March 30, 2015

The next adventure

My friend Wim usually goes off on some sort of adventure every year – last year he rowed the length of the River Rhine from Strasbourg to Rotterdam in a boat that he’d designed and built himself over the previous winter – but up until quite recently, he hadn’t planned anything for this year. So when I told him that I was thinking about doing a low and slow flight up the whole of the west coast of France over four days or so in late May/early June, he said that he’d like to do it too.

I’ve been working on the plans on and off for several weeks because as I found when I planned my flight down from Stoke to the Dordogne in MYRO, you have to think quite carefully about each leg of the route and where you will need to land along the way. This is because not only do you need to find airfields at the right time and distance from your take off points but you also need to think about whether you’ll be able to pick up fuel at each one if you need to, to supplement what you’ll be carrying with you both in your tanks and in jerrycans. And for a flight spread over several days, because you’ll need to plan for overnight stops, you’ll also need to know whether there’ll be a bed at the ones you’ll need to stop over at or whether you’ll be allowed to put up a tent for the night.

To complicate things a little bit further, we’ll be taking both of our aircraft and as Wim’s Weedhopper is quite a bit slower than 56NE and has a different fuel consumption, I’ve also had to plan a route with landing fields that work for both aircraft. At the time of writing, I’ve managed to do that, but at this stage with several weeks still to go before the flight, I can make no allowances for wind direction and speed, which together can make a considerable difference to the actual times needed to fly each leg compared to the estimates on which the overall plan is based.

Although quite a bit of planning is therefore required, it’s not rocket science. The starting point, of course, is to find the basic route and to a great extent for aircraft like ours, this is dictated by the availability of suitable landing fields as explained above. Here’s a pic showing what I’ve come up with so far for our west coast trip, a total round-trip distance of just over 1500km.

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It’s essential when planning a trip like this to contact all of the owners or managers of the airfields at which you wish to land well in advance in order to seek permission, and it’s even more important if you are seeking their assistance in obtaining fuel and/or if you want them to allow you to camp overnight. At the time of writing we haven’t yet done this, so for the time being I’ve made it so that airfield names are omitted and specific waypoints are not readily identifiable from the above image, although from the information available on each one from FFPLUM (the French ULM/microlight organisation) and other sources, I do not anticipate any problems on those scores. Indeed, Wim, who has tasked himself with making the contacts, has just confirmed that the proprietor of the field where we want to make our first overnight stop and who was difficult to make contact with, has just given his permission and offered us any help that we might need.

After working out the basic route, you then need to get into the planning of the actual flight in much more detail. Because it’s very tedious to keep recalculating distances, times and fuel usage every time you make a change to the planned route, I use Excel spreadsheets. I’ve got one that I created myself to make all of the usual detailed flight planning calculations using airspeed, track, wind speed and direction etc. But before you can do that, you need to do some preliminary ‘rough’ calculations to see how long and how far you can fly between alternative available waypoints on the fuel that you have on board, so I’ve created another spreadsheet to do this. I’ve also included calculations in this spreadsheet for where and how much fuel will need to be purchased en-route dependent on fuel on board and time flown, with margins built-in for safety, of course, and I’ll go on to give more details of both of my spreadsheets in a future posting.

March 26, 2015

Isn’t life frustrating at times

A short while ago my car’s brakes started to grind a little bit so I knew that they needed renewing. It’s difficult to see the Kia’s brake pads clearly without taking the wheels off so I thought that I might as well go ahead and order new pads for both the front and the back.

Only after they’d arrived did I give the discs more than a cursory once-over and after looking at and feeling them, I thought that I might as well do a proper job and replace those as well, because the rear ones especially appeared quite worn. The new ones took two or three days to come from Germany so yesterday I was all ready to go.

I started with the fronts because they were the most accessible the way that I’d parked the car and from the instructions in my workshop manual, they seemed to be the easier to do as well. It was surprisingly easy, actually, and when I removed the pads I was slightly annoyed to find that they were only half worn. I was even more annoyed when I got the discs off to find that they were a lot less worn than I’d originally thought and that really both pads and discs could have been left for a good few thousand kilometres more 😐

Is wasn’t the same story with the rears, though. The pads were indeed worn right down to the metal so this was where the grinding noise had been coming from. I’d tackled the most worn rear disc first, but when I got it off (and it was a bit of a pig to get off, actually) as for the fronts, I was surprised to see that it wasn’t as badly worn as I’d originally thought and still had a few thousand kilometres in it. But having bought new ones it would have been silly not to fit them, so I went ahead only to find that the ones I had received were too small in diameter!

I then had no choice but to fit just the new rear pads to keep the car on the road, but as the rear discs were not too badly worn, that was OK and the driving I’ve done since then has proven the brakes to be fine. And then I had to contact the supplier. And all credit to them, as they have accepted responsibility for the mishap but after supplying them with full details of my car, they have since confirmed that they can only accept the wrong items back for refund and cannot supply me with the correct ones!

So how frustrating! I’ve replaced the front brake discs and pads when I didn’t really need to and will be throwing away a full set with at least half of its life left in it. I did need to replace the rear pads but have had to team them up with worn discs that may or may not need replacing, but which I have no choice but to retain, at least for the time being. And looking at the big picture, I could have got to exactly where I am now just by buying and fitting a new set of rear brake pads and saving a wad of cash.

