June 26, 2015

IMC – think you could hack it?

We’ve had a stonker of a day today with a high of 33 degrees Celsius or so and as I type this at 10.00 pm with the sky still light outside, the temperature is still hovering around the 26 degrees mark. And it’s going to get hotter with 40 degrees Celsius forecast for the middle of next week, which is getting to be seriously hot in my book!

I’ve been sorting through the photographs and videos from our west coast trip and rearranging the notes that I took so as not to forget things but before beginning to post them on My Trike, I put together a short video yesterday with a title the same as this post. ULMs/microlight aircraft are forbidden by law to fly in IMC (Instrument Meteorological Conditions, simply put, flying on instruments only with no external visual cues) and must always stay clear of cloud and in sight of the surface. Nevertheless, there are those who think that modern microlight aircraft do have such a capability and that pilots are able to do so safely without any proper training just by using an artificial horizon app on their smartphones.

As someone who was IMC qualified (now lapsed as the rating has to be maintained annually by experience), undertook several hours of intense training at considerable expense and who has flown for quite a few hours in real IMC, I believe this point of view to be totally misguided. However, there are regular discussions on the topic on the various UK fora and those holding such a view are usually just rejected as naysayers. And unqualified, inexperienced pilots still regularly get themselves into IMC conditions and just survive, if they are lucky, or end up killing both themselves and their passenger(s) if they are not.

It is possible that the gung-ho types who think that flying in IMC is ‘easy’ confuse the friendly trailing white puffs that people often encounter while climbing up through holes in clouds to do a bit of cloud running in bright sunshine above them with real IMC. They could not be more different. With the former you invariably get the brightness of the sunshine shining through the cloud layer from above while below you can still see the darkness of the ground. Real IMC isn’t like that. It’s dark, even when there’s bright sunshine above (this video was shot near Mimizan in south-west France on a bright sunny day). It lulls you into a false sense of security and before you know it, it grabs and envelopes your aircraft, affording you no view of the outside at all except for a uniform wall-to-wall greyness.

The video gives a pretty good impression of this. It shows me flying into a bank of sea fog that looked fairly benign while I was approaching it but which suddenly enveloped 56NE in a few seconds. Nobody knows for sure, but this is what is thought to have happened to poor Martin Bromage who died on the first leg of his UK-Australia flight in 2010 while approaching the French coast in poor weather conditions. Martin was a highly experienced, high hours pilot and it’s easy to say that if it happened to him, it could happen to anyone. But that’s a bit too simplistic, I think.

The video can be viewed by clicking on the following image. It shows how I responded but I’ll let you see for yourself. In the same circumstances, what would you have done? Do you think that you could have hacked similar conditions….. with your smartphone artificial horizon app?

IMC - think you could hack it?

You could always stay safe, and just keep well clear of it, of course 😉 Joking aside, if this video makes a single pilot think twice about flying into IMC on the, possibly mistaken, assumption that they can hack it and come out the other side, then it will have done its job.

June 23, 2015

We’re back!

Wim and I got back today from our marathon flight up the west coast of France. We planned to go for five days but extended it to six when we were persuaded at one of the ULM clubs that we stopped at to stay the night and attend the ‘fête soirée’ that they had planned for that evening. We had the most amazing time and met the most marvellous, friendly people wherever we stopped, whether just for a fuel stop or to overnight in our tents.

I took over 240 photos and some video and I’ll be sharing those and the inevitable stories that we gathered during our adventure on My Trike over the coming days. I returned earlier from a super dinner with Wim and Sophie, which really hit the spot after eating tinned stuff heated on our single gas burner for the last several evenings but for now, early though it still is, I’m off to bed as I’m comprehensively knackered! A la prochaine!

June 16, 2015

All systems go!

Well folks, it’s all systems go for our west coast trip. I’ll be moving 56NE across to Wim’s airfield tomorrow where we’ll load both aircraft for departure on Thursday morning. Initially we’ll be heading south-west towards Biarritz stopping once along the way at Montpezat to check everything’s shipshape before landing at a small private airfield just short of the Biarritz CAS and overnighting in our tents.

The next day we’ll head across to the coast at Capbreton where we’ll then turn north and start heading up the coast at low level following the coastline. Over the next couple of days we’ll keep heading north, stopping to refuel and overnight under canvas at various small airfields. We’ll be heading as far north as St Nazaire, as far as Vannes actually. Originally I wanted to go a bit further and transit the Class D CAS of Lorient airport, but as we don’t have transponders fitted they refused us permission. I think it has something to do with the fact that, unlike most airfields in France, it’s not open to ‘public air traffic’, just military and commercial, as previously explained. But anyway, it’ll be a great flight north, taking in the pine forests and sand dunes of the Landes, the Atlantic coast, the Gironde estuary, the salt marshes of the northern Gironde delta and much besides.

