned 16/1700 feet before I stuck the nose down to get back down again. I thought that I’d loaded my next planned flight into my satnav that would have taken me up towards the north-west. However, I found that I hadn’t done so and that in fact, the route and track from my last flight were still in it, so as I also still had the marked-up paper map for the flight to hand, I thought that I might as well go off to the north-east again, in the direction of Brive. So that’s what I did, but this time, although I could still see the runway of Brive la Gaillarde airport off to my right, I didn’t go quite as far and stayed a bit further away from the north-western boundary of the CAS zone that surrounds the airport.

In fact, this time I didn’t go very much further than Terrasson and as I was doing a long left turn to the east of the town which would eventually have me heading back towards Galinat, I took the following pic which shows the Vezere valley with Terrasson in the foreground and the paper mill at Le Lardin in the distance.

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I took another a little further on showing Terrasson in a bit more detail. It’s much better than I managed on my last flight and not too bad considering the conditions, but still not up to what I hope to be getting from my new little camera when the weather really does start to improve.

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My next waypoint as before, was the paper mill at Le Lardin and a left turn then set me on a heading for Montignac. Half-way between Le Lardin and Montignac on a bend in the Vezere at Aubas, there’s the Chateau de Sauveboef. It is sign-posted from the road as being something of a local attraction but doesn’t look very distinguished either from the ground or the air, as can be seen from the final pic.

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I don’t know anything about its contents, but it dates from the XVIIth century, and as well as being a museum and having a reputation for being a centre for art, all I know is that locally it advertises itself as a place to get married!

After flying past the chateau, it was then back to Galinat via the by-now familiar Montignac and Thonac. I’m now getting used to the approach and landing at Galinat and I was pleased to end the year with the smoothest greaser of a landing that I’ve yet been able to achieve. Taxying was another matter though, because with the soggy surface and the uphill gradient, I needed 5000 RPM to get me from where I landed up to the top end of the runway. It was much easier, and I would also add safer compared to the old spot, getting 56NE into its new parking space, but I must remember in the new year to take my ‘debroussailleuse’ over there to cut away some of the low bushes and brambles that are a bit of a nuisance when you’re working around the aircraft, putting the covers back on etc.

But that’s for later, so all that’s left for me is to wish everyone a Happy and Peaceful New Year, and for all of the pilots out there, fair weather in 2014 and as many flying hours as you’d wish for yourself. And above all, let’s wish for them to be safe ones for everyone too 😉

December 25, 2013

Sorely tempted!

With Toddie’s passing just over a month ago, I’m home alone this Christmas for the first time that I can ever recall. I guess I could have returned to the UK to have spent the time with my family but I forgot to renew my passport in August and with Toddie passing when he did, it made it difficult to do so in the time available. So this is a bit of a new experience for me, but I’m not too disappointed as I was on the phone and Skyping with friends and family for most of the morning and I’ve got plenty to keep me busy today.

The weather forecast for today was for light rain for the whole day, but although it rained overnight and there were a few spits early on, it stopped during the morning. While I was out bringing in some more wood for this evening, it was actually very mild and the sun decided at that moment to break through. I could then see Galinat quite clearly looking to the south-east from my front garden, as shown by the following pics, which were taken with the zoom lens.

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I took the second pic from the field the other side of the road from my garden and from there it was even easier to pick out Galinat’s runway, windsock, the existing hangar and Regis’s Zenair parked outside his old hangar. When I saw the airfield in the distance with the sun shining on it, I was very sorely tempted to drop everything and get over there for a flight. However, I decided not to because there have been quite a few strong gusts of up to 25 mph that would have been at almost 90 degrees to the runway heading, so I decided that it wouldn’t be worth the possible risk on a day like today. I’m also sure that despite the prospects of a few unsettled days leading up to the end of the year, an opportunity will arise to get airborne even if it’s only for a comparatively brief flight.