Ain’t life grand, it truly is 😕

March 23, 2015

Shots from yesterday

I went on yesterday’s walk mainly because I needed the exercise, but as it was such a fine spring day, it also gave me a good opportunity to compare the performance of the Fuji and Sony compact cameras that I took with me. So after all the ‘technical’ stuff contained in the last post, as I was quite pleased with quite a few of the pictures that I took, this post is all just about them. All of the shots in this post were taken using the Sony DSC-W800.

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At the moment, the Sony has it over the Fujipix JX560 as really the only time that the Fuji outperforms the Sony is when using flash indoors. However, this is not something that I need to do very often so the big test will come when I try the Sony out in the air. If it performs as I hope it will, I’ll probably get rid of the Fuji as I always find to my cost that when you hang onto tech items for too long, they become obsolete and worth next to nothing. But anyway, that decision’s for a little bit later.

March 22, 2015

More camera stuff

When I was younger (much younger!) I used to have a Mamiya C33 TLR camera and a friend and I used to do wedding photography in our spare time. Without wanting to appear immodest, we were very good at it and it became a nice little earner until our paths separated when I got a new main job and moved away.

Time and people move on and although I still have a couple of Pentax 35mm SLR film cameras, a MX and ME Super, and an assortment of lenses and other accessories for them, I can’t remember the last time that I used either. But it’s years, for sure, because I neither need nor want to do that kind of photography any more. Nowadays I want to have a very compact, lightweight, automatic digital camera that I can just point and shoot if I want to, which I do most of the time, one-handed while hanging out of the side of an ULM, and still get good quality images. And for not a lot of money either, so definitely a case of wanting to have your photographic cake and eat it too.

My first foray into digital photography was with a small brick of a camera that Justin, my younger stepson who visited me a week or so ago, passed onto me when he upgraded. Although I’d moved on myself by then, it was still working fine when I left to come to France and I gave it away on Freecycle to a local young lady who told me that she’d just had her camera pinched and couldn’t afford a new one, so hopefully it went to a good home. The replacement that I’d acquired was a new little Pentax Optio, which served me very well for a few years, including my early microlighting days, and most of the early pics here on My Trike were shot using it.

It was a good little workhorse and with the kind of use I gave it, it has the scars to show for it in the form of lots of bumps, scratches and dents. But it’s still going strong to this day, although with a sensor resolution of only 7 megapixels, it now finds itself some way back on the digital camera grid. It was for this reason that I moved on just over a year ago to a Panasonic Lumix DMC-SZ3 that, with its 16.1 megapixel sensor, 10x optical and 20x digital zoom and high level of automatic image stabilisation seemed to meet all of my needs.

And it did, for about a year, until it began to show black blobs on the images it produced. These it transpired, were due to the camera’s having a very poorly designed lens bellows system that sucks in dust whenever the camera is activated. This then settles onto the CCD image sensor and as I found when I tried, it’s then difficult to remove without damaging the camera due to its very cheap and nasty plastic design. Shame on Panasonic I say, whose customer service department left me in the lurch when I reported the fault to them.

And so it was that a few weeks ago I found myself on Ebay (contrary to the view held by several of my friends and members of my close family, I don’t spend all of my time on Ebay … just part of it) and came across a used Fujipix JX660 being advertised for not a lot of money. To cut a long story short, I made an offer on it that was accepted, but when it arrived it turned out to be the JX560, an older model. When I pointed this out to the seller, they immediately offered me a partial refund, so I was even more pleased as the camera worked perfectly, and with its 16 megapixel sensor, produced images that were pretty good. I have to say, though, that I thought the colours were somewhat lacking in intensity and mentioned when I posted some aerial shots taken with it quite recently on My Trike that villages and scenery looked a bit drab, even for the time of year.

Then things took a turn. Not long after I’d received the Fujipix, the Leclerc supermarket at Trélissac ran a limited special offer on a Sony compact digital, the DSC-W800, for only 69€ (£50 at today’s exchange rate). This has a 20 megapixel sensor and was, and still is, being sold by other retailers for around 90-100€, so although I already had the Fuji, it seemed to me to be a no-brainer to let it go by, and I bought one.

I tried to run some tests to compare it against the Fuji but was initially disappointed as although the Sony has a 20 megapixel sensor compared to the Fuji’s 16, shots that I took around my house and garden seemed to show that the latter’s images had less colour intensity but were crisper when magnified. I’d got to the point where I was thinking that I’d allow the Leclerc promotion to finish and then resell the Sony for what I’d paid for it, when the thought occurred to me that I might not actually be giving it a fair test. The shots that I’d been taking were definitely not the kind of shots that I’d bought it for, so what if I was condemning it for not being able to do what I didn’t want it to do without bothering to find out whether it was any good for the kind of shots that I did want to take?

This afternoon was bright but with enough cloud to give varying light conditions and as I needed the exercise, I decided to take a walk with both cameras in my pockets and see how shots compared that were taken with each one and were to all intents identical. Quite often, because I have a very old copy of Photoshop, I do a certain amount of post-processing of shots before posting them on My Trike, editing things like colour intensity, contrast and sharpness. However, all of the shots that follow except for the ones that I’ve blown up sections of for comparison purposes, are totally unedited and just as they came from the respective cameras. And this is what I found.

