April 30, 2016

To Brantôme

The weather forecast for Friday was for a day of sunshine with light winds, but not that warm at around 15 degrees Celsius by mid afternoon. But after two days staying at home to keep an eye on the work Agrafeuil was doing in my garden, I was more than ready to fly the route that I’d had planned for some time to take a few pictures overhead Brantôme. As I’d not flown that sector before, apart from passing close by on our way back from our west coast tour last year, I also wanted to see if I could spot three ULM fields whose overheads I would be more or less passing through.

Here’s a shot of my planned route – around 150 kms and 65 minutes flying time.

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The Savannah would be flying at about 140 kmh and using around 15 litres/hour of 98 octane mogas. This makes it about as economical as a luxury family car, but much quicker from A to B, of course, as it flies direct, which is why I’m looking forward to my first flight in it to the UK.

This would be its first time out of the barn since I flew it over from Galinat and here are a couple of shots showing it ready at the top end of Malbec’s runway.

ICP Savannah MXP 740 at Fleurac

ICP Savannah MXP 740 at Fleurac

After taking off, I initially did an unplanned circuit of Victor and Medeleine’s house which is very close to Malbec. Victor knew that I was going to fly and I suspected that once he heard me, he’d come out into his garden. And I wasn’t disappointed, so I waggled my wings as he stood below waving up to me.

Then I resumed the first planned leg of my flight, which was to fly past Galinat to take my first shot ever from overhead the airfield. It’s below and although it all appears to be just a mass of green, Galinat’s runway is right in the middle of the picture.

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I then wanted to pass by my house to catch a shot of the work that’s been done on my garden. Now that the big old ’tilleuil’ has gone, it’s a little bit more difficult to find, but the next picture shows my house almost in the middle of the image with the big Cat excavator still parked on the front garden. I can hardly call it grass now after it’s driven backwards and forwards over it so many times, but it’ll all be worth it in the end when it’s been landscaped.

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I then turned left onto a north-westerly heading towards my first true waypoint, the rural commune of Cubjac on the little river Auvezère. That’s it shown below.

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My next waypoint was one of the three ULM fields that I wanted to try and spot, and although it hardly stood out from the landscape as at the moment, at least, it has no markings, I found it without too much fuss. It’s shown below – LF2452, Sanet Agonac with its little 200 metre runway.

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As I continued on my way, the airport of Périgueux Bassillac was clearly visible in the wonderful weather conditions off to my left, and here’s a shot of it.

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A few minutes later, I was in the run-up to Brantôme and the following sequence of shots shows my approach to it up to when I began my left turn around to its north side to begin the homeward legs of my flight.

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Perhaps I’d been building my hopes up too much because we’d enjoyed two lovely days-out there a few months ago and at ground level, it’s such a beautiful place, but I found the experience somewhat underwhelming. I was quite high, however, at over 1500 feet, so maybe it’ll be a bit more impressive if next time I fly a bit lower with a more photogenic approach path.

My next two tasks before heading back to Malbec were to locate two more ULM fields that are not far from Brantôme, and this I did without any difficulty. First up, LF2438, Bas Meygnaud Valeuil with its 480 metre grass runway on the side of a slight incline.

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And finally, LF2437, Le Rigola Bourdeilles with its 450 metre runway.

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So how did the flight go? Not bad, considering how long 77ASY has had to be parked in the barn and my relative lack of hours on what is a new aircraft to me. It was surprisingly bumpy given the time of year and the relative low temperature and the conditions were playing havoc with Malbec’s approach.

The wind was variable and there are trees below and just before the runway threshold that were generating a surprising amount of lift. The ground also falls away quite sharply before the threshold and Victor has marked the area with arrows to warn people not to touch down there and has also put runway markers down to show where the threshold starts. So as the runway at about 220 metres is quite short and you’re therefore bound to be coming in at relatively low speed, it’s not a good idea to allow your flight path to drop below the height of the threshold, which you can at Galinat with its much longer runway if you’ve got the speed to do so.

Yesterday, I was coming in slowly with full flap (40 degrees) for the first time and mainly because of the turbulence, it just caught me out. 77ASY’s main wheels touched just below the top of the hump and I suffered a horrible bounce as a consequence, which probably felt worse than it actually was, but was still not very nice at all. Luckily the Savannah is built to be a very robust STOL (short take off and landing) aircraft so no harm was done, but it was a somewhat disappointing end to what had been a rather bumpy, but nevertheless enjoyable flight.

What else did I find? Compared to the X-Air, which has no doors, 77ASY is unfortunately not a very good camera platform. You sit close to the door, making it difficult to find a comfortable camera angle, and it’s also almost impossible in bright sunlight, like yesterday, to avoid catching shine off the surface of the window in just about every shot. I also found a secure, almost vibration-free position for my little sports video cam (Go-Pro clone) which worked well until its battery ran out before the end of the flight, but that was my own fault because I hadn’t charged it up enough.

I’d also mounted it on the right wing strut and it’s obvious now that it should have been on the left because I almost always arrange my flights so that all of the ‘views’ are on my, the left, side of the aircraft. I also needed to angle it down more, but that’s easily done next time, and I’ll have to see as well if I can angle it so it doesn’t catch the propeller as the interference it causes can be very annoying. Anyway, I got a bit of footage that will be worthwhile making into a short video, which I’ll do and post in My Trike shortly.

Main conclusion? Just glad to be back in the air again – even if the getting back down again was a bit of a non-event and left something to be desired, landing-wise 😐

April 28, 2016

Where’s my garden gone?