But in the meantime I’d like to wish my family and friends around the world, a joyful and peaceful Christmas and to especially thank them for their kindnesses and support over recent weeks. Normal service has now been resumed on My Trike but I’ll leave it there for now and go off to pour myself another glass of wine.

Happy Christmas!

December 16, 2013

And about time too…

After checking this morning’s weather forecast, I watched as the mist slowly cleared on the hills opposite where Galinat is located with absolutely no sign of the strongly gusting winds that one web site had predicted might arise. It was turning into another lovely day, not quite up to yesterday’s beautiful weather, but still far too good an opportunity to let go, so I decided to get myself across to Galinat and up into the air. I’d had a flight planned for some time, as below, that would take me to the north-east up towards Brive-la-Gaillarde, so that’s what I intended to do.

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I also wanted to move 56NE to a parking place on the other side of the hangar at Galinat, to a spot that would be flatter than where it has been parked up to now, making it easier and safer to manoeuvre before and after flying, so as soon as I arrived today, I spent several minutes pulling the tie-down weights over the grass to the proposed new position. After refuelling and carrying out my pre-flight checks, I eventually got away just after 2.00 pm.

The green line shows the route I’d planned and the red one shows the track that I actually flew. The air was surprisingly bumpy, more so than I’d anticipated, making it difficult to safely take shots with my new little Lumix camera, but I did manage a few. The highlight of the flight was tracking up past the north-westerly boundary of the CAS around Brive airport and seeing the wide runway off to my right and then looking ahead to see the city of Brive spread out in front of me. The shot below doesn’t do the view justice because of the mist that was still hanging around, so I’ll have to go back again next year to get some better ones.

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Another reason for doing that will be to get a shot of the spectacular way in which, as I approached Brive from over the Dordogne hills to its south-west, the hills suddenly fell steeply away to an almost bowl-shaped valley. Unfortunately, it was too bumpy to take any pics of it today and anyway, it was just too misty today to get anything worthwhile. I then turned left to head up to Terrasson which ordinarily would have provided some terrific photo opportunities. However, with the mist and the direction of the sun, once again I was thwarted in my efforts.

It was almost as bad as I over-flew Le Lardin with its large paper mill, but I did manage to get a couple of shots of the town and the factory nestling as it does in the valley surrounded by hills.

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I then turned left again to head for Montignac and Thonac and eventually for a landing back at Galinat. On this leg I was flying directly into the sun and the visibility the whole way to Thonac was therefore very poor. However, I then spotted Galinat’s runway nestling as it does half-way up the side of its hill and despite a bit of late sink that caused me to open the throttle just before touching down, landed safely and taxied to my new parking place.

While I was getting myself organised and putting 56NE’s covers on, Christian, Galinat’s owner, arrived. After the usual greetings, I told him about my idea of moving my X-Air to its new place. He said that he had no objection and suggested that if I’d like to hang on for a few minutes, he’d bring a little ride-on mower over to clear the area behind the aircraft so it could be pushed further back where it would be safer. I was delighted with this and here’s a shot of the aircraft in its new position.

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Christian said that his original idea was to use the spot for an aircraft of his own but as he no longer flies, he’s happy to see mine parked there, so I’m really pleased with how things have turned out. Here are a few more shots showing what a great improvement the new spot is compared to 56NE’s original sharply sloping parking place.

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As can be seen in the pics, there’s scope to park 56NE better to make better use of the space available, especially if I take my ‘debroussailleuse’ over and clear a bit more of the brush away that’s under the left wing. Although the spot is below the road and the entrance into the airfield, I think that it will probably drain quite well, and if so, in the longer term, because it’s a nice flat area, the new parking place would probably be a good place to site a T-hangar. However, that’s something to think about in a few months time 😉

December 16, 2013

Yipee!