From north of St Nazaire we’ll start heading back again via Nantes and expect, subject to weather, to get back home again on the following Monday. We have already postponed the trip once due to uncertain weather but this time it looks as though it will play ball and be fine all the way, a total distance of something like 1500 kms, I think.

Today I filled up two 20 litre jerry cans with fuel to take with me in 56NE and also filled up two clean 1 litre orange juice bottles with 2T oil from my bulk container that I brought with me from England and am still using, to add to fuel that we purchase along the way. Tomorrow on my flight over to Wim’s I’ll be able to check how 56NE flies with most, if not all, of the gear loaded. I’ve also been checking the weather for the whole trip for the last few days and updating my computerised flight and fuel plan sheets and everything is looking hunkey-dorey.

Anyway, I’ve still got a few last-minute things to do including, would you believe, some ironing so that’s all for now. I’ll be incommunicado until we get back on Monday (subject to weather and any other vagueries) but hope to be taking plenty of video and still shots for the postings I plan following the flight.

See ya then!

June 10, 2015

Back to the flight planning

The forecast rain arrived this morning, together with two camping chairs that I ordered and hope will fit into 56NE when the time comes. The good news is that the air-bed that I inflated yesterday evening was still up this morning, so that was a good one that has lasted well since I bought it something like 40 years ago, possibly more!

I’m enjoying a beer with Wim later on this afternoon and having agreed on the alternative that will involve our cutting out the far-northern sector of our west coast flight and reducing it back to a more sensible 5 day project, I’m now back to revising our detailed leg-by-leg daily flight plans. I hope to have the final versions finished to take over with me later, together with a print-off of all of our charts, so must now press on.

June 9, 2015

Catch-up

I’ve not felt too well for the last few days. It’s OK, I’m not looking for sympathy, it’s just one of those silly little summer infections that sometimes hit you from out of nowhere and make you feel a bit low. I have a small ear infection, I think, that has made one of the glands in my neck a little bit painful and although I don’t think it’s worth bothering the doctor with (I’m not one to dose myself up with antibiotics if I can avoid it, at the best of times) it has made me feel a bit off-colour. Enough to make me cry off from dinner with Victor and Madeleine on Saturday before they left for Belgium for two weeks, and from a fly-in to a barbecue at a local ULM airfield with Wim on Sunday.

So I’ve not been doing that much with myself, even though ever since my last posting we’ve been enjoying lovely weather with temperatures in the low to mid-30’s degrees Celsius. I did, however, go across to Galinat and re-do the top loop on 56NE’s fuel flap to stop it coming off in flight, and also removed its right-hand joystick and throttle lever in readiness for our west coast flight, as I want to make as much space as I can for storing stuff in the cabin without interfering with the controls.

null

null

null

I’ve also found out how much I still have to do in preparation for our flight. I’ve not been camping for quite a few years and although I have fond memories of the old equipment that I thought I still had stashed away in boxes, when I looked a couple of days ago, it turns out that much of it has now disappeared. I still have several sleeping bags and I found a single air bed, but it’s only today that I’ve blown it up for the first time and I’m keeping my fingers crossed in the hope that it will stay inflated long enough to get a good night’s sleep on!

I also thought that I still had a set of aluminium camping pots and pans, but that’s gone too, so I ordered a swish new one yesterday from a supplier in Germany due to the old problem with buying French – too expensive and taking much too long to deliver. They will never, ever learn. Same with an air bed inflator – I ordered that on UK Ebay. So it’s just as well that we didn’t leave last Thursday, as we were originally due to. Although the weather in fact turned out great, I would have been right up the creek without the items I’ve now ordered and will hopefully get this week 😕

I made a special trip across to Galinat today to find the best places to store all the stuff that I’ll be taking with me. I have adapted two cardboard boxes to fit on the floor on the right hand side of the cabin. They work well and fit very snugly and although the storage space they offer is not huge, that’s as much as I’m going to get. I will be strapping two jerry cans of fuel in on the passenger seat as I did when I flew MYRO down from the UK, probably with my air bed folded underneath them, so no problem there, leaving just my tent and sleeping bag to find places for.