As I have family visitors arriving in a week or so’s time and the front access to my house was very restricted with all of the rubbish that had been piled up there since the tree was felled, I asked Agrafeuil if they could please come and finish the job off ASAP. They said that they’d be over on Tuesday or Wednesday and as they didn’t come on Tuesday, I eagerly anticipated their arrival yesterday morning.

And I was not to be disappointed, because at around mid-morning a van and a transporter carrying a large Cat excavating machine drew up outside my house. They soon got the machine unloaded and Jerome, Agrafeuil’s manager, told me what they intended to do. I’ve signed two ‘devis’, one to cover the felling and removal of my big old tree, and the other to cover the digging out of the area in front of my house ready for my proposed extension and the ‘terrassement’, or contouring, of the ground in front of it and around to its side. This will be necessary for the general appearance of the garden and also so that in the future, when it’s all been grassed, I can easily and safely cut it using my ride-on mower.

I’d thought that the plans were only to complete the tree removal work but Jerome said that as the machine would be on site, it would be most effective and economic if they did all of the planned work over the next two days. That seemed like a good idea to me too, but I far from appreciated the scale of the work that would be involved. I also didn’t realise just how clever these guys are at their job, as the series of pictures I’ve included in this post show.

First off, here’s a shot of Fabien on the right, the Cat driver who has single-handedly done all the earth-moving work, and his equally young colleague, whose name I don’t know, who drives the truck.

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We had a bit of a hitch to start off with. Fabien had driven the Cat down the the drive-way to my house and after a brief conversation with Jerome, had swung the boom around to climb up onto my grass and promptly brought the overhead telephone wires down. So I had to get my ladder and he climbed up to make a temporary job of securing them up out of the way.

They then told me that as they’d have to be coming in and out with their large truck to remove waste material, they’d need to make an access for it onto my lawn and I said that they should do whatever they thought they needed to. That meant that Fabien then carved a large chunk out of the bank to give the truck access.

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So ‘tant pis’, too bad, that’s life and I suppose it’ll go back again. But little was I to know that this would be small beer compared to what would be coming later!

Fabien started work at the north end of my house where there had been some scrubby, weedy trees that I’d always hated. They chopped them down when they were last here and now it was time to take out the roots. That took seconds! They were no match for the CAT and it had them for breakfast before you knew it.

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Then it was time for Fabien to move round to the front of the house for the main course, in the form of the big old tree’s stump and roots. Now bear in mind that the tree had been 20-25 metres tall and that it had survived possibly 200 years or more of whatever Mother Nature had been able to throw at it, so it’s roots were pretty big and strong and had done a fair old job over all those years. But if I’d thought that they’d be a tough job for the Cat, I was totally wrong, because in just a few minutes they’d been physically wrenched out of the ground too.

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So then it was time to clear the decks of all the debris so they could get on with the job of digging out for the proposed extension.

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To start off with, it was just a matter of beginning to roughly dig out the ground in front of the house.

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The whole time I’ve lived here there was an old tree stump still growing in the ground right up against the kitchen corner of the house. This had to come out and the concern was that it might have roots extending into the foundations of the building.

However, although I had to keep a careful eye on it while Fabien slowly pulled it forwards with the Cat’s bucket, it came out very cleanly leaving just a couple of roots behind that he quickly removed with his chainsaw. This gave me my first-ever chance to see what the house’s foundations look like, and to be quite honest, from what I could see there seems to be none, really, except for layers of large rocks firmly embedded in the ground. However, I couldn’t see that far down and there may be something else below them that I still don’t know about.

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From that point on, the digging out began to get more serious and accurate and it was apparent that this was definitely no amateur ‘that’s about right’ sort of job. Jerome and Fabien had consulted my plans for the extension’s floor slab and foundations so therefore knew how far to dig down and had come ready-prepared with a laser level. Jerome had left before this stage of the job had been reached so every now and again I had to check the levels with the vertical gauge and call them back to Fabien while he worked. And I say ‘levels’ plural, because not only did he expertly cut the ground out to the level required for the extension’s floor slab, but he also created a step up to what will be the ground outside its wall, so ultimately it will be at the mandatory 15 cm below the new damp-proof course with the necessary 5% slope to take rainwater away from the wall of the new building.

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One of the reasons for working to such a high level of accuracy was that Jerome had said that they’d work to my plans for the extension’s foundations. This would make it unnecessary to repeat any work whenever I get the planning go-ahead and with this in mind he suggested that as I’ll need a clean, level mud-free area leading up to the door, it would be a good idea to finish off by laying compacted stone inside the excavation at the level specified for the sub-layer of the extension’s concrete base.

This was an excellent suggestion as not only would I have a clean, firm approach to the house, but when the builder starts work he’ll already have the sub-base for the concrete slab in position at the right level. While I was indoors this morning, unbeknownst to me the stone was delivered by truck and this was the sight that greeted me when I opened the back door.

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And a bit later on.

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At the time of writing, Fabien is still levelling it off. He has done a really impressive job and I couldn’t have asked for anyone better, as he’s taken enormous trouble to be accurate and make sure that I’ve been happy with how things were going at each stage of the job. I’ve just had a look around and here’s how it now looks outside.

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And to finish off, a view direct-on from the front.

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I think that the change in the appearance of my house is truly amazing and I’m very pleased with how things have gone and the work that’s been done – so clean and tidy looking. I’d recommend Agrafeuil and Fabien to anyone, any time. But this is just the start. There are a few bits to be finished off on Monday but it’ll then have to stay as it is, probably until the Autumn when the fun will really start. Because that’ll be when the project proper will get underway.