Hey, I was just checking the weather forecast for today and I noticed that we are right on the cusp and the days are now about to start getting longer again. To start off with, after tomorrow, sunset will only be one minute later but then we can look forward to the days beginning to lengthen in leaps and bounds. I can’t wait. Whatever happens, I intend to get much more flying in during the coming year and I just hope that the weather will be kinder next year than it has been this. And I bet pilots of light aircraft all over the northern hemisphere are thinking exactly the same thought 🙂

December 15, 2013

Did it again!

Today was the perfect flying day, the best for several weeks by far. It was sunny and warm with a bright blue sky and practically no wind to speak of. But yet again I couldn’t fly, because I’d practically run out of wood and needed to replenish my stocks by cutting down my last big dead tree.

I’d asked my friend Wim for his help because I was concerned that when I cut through its trunk, there was a danger that it might fall the wrong way against my neighbour behind me’s house. He told me that the best thing to do was tie a rope to the tree about ten or fifteen feet up with the other end secured to a suitable spot at ground level, so when the tree toppled it would pivot round the point at which the rope was secured and fall in the desired area ie on my back lawn. Simple when you think about it, although it hadn’t occurred to me before I have to admit, and that’s what I did.

Although the trunk was fairly hefty, the tree had been dead for long enough for my little chain saw to make quite quick work of it and it was soon lying on the ground where I wanted it. Chopping it up took far longer, though, but after a while I soon had a good stock of new logs ready to stack up in my fireplace indoors and outdoors under my shelter. I added to the stock even more by lopping a couple of unneeded branches on the tree next to the one I’d felled and two more from trees in my front garden near the road. In doing so, I came across yet more that I can lop off so at the rate I’m going, I think that there really might be a chance after all that I’ll get through the winter without having to buy any wood in.

So having missed yet another good flying day, albeit in a good cause, I’m now left waiting with baited breath to see how tomorrow turns out. It’s forecast to be another lovely day, so there’s a hope that I might get airborne. However, a couple of the weather forecasting web sites that I use are suggesting that although the wind will be fairly light for most of the day, there could be periods of strong gusts that might cause problems. Anyway, there’s nothing I can do for now, so I’ll just have to wait and see how things shape up.

December 11, 2013

Quick catch-up

I took my new chain saw back to Brico Depot on Monday, as planned. I don’t know whether the marketing concept and the role of customer service within it has taken root in France as a whole, in fact I have my doubts based on my own experience over the past 18 months, but if it has, it certainly hasn’t permeated down as far as this region of the country. Actually, that’s not true, the one exception that I’ve encountered being the Point P builders’ merchants in Montignac where the lady in the showroom there has always looked after me superbly. But to continue, things initially started well at Brico Depot when a door security man, seeing me walking in carrying the chain saw, said that he’d call the relevant person on the telephone. But when the latter arrived, things immediately began going downhill. I showed him how the saw’s exhaust system was hanging off and he immediately slipped into French ‘customer service’ mode, suggesting that this was not covered by the machine’s two-year warranty. My hackles rose on hearing this, so I immediately slipped into ‘awkward English customer’ mode and said that there was no way that I was going to accept that, on a machine less than two months old.

He said that this was the result of my not providing the machine with general maintenance and I said that a machine that had only been used ten or fifteen times should not require such maintenance and that in any case, I had tried to tighten the securing nuts but had been unable to do so. So he again tried to fob me off with his ‘not covered by the warranty’ ploy and again I said that I would not accept that, and stood my ground. By now several other customers were beginning to take notice, so he said that although they do not do repairs at Brico Depot, he would have a go himself in response to my demand that therefore they would have to give me a refund. Sure enough, he was unable to tighten the nuts either and I could see by now that really he sympathised with my position. I demanded to know who was responsible for making such decisions and he answered that the person was ‘off sick’ that day, adding that he would call his more senior colleague.