Initially, I set both cameras to ‘full auto’, meaning that they selected all of the settings judged on the scene being shot ie close-up, landscape etc. I generally always reduce the sizes of images when posting them on My Trike as I think that dimensions of 1600×1200 pixels are large enough to show the level of detail that I think is suitable but do not make visitors wait too long before all of the images in a posting are viewable. The full dimensions of the images produced by the Fuji are 4608×3440 pixels and of those produced by the Sony 5152×3864 pixels, so although the Sony images include a bit more picture around the edges than those of the Fuji, the Sony is already theoretically at a bit of an advantage over the Fuji for sharpness when they are reduced in size.

Up first is a just a general shot of the hillside, grass, trees, sky and cloud.

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The first thing to note is that the colours in the Fuji shot are much ‘colder’ than those in the Sony. From what I recall of the view, I think that the Fuji colours are too ‘cold’ and the Sony ones too ‘warm’, but this begs the question, ‘which are preferable?’ given that I do not want to colour-correct every single shot that I post on My Trike. Based on the aerial Fuji shots that I posted previously that I thought were ‘a bit drab’, I think that I have to go with the Sony. My Trike is not intended to be an ‘art’ medium and I think that the ‘warmer’ Sony colours, especially the sky as will be seen later, are more appropriate for it. Also, taking the tree foliage as an example, the Sony image looks to contain a greater range of shades of each colour.

But what of the quality of the pictures themselves? For this you have to take a sample of each one and blow it up, which I’ve done and then showed the results for each one side-by-side.

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The result is quite interesting, because although the Sony has a 20 megapixel sensor and the Fuji only a 16 megapixel one, in this test the Fuji appears to come out ahead. The greater warmth of the Sony colours still influence but looking at the brown leaves on the tree trunk, for example. they appear sharper in the Fuji image than in the Sony. There is no obvious reason why this should be so and in my view, it can only be down to how the electronics have set each camera up based on the ‘judgement’ they have made of the scene. It has to be said, however, that the Sony side of the image has been blown up slightly more than the Fuji side.

Next up, a back-lit shot of some mossy logs.

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My first impression is that I far and away prefer the Sony image because its colours are more vibrant and also because technically, it’s pulling much more detail out of the shadows. But what about the underlying quality when each image is blown up?

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This is, again, quite a tricky one to call. The colours and shadow detail of the Sony are ahead of the Fuji but if you look closely at the grain detail in the log, it looks as though the Fuji has it once again for shear resolution. But why should this be and how relevant is it? In my opinion, it’s down to how the engineers have tuned each camera’s electronics for taking fully automatic pictures, which is all about compromises. In theory, this should not matter and the Sony with its higher sensor resolution should always beat the Fuji. But it appears that somehow, the Fuji engineers have done a better job. The question is, does this matter? For me, the answer is, ‘I don’t know’. For the pictures I take from 56NE, I usually don’t have the camera set up on ‘fully auto’. I usually set it up for ‘landscapes’ and then allow the camera’s electronics to do their work because I’ve found in the past that this can make a bit of a difference. So what about these two models?

When comparing several of the shots that I took in ‘landscape’ mode, the sky in the Fuji image was completely washed out to almost white while the Sony sky still retained all of its colour and cloud detail. To keep an even playing field, however, I’ve shown two below where this hasn’t happened and the lighting conditions are virtually identical in both.

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It’s immediately obvious that because the Fuji is over-emphasising the shadow, detail is lost in both the trunk of the tree in the foreground and also in the wall texture of the building in the distance. And it’s also apparent that the Sony is doing a far better job of showing the detail of the trees with pink blossom beyond the far edge of the lake and also the shades of colour on the hillside in the far distance. So is it time to make a final judgement? Not quite, but I think we can see the direction in which it’s going. To finish off, I took a picture of a distant scene with back-lighting and a little bit of zoom and this is what I got.

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It’s pretty obvious that the Sony has it by a mile, both for colour and also image quality as shown by the detail its image contains in the far distance. But just in case anyone thinks that I’ve unfairly blown the Fuji up a bit more than the Sony, take a look at this.

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When small sections are snipped out of each image, it is clear that the Sony walks it. When the tiny buildings are viewed close up, they still contain much of their detail in the Sony pic but don’t in the Fuji and also, although not much of the far distance is visible in the above pic, once again the Sony has it for detail, colour and shade gradation. So that does just about confirm it. I took quite a few more shots including panoramas. The Fuji loses out there because being an older model, it only has a manual system that stitches three shots together to make a single very wide angle image, whereas the Sony uses current ‘movie’ technology. This means that some solid lines ended up being discontinuous in the Fuji pics while the Sony ones always came out perfect.

So what are my conclusions? On the face of it, when used in ‘fully automatic’ mode, the Fuji beats the Sony even though the latter has a sensor with more megapixels, and not only did this include outdoor shots but also ones taken indoors with flash. However, in ‘landscape’ and ‘panorama’ modes, which are the ones that I will mostly be using, the Sony beats the Fuji. But I still have to try the Sony out in the air in 56NE. I can hardly wait 😉

March 20, 2015

Practical economics

My retirement pension is paid monthly on the same day, directly into my bank account, in euros. So for the past couple of months I, together with all retirees and other people resident in the EU and receiving income from the UK, have been enjoying a bit of a windfall. In the early days of the euro, the exchange rate was a little over 1.40€ to the pound as I recall, but over the years sterling fell back, it standing at 1.20 by the time I bought my house here at the beginning of 2012.