April 26, 2016

Navigation in France 2016

It seems to me that anyone flying in or around France this year could do a lot worse than use the 1:1000000 charts sold by Cartabossy. The cartographer Jean Bossy has been creating and selling aviation charts since 1988 and as a pilot himself, has a good idea of what information pilots require and what works and what doesn’t.

As well as covering the whole of France, the charts also cover Belgium, Luxembourg and Switzerland, which is a big bonus for anyone doing a bit of extended touring. They come in two versions – weekdays and weekends/French national holidays.

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This is important because during weekdays, France is criss-crossed by restricted low-level areas and corridors used for training by the Air Force. These are not active every weekday (you need to consult the French Air Pilot, which gives 24 hours notice if any on your planned route will be active, and during what time slots) but are usually inactive during weekends and national holidays, so can then be ignored. Some other areas of controlled airspace also become inactive at weekends, as will be seen later.

I have no connection with Cartabossy but am an enthusiastic user for reasons I’ll go on to explain, and the charts in question can be obtained at relatively low cost (weekdays 17.50€, weekends 12.50€) from the Cartabossy web site, as shown below.

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OK, so what is it about the Cartabossy charts that makes me so enthusiastic? Simple. Firstly, as I’ll go on to show, they are very good charts, and just as in the UK, to be totally legal, you must have an up-to-date chart with you in the aircraft at all times. Also, their annotations, although a bit quirky until you become familiar with them, are in both French and English, so no problem for anyone who may not have a good command of French. But the clincher for me is that unlike any others that I’ve found in France, when you buy the paper editions, you also get a download link to electronic versions of the same charts, as the next image shows.

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This is very useful if you have a GPS system, because the chance is that you will be able to download one or more electronic charts in a format that will load straight into it, and for absolutely no extra charge. As the next pic shows, the formats include simple ones like PDFs and JPGs, which of course, contain no georeferencing and are therefore of little practical navigational use, as well as others that do. This means that there’s probably one that’s compatible with your system.

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The non-georeferenced formats were made available first and while I was waiting, I downloaded the JPGs, which I then converted into exportable QCTs by manually georeferencing them using JPR text files. These are compatible with my good old MemoryMap system and they worked fine. Except I always then compare my results against Google Earth and I found that having adjusted the files ‘to fit’ in my home area, they were ever-so-slightly out the further north I went.

Being a bit of a perfectionist, this wasn’t quite good enough for me, so I waited until the Geotiffs were available, and tried loading those into MemoryMap directly. And the results were perfect.

In fact, it didn’t take me long to find some free tools that allow me to edit the Geotiff files in Photoshop to add features that I need eg our airfield, Malbec, is too new to have been included, so I added it myself. Editing removes the georeferencing, which you need to extract beforehand and then add back again afterwards and there are DOS tools to do just that. But please note – most people will never need to be troubled by such esoteric matters as the downloaded Geotiffs reflect the latest charts ‘as is’ and can be used directly in GPS systems!

Here are a couple of shots that are actually screen shots taken from my PC of the edited charts in action. I have the same charts loaded into my tablet and mobile phone, quite copyright legally of course, for navigational purposes in the air.

The first shot shows my local area and is taken from the ‘weekday’ chart.

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Let’s take a look at some of the features. The first thing that strikes the eye is that the chart is covered by lots of little pale blue circles. This is fantastic news for we ULM/microlight pilots, because these are all of the ULM airfields taken from the latest FFPLUM file. I managed to get them onto the chart I made up last year but this is even better because as well as showing each one, the direction of its principal runway and whether it’s grass or paved, their LF references (without the LF to keep the chart uncluttered) are also shown.

There’s a full list of LF numbers on each chart giving contact details, which is useful in itself. But in addition, this means that anyone planning an extended tour, as we did up the west coast of France last year, can then get the full details of the ULM fields in which they are interested from the internet, including circuit details, printable landing cards and the facilities that are available at each one. This is a brilliant resource and one which we’ll be using later in the year to plan this year’s tour.

Now the other more general features. As I mentioned previously, the annotations are a bit quirky, especially for anyone used to the highly formalised UK approach, but you soon get used to them. The charts are restricted just to features for flights at relatively low level so don’t include details of airways, for example. And although separate ‘transponder mandatory zones’ are shown (I’ve not found one yet), as all French airspace above and including Class D is transponder mandatory, only such airspace is shown.

In fact, I’ve been told that if you’re lucky, you’ll get permission to enter or cross most French Class D airspace without a transponder so long as you are in touch with the relevant AT service, but up to now I’ve not been able to confirm that.

Now let’s take a look at some other features, using Bergerac airport as an example. The broken line around its zone shows that it’s inside Class D airspace (‘Class D’ not shown to save clutter) so you need permission to enter it. The code around the airfield name shows that it’s approach frequency is 119.8 (1 missed off to save clutter), it’s height is 171 feet, that it charges landing fees ($), has lighting available (L), Avgas is permanently available (red dot) and Jet A1 between published hours only (*).

All good stuff to know. The diameters of the ULM circles and the lengths of the runway boxes inside them also reflect the runway lengths available (under or over 400m), but that’s not all. The little triangle next to many of them also shows the preferred approach direction and where appropriate, there’s also a little arrow indicating if the final turn is a right hand one.

