July 20, 2014

Andre’s Balerit

One of our pilots who is based at Galinat is André who is still regularly flying at the venerable age of 91 years young. You’d never guess his age when you meet him especially as he’s still got a brain like a bear trap and a huge interest in life in general. The only flying concession he makes now compared to years ago is that he’s not keen on getting airborne either when the wind has got up a bit or when the air is bumpy with thermals but he still thinks nothing of taking off from and landing back on Galinat’s narrow, sloping grass strip, something that pilots much younger than he is might find a bit daunting.

André has owned and operated the same ULM since the mid-1980’s, a Balerit which is based on the venerable Pou du Ciel (Flying Flea) design of the early 1930’s (1933 to be precise). The design has been slightly updated over the years – Andre’s includes quick-folding wings, for example – but in essence it’s still the same tiny, quintessentially French aircraft that first flew all those years ago. It has a weird welded tubular fuselage with a 532 Rotax mounted low behind the pilot in pusher configuration but as it’s so low down, it has to be connected to the propeller, which is mounted more or less on the axis of the aircraft, by a rubber belt arrangement. In its open cockpit it has a pair of yoke-type steering devices but as this is a ‘deux axes’ (two axes) control aircraft, there are no ailerons and the controls only work the rudder and elevator, which is probably why André isn’t keen on flying from Galinat when it’s a bit windy, especially if there is much of a cross-wind component.

André is now keeping his aircraft in the hangar at Galinat and when Wim and I got back after our flight on 1st June, he’d got it out to give it a hose-down and a clean. This gave me an opportunity to take some photographs of what is a vintage and nowadays quite rare aircraft and I hope readers will find them as interesting as I did. They’re also up in a gallery of their own here on My Trike and possibly more will be added as I get the chance to take them.

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A few evenings ago while I was sitting outside a very pleasant restaurant in St Léon sur Vézère enjoying a meal with my son and his girlfriend, we heard a buzzing overhead and there was André in his Balerit sedately heading out from Galinat. Some time later we saw him heading back again, the aircraft appearing very stable but unusual yet with it’s two pairs of weirdly positioned wings. Only in France? Probably 😉