It turned out that both look as though they will fit in nicely and safely above my head, with the sleeping bag scrunched up between the covers in the space between the wings and the tent held firmly against the underside of the main fuselage tube with bungees like a flying saucer. Clearly I’ll have to fly with it like that beforehand before I commit myself, to make sure that it’s safe and doesn’t affect the handling of the aircraft, although I don’t see how it could.

There’s no chance from the weather forecast that we’ll be able to get away this week, though. Patchy light rain and associated thunder are forecast from Wednesday evening through to Saturday. However, although the temperature could dip as low as 19 degrees Celsius next Monday (15th June), thereafter it looks as though things will improve and we may even be in for the long-awaited period of stable high pressure with temperatures back in the low to mid-30’s. That being the case, we might get away on Thursday 18th June, by which time I should have all the stuff together that I need for the trip. So here’s keeping my fingers crossed 😉

June 4, 2015

Shots from yesterday and today

We had a bit of a scorcher today with an official high of 34 degrees Celsius, but probably a little bit more than that, so flying during the day would have been totally out of the question as it would have been very bumpy indeed. So choosing to go yesterday turned out to be a good call. It feels for now as though summer has arrived. The grass in all the fields has shot up in the past week or so and the farmers have been out in force with their tractors cutting and baling it up before it dries out too much, although from the look of the field opposite my house, they’ve not been successful and the sweet hay has already turned to dry straw.

null

null

My own lawns (for want of a better description…) are already beginning to get that dry, dusty summer look to them and as the grass begins to turn brown, the weeds are having a field day. I was supposed to cut them yesterday but didn’t, so I really must do so this weekend when the temperature is forecast to be a little bit cooler than today.

null

Now for the shots that I took yesterday. My first waypoint was St Cyprien, which I don’t find that attractive and wouldn’t be somewhere that I would choose to live. However, quite a few British and other ex-pats do and here are the shots that I took of it yesterday.

null

null

null

St Cyprien is situated close to the River Dordogne and the next shot is of the road and rail bridges that cross over it heading south out of the town.

null

I then headed off for Le Buisson de Cadouin, which I am afraid I also don’t find very attractive. It’s mainly known for having an inter-city train station, so if you want to head north or south by fast train, you either go there or to Brive, or even Souillac. However, Le Buisson is a bit closer to where I live. On the way to Le Buisson, I was struck by the beauty of the Dordogne scenery at this time of year and fired off a quick shot or two without bothering about where I happened to be.

null

Then onto Le Buisson itself.

null

null

I then carried on to Lalinde, which is something of a strange place because it stretches as a thin ribbon along the north side of the Dordogne with practically no development whatsoever on the other side. The light was not that favourable as I was shooting straight into the sun, but the following few shots didn’t come out too badly.

null

null

null

Lalinde was as far west as I flew and I’d then planned to head more or less due north to locate a couple of ULM airfields that are shown on the chart. I found them without any difficulty with the help of my GPS and here are a few shots of them. The first is LF2430 Lalinde.

null

null

Then, LF2432 Pressignac Vicq Rebeyrotte. I took several, but due to being bounced around at the time, only one shot came out clear enough to use.

null

Then I turned right and headed back towards Galinat. On the way, I did a practise approach into Chateau Malbec but didn’t land. Instead, I broke off and did a circuit overhead Victor and Madeleine’s house, but aside from their dogs in the garden outside, there was no sign of them. Victor told me in a phone call earlier that they’d seen me and were jumping up and down and waving, at a neighbour’s house where they were enjoying the odd ‘apero’ (or two..). I should have known 😀

On the way back into Galinat, I passed close by St Léon sur Vézère, one of my favourite local villages, and here’s a shot that I took.

null

And finally, just before turning final for Galinat, I was able to take a shot of the lovely little Chateau de Belcayre perched up on its rock over the River Vézère with the commune of Thonac in the background.

null

I’d say that that was more or less a perfect end to a most enjoyable flight 😉

June 3, 2015

Skived off

I was intending to cut my grass this afternoon but in the event, it was such a fabulous day that I skived off and went for a flight instead. The temperature peaked at 30 degrees Celsius, or probably a bit more, so flying in the heat of the day wouldn’t have been much fun due to turbs, but I left it until the early evening when the worst of the heat was over. I left home around 5.00 pm and my car temperature gauge was still showing 29 degrees, so it was still warm enough for just shorts and tee shirt, and the sky was a wall-to-wall deep blue.