I got a little bit more than that, though, because when you transfer a ‘signicant’ amount of cash, you can get a commercial rate from the specialist foreign exchange firms, just as the rate that applies to my monthly pension payment is always a bit better than you’d get from a high street bank or currency exchange. This is not because my pension is so high, I might add, but because the total amount of sterling being transferred to recipients in France and being converted into euros, allows the company handling the transfer to command a considerably higher commercial rate.

At the time of writing, the pound has been enjoying a six or seven year high against the euro with the rate standing at over 1.38. It recently rose as high as 1.42 but seems to have settled at around 1.38-1.39, which I, and I’m sure many others on a fixed income in Europe, find quite acceptable, thank you, compared to six or seven months ago. And the best bit is that because of the uncertainty involved in the position of Greece within the Eurozone and the quantitative easing measures taken by the ECB (European Central Bank) that are planned to last for a couple of years or so in order to boost the zone’s flagging economy, this situation could continue for some time to come.

This unfortunately is not good news for British exporters, but as their sales to Europe will have dropped anyway due to the parlous state of the Eurozone economy, it’s about time that they pulled their socks up, broadened their horizons and looked further afield to the world as a whole with its massive potential, rather than just trying to sell piecemeal to their next-door neighbours who are on the rocks anyway.

When I first came to France, I mentioned at the time that it was almost always more economical and quicker to source various items from the UK rather than buying them locally. For some things, that still applies despite the change in exchange rate, but it increasingly doesn’t include things that I need for my car. Part of the reason is that I sold my old Vauxhall/Opel Astra and bought my Kia Sportage. But that doesn’t entirely explain it, because I found when I needed them that it was cheaper to buy a steering pump and accessory drive belt from the UK rather than from a French supplier. However, when I searched for new front and rear brake pads, I soon found that sourcing from the UK was out of the question.

But, as usual, because the stupid French suppliers still refuse to recognise the internet and what it could do for their sales, they won’t be getting the business either. Instead, on this occasion it was quicker and cheaper to source the items from Germany. And not only the brake pads. When I checked the discs, which I should have done right at the beginning, I found that all four were shot too and they’re also coming from a (different) German supplier. When will the French get their heads out of the sand and recognise that the world is changing around them – whether they like it or not.

So yesterday, when I went out to fit my new brake pads, I couldn’t. It turned into a lovely afternoon and I couldn’t allow myself to waste it, so I decided that I’d try to get rid of some of the old wood that’s been standing in two heaps and blighting the corners of my garden for many months now. I hoped that I might be able to burn half of it at least, but I did better than that. By dint of a lot of effort and hard work, I not only got rid of all of it, but also managed to burn all of the dead leaves that had been blown into piles in various nooks and crannies by the wind. I was very tired by the end of it, much of which was due to the level of unfitness that I’ve attained over the winter, but it was well worth it and I feel that I deserved the couple of beers that I treated myself to afterwards 😉

March 18, 2015

A local drive

The short video that I made to test my new little sports cam and put a link to in my last post was taken from a longer one that I shot last Sunday while on a short drive around my local area.

I went down the hill towards Plazac and then turned left to Le Moustier. From there I drove across the bridge over the river Vézère and turned left to go past La Roque St Christophe which is probably the biggest troglodyte ‘city’ in the area. Then I continued on through Peyzac le Moustier to St Léon sur Vézère, one of the prettiest local communes, from where I drove back up the hill and home again.

I’ve edited the video down to eight minutes and put it into the Videos section but you can see it directly by clicking on the following image.

St Léon sur Vézère

Although dry, it wasn’t the nicest day possible as it was rather dull, but the video didn’t come out too badly for all that. So far, I’m delighted with the way the little sports cam is performing and am looking forward very much to using it for the first time mounted on 56NE.

March 16, 2015

GoPro? Oh no!

I love taking pictures while I’m flying, especially when the vis is for miles and the air is lovely and smooth. It’s nice to be able to look back on them and remember the details of each flight, but they also provide the opportunity to share the pleasures of flying with others who may not have the opportunity to get airborne. And as well as taking still images, I also enjoy shooting videos, but the difference is that whereas you can hold a still camera in your hand when flying alone, a camcorder has to be secured on a mount of some kind.

For my early videos that I shot back in the UK in MYRO, I used the Canon camcorder that I then had attached to a bar mount on a tube above and behind my head inside the cabin. However, I wasn’t at all happy with the position because it showed too much of the inside of the cabin and not enough of the outside, so I then switched to a suction mount stuck on top of the panel. This worked pretty well but I was concerned that the vibration would shake the mount off during flight causing the camcorder to fall and get damaged, so I then switched to a new lighter-weight Canon model.

