We have a dull, cool morning today, with a little bit of drizzle, which is why I’m indoors typing this. But for most of the week, we’ve enjoyed temperatures as high as 27 and 28 degrees Celsius, which has allowed me to get on with the work I want to do on 56NE.
The incident of a week or so ago which involved some minor damage to 56NE’s undercarriage caused me to take a closer look at its shock absorbers, not the least because the one on the side affected got slightly bent. It wasn’t enough to prevent 56NE being flown (after all, I landed back at Galinat OK after the incident and safely took off again and landed down the road at the field near my house) but it was definitely enough to make me examine them much more closely than I had up to then.
Ever since I first acquired 56NE, I’ve noticed that the main undercarriage wheels were slightly canted in at the top, but more so than I’ve seen on any other X-Air. I’ve also noticed that the coils of the springs that enclose the shock absorber bodies were much closer together than on other X-Airs, and you can see what I mean in the following image.
On the left is one of the shock absorbers on my friends Ken and Peter’s X-Air and on the right is one that is on 56NE. The difference in coil spacing is very evident and as it is not a trivial matter or one that should be overlooked, I decided that all was not quite right. It was suggested that all I needed to do was find a shop selling shock absorbers and buy another pair of a similar pattern. However, I decided to look into things in a bit more detail and although it took me most of a glorious day earlier this week with an outside temperature of over 28 degrees Celsius, it was lucky that I did.
Randkar, the X-Air distributor based at Frossay in the Loire, publishes a detailed parts guide, but this does not include much by way of individual part specifications and nothing by way of details on the shock absorbers themselves. However, during my on line researches I contacted a French company called Fournales Suspension SA which offers an alternative design shock absorber for the X-Air and in their reply they confirmed that the distance between the upper and lower fixings is 280mm, the upper fixing is for a bolt of 10mm diameter, the lower fixing is a fork and that the compression travel is 58mm.
I knew all of this apart from the compression travel, which is a key figure and is, of course, affected by the gaps between the outer spring coils. There was no way that with the tiny gaps between the coils on 56NE’s springs, that a compression travel of this magnitude would ever be possible and as well as partially explaining why my last hard landing had resulted in undercarriage damage (ie because there was insufficient travel for the shock absorber to actually absorb the shock of the landing) it also suggested to me that the shock absorbers fitted to 56NE were probably not standard equipment.
So it then became clear that I should really replace them. I was slightly taken aback by the price quoted by Randkar of over 300€ for a new pair (the Fournales price was 1080€ with a production delay of 10 days!), so I thought that I’d look to see if any suitable alternatives might be available.
I had to start off by estimating the force that might normally be needed to compress 56NE’s shock absorbers. There is no published figure that I know of but as the maximum all-up weight of the aircraft is 450 kg, in order to allow for a heavy-ish one wheel crosswind landing, I estimated that 200 kg would be a reasonable figure. If that’s in the ballpark, that would put the shocks on 56NE some way outside of anything that I’ve come across fitted to a heavy motorbike, let alone a scooter, and in my searches I also hadn’t come across anything else of the right pattern and dimensions on any other kind of vehicle. Of course, that’s not to say that there isn’t something out there.
I then sent a hand-drawn picture of what I was looking for together with the numbers to a couple of specialist French shock absorber companies and they replied by return saying that they could not supply. I also sent the same information off to Hogan Shocks in the UK, a world-class manufacturer of motorbike shock absorbers, who can supply a made-to-measure pair for only 210€, and this is what they told me after I’d also sent them a photograph of what was currently fitted. They said that what I had was a not very expensive shock absorber combined with a very powerful spring and that it was therefore something slightly out of the ordinary. They regretted that they couldn’t supply anything of a similar specification and suggested that I should be very careful about anything else that anyone offered to replace it.
At that point, I decided that enough was enough and that, as I said to Victor, the safety of my aircraft was worth more to me than 300€. So I decided to immediately place an order on Randkar to obtain a pair of original replacements with delivery ASAP as 56NE was, and still is, standing outside in my garden propped up on one wheel and a jack. I knew that Randkar had the items in stock and off went an email to them requesting urgent supply with payment by bankers card and despatch that same day. But now for a little game of ‘spot the difference’.
While all of the above was going on, I’d also had to do something about getting a replacement radio antenna for 56NE. I’d checked and found that although the one on MYRO was an excellent one, having been MOD surplus equipment, removing it was a bit too involved. So I needed to source another new one. Despite searching on the internet, I couldn’t find anything suitable in France and I refuse in this day and age to start looking in Yellow Pages and phoning around on the off-chance. Those days are long gone in my book and the sooner French suppliers realise it, the sooner they’ll start to get their economy moving again. So as usual, I turned to a supplier in the UK, Corby Radio. I sent them a message, got a reply by return and after a further brief exchange gave them an order, paid for it and had it despatched all on the same day. And all for the princely sum of £31.
So what about my 300€ order for a pair of shock absorbers placed on Randkar? I know from experience that any order placed on P & M in the UK is received, processed and despatched the same day, usually for next-day delivery, if the parts are in stock. So surely Randkar would do likewise? Not a hope! Not having had a reply from them after sending a previous email, I followed up with a telephone call and was asked by them to send an email. So then I painfully went through the process of telling them that I wanted a pair of shocks that I knew were in stock and that I wanted to pay for them and have them despatched that same day. Not possible, I was told, and that if I wanted such a thing I’d have to pay a surcharge, probably of 30-40€!
What is it about French companies? Unfortunately, I think that they will never, ever learn and until they do, France will sadly remain mired in the economic mess that it currently finds itself in. I used to care but as I am now finding that this attitude towards customers and customer service is pretty uniform, I’m now just becoming impatient and beginning to think that really it’s their own fault and they reap what they sow. It took them until the next afternoon (over 24 hours) before a very nice young lady phoned me to expedite the order and take my bank card details. Imagine if I hadn’t been home 😐