The ‘more senior’ colleague strode over looking suitably grim faced and obviously thought that his ‘bad cop’ routine following his colleagues ‘good cop’ approach would do the trick. Once again, he tried the old ‘not covered by the warranty’ routine but was clearly thrown when I said that I refused to accept that and noisily, so as many other customers as possible could hear, told him exactly why not. So he once again tried the ‘maintenance’ ploy and this allowed me to set a neat trap for him. I told him that as I had tried to tighten the securing nuts without success, and his colleague had also had the same experience, if he was so certain, he should have a go himself. Then, if he was successful, I’d happily take the machine away, but if he was not, I’d want a refund. Well, what could he do? This suited me fine, because if I’d caused damage to the machine while trying to tighten the nuts up, I’d have no come-back, but if it happened while he was doing it, then I’d be covered.

We ended up in the middle of an aisle with both Brico Depot assistants working on the machine using spanners etc that they’d taken from the shelves and with customers walking past and watching what was going on. For me, that couldn’t have been better and to my surprise and delight, eventually ‘more senior’ colleague managed to get the securing nuts undone and the exhaust system off the saw. From then on, it was a fairly simple matter to get it back on again and the nuts tightened up, but when I asked for another screw to be fitted to replace one that had vibrated off and been lost, ‘more senior’ collegue, while standing with his back to racks and racks of nuts, bolts and screws looked back at me with a jaundiced eye and told me that they ‘didn’t have one’. Anyway, after they’d finished the job between them, I offered them my thanks with a jolly smile and strode back out of the store clutching my now-repaired chain saw and the little heat shield that they’d left off, for me to re-fit later when I got home.

In recent weeks, I’ve been looking on the small ads web site (leboncoin.fr) from time to time for a ‘commode’ (chest of drawers) to stand my television on. When my ‘sweetheart’ of a friend was with me last week, we visited several ‘brocantes’ (second hand shops, well, junk shops really) around the area, something in which she specialises 😉 to see if we could find anything suitable. I was astonished at how much old furniture is being sold for – stuff that would have been consigned to the tip years ago in the UK (you know, tasteless, badly designed 1950’s ‘utility’ furniture) often being up for hundreds of Euros! Blow that for a lark, I’d rather buy good quality ‘rustic style’ furniture in the UK and have it shipped out than pay exorbitant prices locally for usually well-used, marked and frequently damaged tat, so I’d ended up not buying anything so far. Then on Monday, I spotted a ‘commode’ on Leboncoin at a much more reasonable 40€, of a colour that matched my existing furniture, in Floirac, a suburb of Bordeaux, so I phoned and arranged to go over to see it on Tuesday.

I went via the ‘payage’ leaving quite early. As for all of the days recently, we had sub-zero temperatures the night before and a heavy ground frost which left the local roads in a very dangerous state. On my way to Brico Depot on Monday, as I climbed the hill up to Rouffignac, I came across a VW people carrier in the road-side ditch and on Tuesday, I noted that at the same spot, the temperature was -6 degrees Celsius on my car thermometer. So I decided that I’d take things easy, much to the annoyance of the local French drivers who still insist on driving everywhere at maximum possible speed despite the conditions, much of the time right on your back bumper if you’re holding them up, as of course I was.

But I arrived safely at Floirac, decided to buy the ‘commode’ and after the lady seller’s son had helped me to load it into the back of my car, started the drive back. This time I thought I’d avoid the ‘payage’ and take the cross-country route home, not just to save the 9.70€ toll but to take the opportunity to drive through the stunning Bordeaux ‘vignobles’ (wine growing region). Many years ago, while working in the wine trade, I came to Bordeaux for a week long wine buying trip with Conal Gregory, a then colleague, Master of Wine, the wine buyer for the company for whom I worked and later wine correspondent for The Times and Member of Parliament. We had a stunning, memorable week visiting merchants and ‘eleveurs’ in the region, although I must confess that my tongue felt like sand paper at the end of it, and I wanted to see the region once more after all those years. And so I did, seeing iconic place names like ‘Pomerol’ and ‘St Emilion’ and row upon row of vines as far as the eye could see. What a pleasure it was.