But there’s even more! If the little runway box extends only from the boundary to the centre of the circle, that means that the airfield is of a ‘mountain’ type, like Wim’s and Malbec, which you can only land on in one direction and take off in the other. This is an amazing and incredibly useful source of information for planning flights to far off, otherwise unknown airfields.

I could go on but there’s far too much to mention here and it’s all clearly covered in French and English on the paper versions of the charts. And now to finish off, the same area as shown above but taken from the ‘weekend’ version. See what’s different?

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I for one had no idea that Brive’s Class D airspace lapsed at weekends, but it does according to the chart. I’ll have to give them a ring and find out for sure and also what their landing fee will be for the Savannah. It might be good fun to fly in there for breakfast and a cup of coffee one Sunday 😉

April 22, 2016

Malbec open again – at last!

Tuesday was warm and sunny, so I thought that as well as taking the opportunity to finish off the repair on 77ASY’s strobe light, I’d also see if I could mow Chateau Malbec’s runway. There were still a few damp patches but the grass was so long that if it wasn’t cut pretty soon it would become a tough job for a mower with only a 1 metre diameter cut and would also prevent the damp patches from drying out.

So I loaded my ride-on onto my trailer in the morning and set off for the airfield. I couldn’t do anything much on the strobe light other than polish the new paint up a bit because I needed to get some new screws to fix the light back onto the aircraft. So after I’d done the paint, which I was disappointed with as it had an awful brown tinge and to me stuck out like a sore thumb, I got on with mowing the runway.

The job went well and after I’d got a good width cut, Philippe turned up. He wanted to get his Citius out of the hangar to give it a clean up, so while he went off to get some water, I cut the area in front of his and Victor’s hangars before continuing.

I was very pleased with how it went, especially as by taking special care to cut the really long stuff in a low gear so I was only moving forward slowly, I’d succeeded in doing almost the whole width without incident. Then I made a fatal mistake. I became over-confident and tried to cut the last long clump without changing gear. It jammed the blades almost immediately and in the process of clearing them, the cutting belt snapped.

It was my own fault and I’ve since ordered a couple of replacements so I have a spare, but luckily the runway was all mown except for a final strip on one side that nobody would even notice except me. Here are a few shots of the runway and Philippe’s aircraft after I was done.

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I would like to have wheeled 77ASY out and gone for a flight, but I couldn’t because its strobe light was still hanging off. It didn’t stop Philippe, though and as he’d decided that cleaning the Citius with a bucket and sponge wasn’t on (a hosepipe is what’s really needed), he decided that he’d go for a short flight. And it was short, very short, because as soon as he took off, he said that his reserve fuel light came on. So he had to land immediately as that meant, just as in my Savannah, that he only had 7 litres in the tanks.

I shot a short video on my still camera that can be seen by clicking on the following image. It’s not very good because in the middle of the take off roll, it decided to automatically go totally out of focus, for some reason, and that bit had to be cut out.

Citius Sport at Malbec

I’d hoped that I’d be able to quickly get hold of some suitable screws to reattach ASY’s strobe light so I could get a flight in too, but it wasn’t to be. The screws needed to be over-sized because the holes in the wingtip had become enlarged and the ones that I got from making trips to BricoJem in Rouffignac and les Briconautes in Montignac wouldn’t go through the fixing holes in the strobe light fitting. By the time that I’d managed to carefully drill those out without damaging the fitting and get the light refitted on the wingtip, it was too late. So a second disappointment for the day!

Here’s a shot of the light fitting back on ASY’s wing. It doesn’t look too bad but I’m still not happy with the job because of the dirty tinge that the paint has.

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I came across some bright white spray paint at les Briconautes and bought a can while I was there as my pride won’t allow me to leave it as it is. So the light fitting will have to come off one more time for me to give the wingtip another flash coat of paint in the hope of getting a finish that I’ll be happy with. But in the longer term, as the strobes still don’t work anyway, I think I’ll end up removing them completely and replacing them with a new, modern light-weight LED set.

April 20, 2016

Uncanny coincidence

A few moments ago I was talking to my new neighbour, Chantal, whose cat I looked after for a few days while she was away. I happened to tell her about the bat that I found in my house last night and her eyes opened wide with shock. She told me that she had one too!

I was gobsmacked and could hardly believe it. I’ve never heard of anyone having a bat in their house before and for us both to have one at the same time seems to me to be an incredible coincidence. As Harry Hill would say, ‘What are the chances of that happening?’

April 19, 2016

Going batty!

I’ve just had to catch a bat that was flying around my living room. It was all a bit weird to start with, because you know that feeling when you think there’s something behind you, but you know that you’re all alone? Or should be!

But then I heard a sound and saw the ruddy thing swooping backwards and forwards across my mezzanine landing and in between times flying to-and-fro across my living room. The next thing it collided with a wall and flopped onto the floor in a bedroom doorway where it floundered a bit, because bats, of course, don’t have proper legs. I had nothing else to hand, so chucked my handkerchief over it and that made it start hissing and spitting like a cat and chomping its tiny teeth together non-stop, making a ‘tick tick tick’ sound like a fast-running kitchen timer.

Discretion being the better part of valour, I decided that I’d better go off to find something more substantial in which I could pick it up and was on my way back with an old duster when unfortunately it managed to escape and once more took to flight. But this time it wasn’t so lucky, and before I could make any attempt to catch it, it collided with the wall and fell down behind a pile of packing cases that I still have stacked up on my landing.