This worked fairly well and all of my more recent flying videos to date have been shot using that arrangement. It was far from ideal, however, because shooting through the windscreen plastic was always a compromise as inevitably it led to image degradation due to scratches on the screen, reflections and things like that. And although things improved in one way when I moved on to 56NE, my X-Air, because I was able to mount the camcorder outside thus eliminating the problems caused by shooting through the screen, I had no choice but to mount it on an extended bracket which caused vibration and camera-shake that I’ve never been able to eliminate.

But in the meantime, the market has moved on. People don’t use heavy camcorders any more for shooting these kinds of videos – they use specially designed, very light-weight sports cams. These can be mounted almost anywhere because they are so small – on a rider’s or skier’s helmet, on the bonnet or roof of a car, on the handle-bars of a bike or, as in the case of an ULM, even on the wing, nose or tail of an aircraft. And the best known of all of them is the GoPro Hero.

But I could never justify spending the several hundreds of pounds required to buy a GoPro, not even a used one as new models came out, because with each new model the new price went up and the old models still held their value. So I’d more or less given up going the sport cam route – until now that is. Many years ago, Japan had the reputation for being able to copy any product and sell its version at a considerably lower price, but that mantle has now been passed on to China.

So just a few weeks ago I was browsing Ebay, as you do, and came across a low-cost Chinese copy of the venerable basic GoPro sports camcorder. It was a fixed-lens, no zoom design with just a USB connection but it was advertised as being capable of shooting in 1080 full HD mode and came with a huge range of accessories allowing it to be mounted almost anywhere and on almost any surface. And the best part was that it only cost £29 including delivery to France! What the heck, at this price there was nothing really to lose, so I ordered one, and when it arrived a week or so ago, I was actually quite impressed by both its appearance and quality and by the range of accessories that it came with. Here’s a shot that shows what I’m talking about.

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I couldn’t wait to try it out and grabbed the only spare Micro-SD card that I had once I’d charged up the battery. But I was to be disappointed, because right from the start, although the basic image quality was pretty good, the videos that I shot in and around my garden were peppered with errors. These mainly included coloured flashes across one or more frames and sound going out of sync and even worse, when I did a long recording of a drive over to Galinat, several seconds were cut off the ending of the video while in the meantime the sound kept playing.

But it was my own fault. The little leaflet that the unit came with stated quite clearly that a ‘speed 10’ card must be used, and I’d been using a ‘speed 4’. Luckily, I decided to persist and after ordering a new card from Ebay and being sent the wrong one, I eventually bit the bullet and bought a new 32 GB ‘speed 10’ card from Leclerc on Saturday, paying more than 2/3 of what I’d paid for the complete camcorder kit, including delivery from China, for the privilege. Initial results indicated that this had solved the problem but I needed to shoot a video of 30 minutes or more to be happy that it had actually done so, and a short drive yesterday provided the opportunity.

I’d shot my test videos in the car by mounting the little sport cam on a suction mount on top of the dash, as I’d done with my Canon camcorder for my off-road videos. It worked fine, but as the sport cam is so small and light, I thought that on this occasion, I’d stick the mount higher up, directly on the windscreen itself. Here’s a shot of the basic arrangement that I used.

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It worked a treat and I’m very pleased with the results. Due to the lightness of the sports cam, 61gm including its battery and only 77gm including the plastic clip that it’s mounted inside in the above pic, vibration is zero and as a result the image quality was surprisingly high, even though I shot it in 720 HD mode rather than the full 1080. I’ve put the video that I shot up in the Videos section but it can be viewed directly by clicking on the following image, which itself was a screen grab taken from the original wmv.

Sports Cam Test

So up to this point, I’m mightily impressed. I use Corel Videostudio Pro editing software and at the end create a wmv file which is of pretty high quality. However, I host my videos myself on the My Trike web site rather than using apps like Youtube and the WordPress plugin that I use requires that I convert the wmv file to a flv. This is much smaller and inevitably leads to a loss of image quality and although I minimise this by using a good converter and settings that over the years I know will give possibly the highest quality flv file possible, the difference is clearly visible. So far, I’m delighted with the results that my new cheap little sport cam is giving. There’s a bit of ‘fish-eye’ towards the edges of the screen, but I don’t think it’s enough to get too fussed over and I just can’t wait to try it out on a flight in 56NE 🙂

March 12, 2015

Quick, late flight

I had to take some rubbish to the ‘déchèterie’ at Rouffignac today – two old pieces of carpet that the previous resident had left behind half buried in the ground. I should have got rid of them ages ago really, but I only got around to digging out the largest piece earlier this week. I hadn’t bargained for the fact that they would be resurfacing the roads from Plazac to Rouffignac today so by the time I’d discovered that they were blocked, reversed my car and trailer and found my way there and back by incredibly circuitous alternative routes to the south and north, a job that should have taken an hour or so at most took at least twice that.

Then I had to pick up a few things at Intermarché by which time it was late afternoon, but on the way home I realised that despite the vis being somewhat poor, the weather was bright and warm with little or no wind. So after I’d unloaded my shopping, as the days are now getting longer, I quickly threw a short local flight together to make up for the disappointment of yesterday and headed over to Galinat. I decided to head north-west via Les Versannes to La Douze, a commune that sits on the main road from Périgueux to Le Bugue, and then return to Galinat via the overhead of the chateau where we hope to establish the new airfield, taking a couple of photographs along the way. You can see how poor the vis was from the first shot below with the sun behind showing Rouffignac in the distance, and it was much worse looking (and flying) towards the sun, of course.