I’d planned a flight down to Lalinde to the south-west, towards Bergerac, and my original idea once there had been to call up Bergerac Approach for a radio check. However, as I did a check with Jean-Christophe at Milhac on Saturday, I thought that instead I’d just enjoy the flight and take a few photographs. Here’s the route that I had planned – I’ve modified it slightly to include a practise approach that I made on the way back to Victor’s new airfield at Chateau Malbec.

null

I ended up taking off at 6.10 pm and the flight lasted for 55 minutes. I took some fairly good photographs along the way that I’ll put up tomorrow probably, and also a video of the whole flight using my little sports cam that I’ll edit later on.

One of the things that I was pleased about was that my new toggle and loop arrangement for the fuel filler flap worked pretty well. In fact the top loop popped off during the flight, but that’s something that I can soon fix by shortening it a bit. All in all, it was a really great early evening flight 🙂

June 2, 2015

A disappointment

Wim and I had originally planned to set off on our west coast trip later this week but we had to make a decision by last weekend whether to go or not and in the event decided to put it off for a short period. At the time it looked as though the weather on the west coast might become unfavourable come Friday or Saturday, although now it looks as though it would have been almost a perfect week to go. However, Wim and Sophie have gone off in their campervan to go walking in the Corrèze instead so there’s no going back.

In the meantime, I’ve been continuing with the necessary preparations. One of the things that I wanted to do was transit the Class D airspace of the Aerodrome de Lorient at the northernmost end of our flight before landing at a small ULM airfield at Querlarn to top up our tanks and beginning to head back south again. The route through the Class D was to follow an established light aircraft corridor, as shown in the following pic.

null

Class D airspace in France is usually designated as transponder only and neither Wim’s nor my aircraft have one fitted, so I knew that we had a small mountain to climb. However, I thought that by stating our case and indicating that we would be planning the transit on a Sunday when there’s expected to be little commercial and/or military traffic at Lorient, they might give us a Special VFR with just radio contact. But unfortunately today I received an email saying that regrettably a transponder is mandatory to transit their corridor. In the French Air Pilot, Lorient is shown as being closed for C.A.P. (Circulation Aérienne Publique), being restricted to commercial and military use, and I don’t know whether this has something to do with it or whether all French Class D is strictly mandatory transponder and I aim to find out by phoning Brive or Bergerac and see what they say. But in any case, Lorient is now off limits so we’ll have to look at an alternative.

Any alternative would involve dropping our plan to land at Querlarn as transiting twice around the Lorient CAS would not be worth it. I can think of at least three others – we could head straight for our next planned stop, which was intended to be a night stop-over, change it to a refuelling stop and carry on from there. That might not be a bad idea as at present, the whole trip is timed to take 5 1/2 days and this change would get it back to exactly 5. Then there are two alternative larger airfields that we could drop into instead of Querlarn, LFES Guiscriff and LFED Pontivy, three if you include LFRV Vannes, which runs a very large ULM festival every year, all of which would incur slightly less flying time than the Lorient transit and landing at Querlarn. So it’s far from being a disaster.

I did have one success, albeit a somewhat mixed one, today, which I’ll explain. X-Airs have fabric flap covering their fuel filler that’s held in place around its edges by Velcro. Unfortunately, over time the Velcro weakens and the flap begins to come loose and start flapping in flight, which knocks the Velcro out even more. Eventually, with an older aircraft like 56NE, the Velcro cannot hold the flap closed in flight due to the passage of the air and whenever you land, you find it wide open.

The only permanent solution is to remove the rear fuselage cover and replace the Velcro, which is neither cheap if you pay a pro to do it, or easy if you do it yourself, which is why I put it off when I had 56NE at my mercy in my garden a week or so ago. However, I had another cunning plan, which I put into effect today, involving adding toggles and elastic loops to the corners of the flap and the following pics show how I did with it.

First, the flap hanging open is it now always does after a flight.

null

Now, the flap with my cunning toggles and elastic loops added, both items having been acquired from Ebay. They are not stitched to the fuselage cover itself but only to the Velcro.

null

The final result with the flap closed and the loops in position over the toggles (note the carefully selected, fetching yellow colour of the toggles).

null

OK, so far, so good, but why only a mixed success, you might ask. Well, the length of the elastic loops has to be carefully calculated so as to get the flap pulled tight enough on the toggles but not so tight that you end up over-stretching the elastic of the loops. You also don’t want the loops to be too long or the flap will, well, flap around in flight and, I guess, end up pulling one or more of the toggles off. Muggins here cut three sets of loops of varying lengths and elected to fit the middle-size ones. I then promptly picked up and fitted the long ones, so straight away the flap is not pulled as tightly as I would have liked. Oh well, I’ll just have to see how it goes and whether what I think might happen as a result (as above) actually does, dang it 😕