I didn’t know where it was but could still hear it ticking away, so concluded that it must be trapped. This presented me with a bit of a dilemma. If I just left it, it might die where it was, which would really not be the best outcome for either of us. It might also manage to escape, and then might find its way into my bedroom and the next thing be swooping around my head in the middle of the night. So I had no option, really, but to find it, trap it and release it outside.

That meant moving all the boxes until I found it and sure it enough, it was trapped between the rear-most box and the wall. Now I could take a closer look at it and I can tell you that those teeth of his may have been small, but they were pointy and very sharp looking. So having decided that my old duster left a bit to be desired, I went off and got a thicker towel from the kitchen.

As soon as I began to prise him out of the gap that he’d fallen into, the hissing, ticking and struggling got even worse. But man will invariably overcome bat, and so it was in this instance. I wrapped him in the towel and took the whole struggling mass outside where I could release him onto an outdoor table. He promptly flopped off onto the ground, which I guess is a bit of an alien environment for a bat. Nevertheless he managed to find his way by crawling, flapping his wings and flopping to the wall of my house, which he promptly began to climb up.

And this was no tiny pipistrel, I can tell you. This was a full-size adult bat with a wingspan of the best part of a foot, not some little tiddler! Then with no further ado, he let go of the wall, flapped his wings and flew off towards the light of the moon which was rising over the trees. I have no idea where he came from or how he got into my house, but other people have said the same when I checked on the internet. I just hope that he’s the first and last one that does, though.

April 18, 2016

Job nearly done

It was a lovely day today, better than forecast with solid sunshine and blue sky all day and a high of around 16-17 degrees Celsius. I had to drop into the Mairie at Plazac this morning to find out what I now have to do about submitting my two planning dossiers – the main one for the work I want to do renovating and extending my house and the second one to do with updating my ‘système d’assainissement’ (septic tank system).

Somewhat revealingly, the lady in the Mairie didn’t know and had to make a telephone call to find out, so the French planning system is as impenetrable to them as it is to we foreigners, which I found slightly satisfying given as how it’s taken me weeks to find my way through it. It turns out that I have to hold back on submitting my main planning application until I’ve resolved what needs to be done to make my ‘système conforme’ which was a bit disappointing as it will only lengthen the delay before I can actually go ahead with the work I have planned . ‘C’est la vie’ I suppose.

After lunch I went over to Malbec to carry out the next stage on ASY’s wingtip paint job, which was to rub down the primer from yesterday and apply a spray coat of finishing. I’ve found it incredibly difficult getting hold of brilliant white spray paint over here – every other colour you can imagine, yellows, blues, reds, purples, but not brilliant white for some reason. I managed to find a single brand some time ago at LeClerc in Périgueux and today was the first time I’d used it. And I was very disappointed as it was thin and watery and ran at the first opportunity.

Nevertheless, I achieved a quite good result and here’s how it looked after returning this evening to polish it up a bit.

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I don’t know what resin(s) are in the paint, but even after several hours, it still hadn’t hardened and although I stopped before any damage was done, the paint had become even browner at the end than when I first sprayed it. And it wasn’t actually what you’d call brilliant white then, but I’ll have to see how it looks tomorrow before deciding what I’ll do next.

Ideally, if tomorrow is anything like today, especially in the evening, I’d really like to get a flight in. It should be and although the runway was still soft in parts today, it should be OK to use tomorrow in this weather, especially if I leave it until later on. It could do with a mow, though, just as all the grass around my house now could too. But it’s all about priorities, isn’t it 😉

April 17, 2016

Slow and steady

That’s how it has to be with anything to do with a paint repair. Quite cold here today – only around 14 degrees Celsius – so I left it until midday before going back to Malbec to do the next bit of work on ASY’s wingtip. I wasn’t there very long as I couldn’t do very much, just rubbing down the coat of primer I applied yesterday and then thickening it up with another coat, as it was too chilly to start on any more.

Here’s a shot that I took before I left. It still looks a bit rough, so you’ll have to take my word that it was quite nice and smooth before I whacked another coat on, mainly because the rubbing down had just gone through in one small patch on part of that sharp front edge.

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It should be warmer tomorrow so I’ll be able to get a bit more done. I’ve also got to check with the Mairie at Plazac what my next step is with my two planning dossiers – one for the main work I want to do on my house and the other for the new ‘assainissement’ (septic tank) system that I’ll also have to put in – both of which I’ve now finished (Yay!!). Do both have to be handed in to the Mairie, or does the latter one have to go to the SPANC office in Montignac? I need to know because time is ticking on.

There’s a scrap of good news about the weather. The next two days are both forecast to be dry with Tuesday being sunny with a high of over 20 degrees Celsius. There’s a chance that the warm weather may extend into Wednesday so if I can get the wingtip finished and the new strobe light on, I may even get a flight in this week!

April 16, 2016

Strobe Light

It’s dull as I type this (about 6.00 pm local time) and the rain’s lightly falling, yet again, after a brief thunderstorm. That’s the third or fourth in recent days and I’m beginning to rue ever having criticised the weather forecasters as one way and another, even when it was sunny when they’d forecast rain, they all said that thunderstorms were on the way. And I didn’t believe them.

I dropped into Malbec earlier on at which time it was sunny with a bit of cloud and light wind, good flying conditions. But I more-than half-expected that a flight would be out of the question because of the state of the runway. And I was dead right, because it was much wetter than the last time I checked it, very soft and oozy in parts and even with some standing water in some areas.