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The next few shots are of La Douze, which I was surprised to find I hadn’t taken any shots of before. This is an unflattering time of the year with drab colours and little or no foliage on the trees, so I’ll have to make sure I return later in the year when it should look much more attractive.

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Finally, the only shot that turned out to be usable of the two that I took of the chateau in whose field we hope to establish the new airfield. The second picture was taken closer and showed more detail but unfortunately had too much vibration in it.

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The field in question is the one to the left of the chateau going towards the white building in the top left hand corner of the picture. It could never be described as ‘over long’ but at around 275 metres with an up or down-slope depending on whether you’re landing or taking off, it should be adequate for any but the most slippery of ULMs.

So that was it, just a short flight of 35 minutes, but it made up for yesterday and with rain of varying intensity forecast for tomorrow and the next several days, it’ll just have to do until the weather picks up again. That’ll probably be around the middle of next week – that’s if the forecasts can be believed.

March 11, 2015

Eventful day

Wim and I had selected today as being the day for a trial landing on the field at the chateau that we would like to turn back into an airfield. We checked a couple of days ago and although the surface of the field was a bit bumpy and pot-holed due to having had horses grazing on it over the winter, it was much dryer compared to when we all got bogged down on it in Victor’s Mehari, although still a bit on the soft side.

Wim went in before me and landed safely and the owners and their dog were gathered around his aircraft when I approached, so after a fly-over to make sure that they knew I was there, I elected to land more to the left of the track he’d used to make sure that there was absolutely no chance of colliding with anyone or anything. It was a mistake because the surface was softer over there and my landing was very poor anyway, as I came in a bit too high and hard. My right main wheel immediately dug into the soft ground and to cut a long story short, the momentum of the aircraft was sufficient to snap the stub axle completely off.

If this had happened in England, all hell would have been let loose, with the need for a repair scheme, approved parts, multiple inspections and goodness knows what, resulting in the aircraft being grounded for probably about a month. But this is not England, it’s France. A close inspection revealed that there was no other damage to the aircraft other than to the landing leg itself. The trailing arm bracket was a bit bent but that only needed a couple of light bangs with a hammer to straighten again. The X-Air’s landing leg is made from a standard aluminium aerofoil section that Wim happened to have a length of in his workshop and as a result, we had the old one off in five or ten minutes to use as a pattern and had a replacement made within an hour or so. Then it was back to the field after a cup of tea to fit it and 56NE was ready to go in less than three hours of the event occurring. Marvellous.

One unfortunate outcome of all this was that having promised the chateau owner’s son a flight in 56NE so he could see the local area from the air for the first time, it wasn’t possible to do it in the time available and he leaves for England tomorrow for about three weeks. But although the weather was quite warm and not too bumpy, it could have been better, so I’m sure we’ll be able to find a better day when he returns. I’m pleased to say that my take off and return to Galinat were without incident and as I didn’t fly direct and did a few circuits of the area, I was able to take a few shots with my ‘new’ (to me) Fujipix to see how it performed.

The first shot is of St Léon sur Vézère which looks quite grim with dull colours and bare trees in this picture but is a lovely spot for a meal at L’Auberge du Pont in the summer.

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The next shot is of the Chateau de Peuch, which is situated to the south of Plazac on the back road that winds up the hill to Fleurac.

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It was owned by a Dutch industrialist who died a few years ago and his widow eventually decided to sell it. I heard that it has recently gone for €3.5 million, to a young British couple with small children, but have not had this confirmed. Apparently they also managed to acquire the houses close by the property as well, so it’s alright for some!

The final shot is of the privately owned chateau that is half-way down the hill between my house and Thonac. It has large and slightly formidable automatic metal gates and a stone tower next to it, visible in the photograph, that is on a similar angle to the Leaning Tower of Pisa.

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So as the heading says, quite an eventful day taken all round. Fortunately, no real harm was done to person or plane so as I said to the owner of the field where it all happened this evening, it’s all just part of life’s rich tapestry 😉

March 9, 2015

Excellent spring flight

My younger stepson, Justin, was working in Paris last week and will also be this, so had to stay over in France for the week-end. After a bit of uncertainty as to whether he should come down to Plazac or not on account of my house’s blocked waste pipe problems, in the event he did and arrived by train at Brive early on Saturday afternoon.

It was great to have him here because he was working in Princeton, New Jersey for 10 years or so where he and his wife, Sharon, had their two children, returning to live in Edinburgh only quite recently, and I hadn’t seen him for quite some time. He couldn’t have chosen a better week-end because the weather both days was balmy and more than spring-like with temperatures of around 19/20 degrees Celsius and we were able to sit outside catching up with a few beers and even enjoying an al-fresco lunch yesterday.

He could only stay for one night but with his train back to Paris leaving from Brive at 6.00 pm, we had time to get in a flight over the local area yesterday afternoon. Wim flew into Galinat for it and we flew part of it together, and although we didn’t follow it exactly, this is what my planned route looked like.

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As well as having the chance to see what the Dordogne is like from the air, Justin was also able to see all of the places that I’d shown him by car in the limited time that we’d had on Saturday, including the restaurant in Les Eyzies where we had dined on Saturday evening with Wim and Sophie. Wim and I were also able to overfly the site of the proposed airfield that Victor and we want to re-establish after its having been closed for the past 20 years or so, although not too low as we hadn’t told the owner that we would be doing so.