I’ve now got the ‘commode’ in my lounge with my TV and Freesat box standing on it. It’s a bit high but is fine and will do the job until such time as I can tackle the decor and furnishing of my lounge properly in the future. It has three large, full-width drawers and it’s nice to at last be able to hide a lot of paperwork etc away from sight, that’s been standing on my dining table and gathering dust for far too long.

Today I’ve been out sawing wood for my wood burner yet again and I hope that I’ve now got enough stacked up in my fireplace to last for at least two days. The reason is that Wim is coming over on Friday afternoon to help me cut down my last, and largest, dead tree, so if I can get through until then, I’ll hopefully at long last be able to get a flight in tomorrow. We’re expecting above-zero temperatures overnight and a day-time high of around 13/14 degrees Celsius, so I’m hoping that the conditions will be better than recently with the ground unfrozen and minimal mist. Now I’ll just have to wait and see how it turns out.

December 8, 2013

Moving forward again

It was exactly two weeks today since the passing of my lovely old Toddie. I still miss him terribly, and there will be an enormous hole in my life for a long time to come, but I now feel that I have to begin making the effort to start moving forward again.

Exactly a week ago, after having had a wonderful friend come to stay with me until the Saturday when she had to return home, I went out for a walk and had the pleasant surprise of meeting some new English friends who live only a mile or so from my house, for the first time. Much of the rest of last week I spent either indoors in front of my wood burner or outside in the garden cutting wood for it, exactly the kind of things that I needed to do. I found out from the internet how to go about sharpening the chain on my chain saw and was very pleased with the results. However, after yesterday chopping up the final logs from the last dead tree that I got from my garden and then going on to chop down another, when I went to sharpen the chain again I found that the exhaust system was hanging off the chain saw that I only bought less than two months ago. So I ended up having to finish off the job by hand and I hope that when I return the saw to Brico Depot tomorrow they can sort something out pretty quickly because as I type this on Sunday evening, I’m coming to the end of my stock of chopped wood.

The last few days have been cold and bright with little wind, following below-zero temperatures overnight. As a result, the ground has become so cold that it has become covered with a blanket of advection fog in the form of ground-hugging mist. I’ve watched the situation closely and although the hillside opposite, where Galinat is situated, has always taken longer to clear as it is north-west facing and therefore gets the benefit of the sun later, I thought that I’d have a fair chance of getting up in the air today. So after wrapping myself up well and picking up some fuel on the way, I went over there with the idea of flying for an hour or so at about 1.30 pm, when the temperature was forecast to be at its maximum. But it was to no avail because on arrival, it was immediately apparent, as shown by the following pics, that much of the field was still frozen under heavy ground-frost.

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The shots show my X-Air, 56NE, and my friend Regis’s Zenair that he bought as a wreck and spent the last 18 months repairing to fully airworthy condition. It’s up for sale now at around half the usual price of a Zenair if anyone’s interested. As can be seen in the pics, the main area affected by the frost was where the aircraft are parked. However, I thought that although I could have taken off, I’d have been faced with considerable problems afterwards getting the aircraft safely back up the slope to its parking position (note the wheel-spin marks left by my car in the first pic when I got stuck just turning round on the up-slope). I therefore decided not to risk it and to leave it to another day, hopefully this coming week, which is forecast to start with several more clear, bright days. One idea I’ve had is to move my aircraft round to the other side of the existing hangar (see the pics) which is flatter and therefore easier to manoeuver the aircraft on, especially if the ground is a bit slippery. Usually we prefer to leave that area as parking for visiting aircraft but I don’t think that that’s a major consideration at this time of the year.

I’d like to finish off this post with a picture of my Toddie, the last I took of him. It was taken at the end of October while I was experimenting with my new Lumix camera but I had forgotten about it and only came across it today.

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Good bye for now my lovely old dog. Rest easy.