The problem is that we keep getting a bit of good ‘drying’ weather, as my mum used to say when talking about doing the washing, but that’s then followed by another torrential downpour that takes us right back to square one. Or beyond, actually, like today with the runway now wetter than it was a day or so ago.

But I’d come prepared with the kit I needed to start work on ASY’s wingtip so I can fit the new strobe light bulb that arrived the other day, and that’s what I did instead. The first thing I did was clean the area with some acetone and I was pleasantly surprised at how tidy it came up. Although the strobe light bulb itself had been smashed, but fortunately not its clear plastic cover, the wingtip had not suffered any damage and this was confirmed when I cleaned the dark scuff marks off it that had come from the obstacle that I banged into.

In fact, I found that not even very much covering paint had been lost and all that I had to do was fill up the areas that had been scraped away with a generous layer of special bare metal primer. It didn’t look very pretty afterwards, as the following picture shows, but after it’s had a day to harden, I’ll carefully rub the filled areas down and prepare them for the next stage.

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I noticed when I pulled the strobe light’s connecting wiring out of the wing tip that by my interpretation, the connections were the wrong way round ie neutral was connected to brown and live to blue. However, it all depends on how whoever fitted the system connected the other ends – maybe they did the same with those too. But the strobes weren’t working and maybe this has something to do with it, but that’s something to look into at a later date.

I must say, it was nice being able to work under cover in the barn – much better than trying to do things like this in the open-air. But it would be even better if the darn weather would start to become warmer and dryer, the way it should be doing at this time of the year 😐

April 12, 2016

Another cloudy, wet day?

It was supposed to be and all of the usual weather forecast web sites that I use agreed in that. But they couldn’t have been wider of the mark! Today was a lovely sunny day with blue sky, a bit of alto-cumulus cloud and a high of over 20 degrees Celsius. And also just a light south-westerly breeze, so all-in-all, a lovely day to go flying.

And that’s just what I intended to do. I topped up ASY’s tanks, cleaned its windscreen and door window panels with Plexus and then found a great place to mount my little sports video cam at the top of the right-hand wing strut. After a walk-round and thorough inspection, I was ready to go and thought that I’d best walk the runway just to make sure that not too much of the recent rains had lingered.

To start off with, all was fine but when I got to the centre section, I found that there was a large squishy area that extended right across the whole of the runway width. At a pinch, it was flyable but I thought that the others wouldn’t thank me if I left grooves in the runway surface. So that was it, unfortunately, much as I’d love to have got into the air.

If we get a few more ‘cloudy, wet days’ like today, it’ll soon be dry enough not to have to worry about whether or not the runway’s too squishy and ASY will be ready, waiting and raring to go. But today wasn’t to be that day.

April 11, 2016

Fantastic service!

I was surprised to find when I checked my mailbox at lunchtime, that there was a parcel inside it. And I was delighted when I saw that the sender was Dick Kuntzleman of Kuntzleman Electronics and that the attached customs declaration was labelled ‘civil aircraft parts’. This is what was inside.

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I was gobsmacked. I only placed the order for the strobe light bulb on Thursday 7 April and even with the week-end in between, here it was delivered all the way from Philadelphia by lunchtime the following Monday. That really is excellent service in my book. If it’d been a French supplier, it wouldn’t have been delivered as quickly as anything ordered on-line takes at least 5-7 days to arrive. So well done Mr Kuntzleman, more power to your elbow and long may Kuntzleman Electronics survive and prosper.

April 10, 2016

No rain today!

Nope, we’ve got wall-to-wall blue sky and visibility to kill for! Trouble is, we’ve also got winds from the south gusting 30 mph or more, so any thought of flying is totally out of the question.

More rain expected later on and through the night, though, which is expected to persist through tomorrow. If the weather forecast is to be believed, the earliest that we’ll get to fly is next week-end, and as we know from experience, that’s too far away for any forecast to be anything like reliable.

And the days and weeks just keep relentlessly ticking by. I can’t remember a start to the flying year such as this 🙁

April 7, 2016

Strobes and stuff

I didn’t get to Brantôme yesterday. It hardly even came as a surprise, really, with the way the weather has been behaving. First mist and low cloud and then gusting wind that would have taken the pleasure out of any flight even if I’d wanted to take off in it. It did become quite nice later on in the early evening, but much too late to think about a flight of that length, and in any case, Wednesday is when we meet for the odd glass (or two) of red wine at Wim and Sophie’s.

So that was that and looking at the long-range forecast, who knows when it’ll be possible to do the flight. If the forecast is anywhere near correct, it could be two weeks or even longer as yet again all we can see for the coming 14 days or so is yet more wind and (almost) non-stop rain. Thank goodness ASY is now in the barn at Malbec but it’s annoying that 56NE is outside under covers at Galinat with no chance that I’ll be able to get it ready for sale all the while this weather persists.

On the way back from Wim and Sophie’s, I dropped into Malbec to take a closer look at the strobe that I damaged at la Ferté Gaucher before flying ASY down. Here are a couple of shots that I took of ASY in its new home when I arrived at Malbec.

ICP Savannah at Fleurac

ICP Savannah at Fleurac

As soon as I saw the damaged strobe, I knew that there was no chance of doing any kind of repair and that got alarm bells ringing, because I’ve no idea how old the strobes are or where they came from and ISP (the manufacturer of the Savannah) had already confirmed that they hadn’t come from them. Here are a few shots that I took of the damaged and undamaged light units.