The weather was beautiful, not too cold and with the air totally calm, so it was a flight that Justin will probably remember for some time to come. I also enjoyed having the opportunity to show him the area where I am now making my new life and I’m greatly looking forward to the first time when he is able to come back again together with all of his young family.

March 6, 2015

Jobs that must be done

Some jobs you just have to grit your teeth and do whether you like it or not, and this was one of them. Regular readers of My Trike may recall that while I was building my wood store, I inadvertently put a pick-axe through the waste pipe that takes water from my kitchen sink and joins up with the one connected to my bath and bathroom handbasin.

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It didn’t take much at the time to repair it but shortly afterwards I began to notice that I was having problems with both my kitchen and bathroom wastes which were emptying much more slowly than previously and with lots of glugging noises as trapped air was being released. My big fear was that there was another break in the plastic pipe that I’d missed and that waste water was being released into the ground under the concrete floor of the wood store and as there was no practical way of checking if this was so, I’d more or less become resigned to the fact that I’d have to put in a new waste system and block the old pipe up. In the meantime I’ve had to limit the amount of waste water that I put down it which, I confess, has even had to include limiting the number and duration of the showers that I’ve allowed myself.

This would be a job involving quite a lot of work that would mean removing some of the kitchen units that I put in only a fairly short time ago and also ripping out my old bathroom, mainly because I plan to replace it anyway and it wouldn’t be worthwhile working around putting in just a new waste without doing the whole job. Obviously I’d prefer to do all this at a time of my own choosing so you can imagine how I felt when things came to a head a couple of days ago. I decided to do some much overdue washing and when the machine pumped out, the dirty water ended up in my bath with hardly any of it finding its way into the by-now almost totally blocked waste pipe.

My efforts with the sink plunger yielded almost no results so I had to empty my bath with a plastic container and face the fact that no more water could go into the existing waste pipe. And like it or not, I had to get stuck in immediately and install a new one. Later that evening I was telling Wim about my problems over a couple of glasses of wine and he happened to mention that he had a Drain Snake, one of those coil-type things with a hook on the end that you shove up drains to clear anything out that is blocking them. I said that I doubted it would do any good but that I’d borrow it anyway and give it a try before starting all of the work that I envisaged was ahead of me.

My house, like many in the UK and the great majority in rural France, relies on a ‘fosse septique’, or septic tank, to handle all of its waste water. Strict rules have been in force since 1992, I think, about how the system should be designed and installed and whenever a house is sold the ‘fosse septique’ is included in the pre-sale inspection that is documented and passed to the prospective purchaser. There are rules on how the ‘grey’ (from sinks etc) and ‘black’ (from WCs) water must not be mixed and how each should be treated and disposed of separately and as many old rural houses just had pipes emptying straight into nearby rivers, the inspectors have had a lot of work to do to rectify problems, many of which have been quite serious.

The inspection that was carried out on my house revealed that its ‘fosse septique’ system was not of an approved design. The waste water from the kitchen and bathroom originally just fed straight into the ‘fosse septique’, meaning that the grey and black water was not separated. A grease trap had been installed in the ground that intercepted the water from the kitchen and bathroom before it entered the ‘fosse septique’ and someone had tried to deal with the problem by diverting the flow into a new underground discharge and preventing it going forward into the ‘fosse septique’ itself and although this was effective, it still didn’t really meet the requirements of the regulations.

Here are some shots that show the waste pipe that enters the grease trap, the somewhat crude way in which the grey water has been diverted and the now-blocked exit from the grease trap into the ‘fosse septique’.

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When I started, the grease trap itself was full of smelly stagnant, black water and mud that I had to remove using the aforesaid plastic container. As I did so and emptied the smelly black mud out on a corner of my garden I was taken back to when I had to do such jobs while I was working as a student during my school and college holidays. Good training for much that followed later in life but no more appetising now than back then. It must have been years since it was last cleared out but pretty soon the task was done as the photographs show. Then it was time for Wim’s Drain Snake.

To be honest, as I began to shove it up the waste pipe, I wasn’t holding out much hope. I’d worn rubber gloves while clearing out the grease trap and had changed to leather gloves for doing this and as they were becoming wetter and more smelly, I was half looking forward to calling it a day. Nothing was coming out of the waste pipe into the grease trap except for the merest trickle of water, but as I worked the Drain Snake, more and more mud and foul debris was being dislodged from inside the pipe. I thought that I’d take the chance to put some hot water down the pipe from the sink in my kitchen, but when I went outside to check afterwards, practically none of it made its way to the grease trap, so I was beginning to feel rather despondent.

Nevertheless, I persisted with my efforts with the Drain Snake and as I managed to slowly push more and more of it into the pipe the tiny trickle of water slowly began to increase. Next thing there was a kind of ‘whoosh’ and a flood of black water came cascading out. I’d at last managed to clear the blockage in the waste pipe. What a relief this was! So I didn’t have to embark on a project to install a new waste pipe after all and there was actually nothing wrong with the old one, despite my fears of there being another leak under the floor of the wood store. I flushed the pipe through several times with hot water from both my kitchen and bathroom and by the end of it, the system was better than it has ever been since I’ve been here. The pipe was obviously partially blocked when I moved in and the problem was compounded in the day or so before I discovered the damage I’d caused with my wayward pick-axe when a small amount of soil had been able to enter the pipe and cause a further build-up on the original partial blockage.