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The strobes are obviously ‘old technology’ units that need a separate control box, of a type that used to be fitted, maybe still are, on Group A aircraft like Cessnas and Pipers. Modern strobes use LEDs that need no separate control box, and are therefore lighter and simpler to install, and are also ‘all-singing-all-dancing’ incorporating coloured nav and white positioning lights in the same tiny light units as the strobes themselves. So after seeing the old ones, I was not very optimistic of finding a replacement for the damaged one and was resigned to having to look for a complete replacement LED system coming out north of $500 (the US is the place to look for things like this) and having to do a complete rewiring job to fit it.

But it appears that my pessimism was not justified on this occasion. I had more or less given up on finding a replacement part and was searching for a new set of LED strobes when I came across the name ‘Kuntzleman Electronics’. I initially dismissed their product range as being ‘old hat’ and not worth considering for a new system, when I came across the following image.

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It appears that Kuntzleman Electronics Inc of Pottstown, Pennsylvania, was the original manufacturer of the strobe light system installed on my Savannah, and not only are they still selling either the same, or a very similar system, but they also supply spare parts and accessories to customers world wide. To cut a long story short, this afternoon I purchased a new Standard Streamline Bulb Unit (less lens) for the princely sum of $40 dollars plus $15 for UPS shipping, which I think is a lot better than $500 or so for a new complete system, even if it leaves me with an ‘old’ technology system, especially if I can get it working.

When I bought the Savannah, Robert told me that the strobes weren’t working and, of course, I haven’t had a chance yet to find out why. While I was at Malbec, I looked ‘under the hood’ to see if I could find the strobe control box and also, briefly, under the instrument panel with a torch, but without luck. I was also going to look behind the overhead switch panel but it seems, after removing what looked like the three securing screws, that it’s pop-riveted along its top edge, so I left that for now. But at least, working or not, I’ll be able to replace the damaged light with a matching unit and all I’ll need to do is a quick bit of spray painting to repair the surface scuffing that my little ‘accident’ caused. I think I was fortunate that the outcome was nothing more serious, both to ASY and my wallet.

While I was at Malbec today, I also replaced the duct tape that we covered the damaged strobe with at la Ferté so I can fly ASY should the opportunity arise, and here are some shots that I took afterwards.

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When I took the top engine cowling off during my search for the strobe control box I noticed that even just the flight down to Galinat and a month standing outside under covers have already rather tarnished the ‘clean and tidy’ look of the engine that had particularly impressed me when I bought the aircraft. It’s nothing serious, just a bit of dust and grime that I’ll have to put a bit of time and effort into to clean off to get it back to as it was, and how I’d like to keep it, as the following shots show.

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But that still wasn’t quite it for today. I found after flying ASY into Galinat and trying to lock the passenger door that the lock didn’t work. The key turned OK in the handle but it didn’t secure the lock, so I thought that I’d investigate that before leaving for home. Nothing appeared to be wrong so I refitted the handle and lock mechanism and this time all was fine. I think that someone had inadvertently put the handle in upside-down so the locking peg that emerges from the spindle when you turn the key did so when there was nothing for it to butt against. Anyway, all’s well now, so that was another small victory.

Here are two final shots that I took before leaving for home showing ASY in its barn.

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I already found today how useful this will be, because as well as being able to get to Malbec from home and go flying in well under 30 minutes, which will be a big improvement compared to having the X-Air at Galinat, I was also able to potter about doing things on the Savannah while the rain was gently falling outside. This would have been impossible at Galinat so although not exactly bliss, at least it meant that rain won’t in the future have to totally stop play 😉

April 5, 2016

Brantôme perhaps?

When my sister and brother-in-law came to stay over Christmas and New Year, we had three weeks of settled, sunny weather, which seems incredible given what’s been chucked at us almost non-stop in the three months since they returned home. The settled spell gave us the chance to visit Brantôme on two occasions, which is a really lovely medieval town (aren’t they all) on the River Dronne. It’s a bit too full of British ex-pats to make me want to live there, but even so, I thought at the time that it would be a good place to do a circuit of by air.

I didn’t know at the time that I’d have the Savannah and although it would have been a flight of the best part of 2 hours in the X-Air, it’ll only take just under 1 hour in ASY. It looks as though tomorrow is going to be dry and bright all day, especially in the afternoon, and although the high will only be 14 degrees Celsius, it could be a good day to do the trip as the flying conditions will probably be pretty good.

Here’s a pic of the route that I’ll take if I do go.

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It represents a complete circuit of Périgueux and as well as Brantôme itself, it also takes in the village of Sarliac-sur-l’Isle to Périgueux’s north east, Château l’Evêque on the main road to Angoulême to its north, Chancelade to its west and a small village called Eglise-Neuve-de-Vergt to its south that I’ve flown over once before. It should be a great opportunity to take some stunning photographs and who knows, I might even be able to shoot a video if I can get one of my little sports cams to stay on long enough 😉

April 3, 2016

Did it or didn’t it?

Well, yes and no, really. The view out of my window yesterday morning was pretty dire, with the hills opposite totally obscured by fog. My view was that there was no possibility of taking off in that and probably for the whole day the way it looked, but Wim phoned and was much more optimistic. He thought that the fog would burn off in the next hour or so as it warmed up a bit, but although still not convinced, I agreed that we should go over to Galinat and assess the situation from there.