But now all is well and I can look forward to taking long, hot showers again whenever I want. And should I decide to take another bath (unlikely…) I can even now look forward to seeing a vortex in the plug-hole as the water runs away, an experience that alone makes all the work involving smelly mud and black dirty water totally worthwhile 😉

Need more proof that all’s well with the world and spring is pushing on a door that’s already ajar? An hour or so ago, I saw this beautiful yellow butterfly flitting from bluebell to bluebell outside my kitchen door. I hope for her sake that she hasn’t made it just a day or so too early.

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March 5, 2015

Winter’s over!

Official. Every October/November time we are treated to the sight and sound of the sky being full of cranes as they migrate south from their summer homes in northern Europe to the warmer climes of the south of Spain and North Africa. And we know at that time that winter will soon be upon us.

Then as the skies brighten and the temperature begins to climb again some time in early spring, we are greeted with the sight and sound of them on their way back, and as we know that those clever birds would only be doing so when they know that the long, dark days of winter are finally over, we also know that spring is beckoning and that the days will soon be warming up. I heard my first flock approaching in the distance last Saturday while we were viewing the site of the possible new airfield and stood with my head back as they eventually flew past in a series of straggly ‘V’ formations and filled the air with their calls. It’s an awesome sight and although I didn’t have a camera handy then, today I was able to dash out and catch a quick shot of a large flock as it flew high past my house.

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This was the only flock that I saw today, and late in the afternoon too, but yesterday the sky was full of birds as squadron after squadron of them headed doggedly north, so much so that people were coming out of the shops and cafés in Montignac to see them for themselves. At one time as though the leaders were in radio contact, each flight simultaneously broke formation, joined into more of an amorphous group and began wheeling and descending. It didn’t take long to see why when a large area of dark low cloud came over accompanied by squally winds and bursts of large raindrops that the clever birds had seen approaching from afar and had taken steps to avoid, resuming their journey once again when the unfavourable weather had cleared through.

The birds must have tremendous determination and stamina because for the past few days, we have been subjected to cold northerly winds that they have been flying headlong into for hour after hour. That’s all about to change, though, and the weather forecast is for a couple of weeks of fine, warm weather with mainly southerly winds. Nice for the cranes and for ULM pilots too, so with a bit of luck, we’ll be able to get a good bit of flying in. Let’s hope that these are the signs of a good summer to come 😉

March 1, 2015

A day of possibilities

We had a very interesting day yesterday. The evening before, I’d received a message from Victor and when I phoned him back I received some exciting news. He’d been in touch with an English speaking family who own a local chateau. The property was once owned by a European caravan tycoon who used to keep a single engine aircraft there and up to about twenty years ago, part of the land belonging to the chateau was set out as an airfield. The area of land still exists and is still recognisable as such despite becoming slightly overgrown, but after Victor had made contact with the current owner, they had said that they would not be totally averse to turning it back into an airfield. So yesterday Wim and I bundled into the Mehari with Victor for an exploratory visit.

Things didn’t get off to a very auspicious start because although the field in question was rather waterlogged, Victor decided to drive the Mehari onto it. It promptly became bogged down, so Wim and I hopped out to see if we could help extract it from the trenches it was digging in the soft ground by giving it a good push. But to no avail, and we only managed to do so later on with the help of the chateau owner and her son when we were about to leave.

But back to the point of our visit. As soon as we drove onto the field, it was obvious that this was an area of land of some promise and it was clear why the former owner had used it as an airfield. I’m not going to show any pictures of it for obvious reasons but it would not take long to recreate a runway at least 220 metres in length gently sloping towards the south-west with a run-off area at the end of it. Due to trees at its northerly end, take-offs would always need to be made to the south-west and landings in the opposite direction, but experience at Galinat and elsewhere has shown that this poses no problems whatsoever. And not only that, the barn where the former owner kept his aircraft still exists, containing various items left over from that time, and would be large enough if cleared out to take at least three or four ULMs!

The original wind sock is even still there. It’s now in the middle of a clump of small bushes that would need to be cleared away but it appears to be fully operational and would only need a new sleeve and a good coat of paint to get it back to full working order.

The weather isn’t helping us now because the local forecast is for several days of continuous rain. Even once it stops, it’ll take several more for the land to dry out so Wim and I can make some experimental landings on it. The owner’s son was enthusiastic about taking a flight with me in 56NE to see the field and the surrounding area from the air, but even this might not be possible for a week or more if Galinat, which I’ve not visited since my last flight, has also become waterlogged as it did last year.

So things cannot move forward very much for now. But this is an exciting time. It would be easy to envisage what the airfield could become in quite a short time. With the land cleared, the surface rolled flat and the runway set out with end and side markers, it could very easily become one of the prime touring airfields in the Dordogne. The chateau owner likes the idea because she has gites for rent, so who knows what kind of future could be in store for it if we can take it forward. However, these are early days and for now we must just take one small step at a time 😉