My fears were realised once there because if anything, the fog became a bit thicker shortly after we arrived and there was a horrible cold, clammy feel to the air, so we agreed that the flight would have to be delayed for yet another day at least. I thought that the prospects would probably look better today, but to be quite honest, none of the weather forecasts that we normally use have been in agreement for the past few days and all have turned out to be adrift from how the weather has actually turned out, mainly because it’s been changing so quickly. So that was that and we went off to busy ourselves with other things.

But then the weather proceeded to confound us yet again. As the afternoon developed, so did the weather. I went out into my garden at around 3.00 pm and although there was still dark cloud hanging over Galinat, the cloud cover was breaking up from the west and there were actually large patches of blue sky to be seen with periods of bright, warm sunshine. It was still a bit too unpredictable, I thought, to call Wim up and drag him away from whatever he was doing, so I thought that I’d put a Plan B into action that I’d had in the back of my mind for some time.

This was to take my bike over to Malbec, then drive over to Galinat and assess the situation there. If it looked like being a ‘go-er’, I could then fly the Savannah over to Malbec and return to pick up my car by bike. It’s a good 20 km bike-ride, but much of it’s down-hill and I reasoned that the worst section would be the last climb up to Galinat, by which time I thought I’d be spurred on by the thought of my car being ever closer and closer. It was a pretty good plan and a fair assessment as it turned out, but I’ll come back to that later.

The conditions were even better when I got to Galinat and after stripping off the Savannah’s covers and loading them into the back of my car, I topped up the tanks with the 40 litres of 98 octane ‘essence’ (98 because it contains no alcohol) that I’d brought with me, by which time the conditions were pretty good for flying. Not that the following shots seem to reflect that.

ICP Savannah MXP 740 at Galinat

ICP Savannah MXP 740 at Galinat

ICP Savannah MXP 740 at Galinat

ICP Savannah MXP 740 at Galinat

It was a great thrill to start up the engine again after all this time, over 5 weeks actually, and warm the engine up prior to taxying down the slope past Galinat’s hangar and across to the runway. I thought that I’d do two or three take-offs and landings to make sure that I had the ‘feel’ for the aircraft before then doing the flight over to Malbec. And that’s what I did, taking off, turning out left over St Léon sur Vézère and back in as usual from just south-east of Thonac on a heading of 150 degrees.

Christian, Galinat’s owner, turned up in the middle of proceedings and berated me somewhat for using the piste while it was still a bit too wet, but to be honest, although there were a few marks, the Savannah’s wide tyres hadn’t done any lasting damage. He suggested that if I was going to take off again, just the one more time, to fly to Malbec, I should stay well over to the left where it was flatter and a bit dryer and I did that, even though the grass was much longer there. The thing is that once the Savannah leaves the ground, it leaps up and climbs at high speed, so I didn’t mind although it did take a bit longer than previously to drag itself through the longer grass.

The three take-offs and landings, two without flap and one with, had gone well so I was confident about my landing at Malbec. And I didn’t have too long to think about it, because at 140 kmh the flight was approaching its end almost before I knew it. I’d kept pretty low, not above 1200 feet, to give me a longer, shallow approach into Malbec and it was a wise thing to do.

With 1st stage flaps, my approach airspeed was under 90 kmh but I knew that I had a tail-wind making my speed over the ground some 10-15 kmh faster than that. So I aimed for a spot just above the hump before the runway threshold and hit the brakes as soon as my wheels had touched down. But even at that speed, with the slope on Malbec’s runway, I still had to apply power to taxy up to its top end where I shut down and climbed out of the cabin. Here are some shots that I took immediately after my arrival.

ICP Savannah MXP 740 at Fleurac

ICP Savannah MXP 740 at Fleurac

ICP Savannah MXP 740 at Fleurac

ICP Savannah MXP 740 at Fleurac

ICP Savannah MXP 740 at Fleurac

ICP Savannah MXP 740 at Fleurac

So at the end of my little adventure, the Savannah was at last securely in place under cover in Malbec’s barn, and what a relief that was. The flight over took just 10 minutes chock-to-chock. But the adventure wasn’t over just yet, not by a long chalk, because I still had to get back to Galinat to pick up my car.

As I’d surmised, the first part of the ride back was a doddle and was great fun, actually, whizzing down the hill past the Chateau de Peuch, and I was at Le Moustier within 10-15 minutes. Then things got a bit tougher as although the road looks pretty flat from a car, there are quite a few ups and downs on a bike, the ‘ups’ being the tougher bits, of course.

And to cap it all, then it began to rain, not too much even by the time I’d got to Thonac but quite a lot more as I began my climb up to Galinat. It was only then that I made my first stop for a rest and after continuing the ride, the rain began to get worse. With a few kilometres still to go, I had to stop under a tree for a while, not that it kept me that dry, but it gave me some respite as well as a chance for another rest. Then all that was left was the final, steep climb up to Galinat’s piste.

I walked most of it and just had to ignore the rain, which had come on pretty hard by that time, shortly after I’d entered the last stage of my journey that offered no chance of shelter. The weather was really having a last laugh at my expense! I decided to take a short cut off-road up the hillside to the end of the runway and take my word for it, it was really tough pushing a bike uphill through long grass in the pouring rain. But at last I did it and rode the last few metres on the roadway up to where my car was parked.

It was a massive relief to get back into my car. I had to take my top off that was soaked through, and cover the driver’s seat, but it felt great to have succeeded in my mission. My bike’s still at Galinat and I’ll go and pick it up later before meeting up with Wim at Malbec for a chin-wag. He’ll probably fly in and I’m glad that I’ll be able to leave afterwards by car, and not on my bike!

April 1, 2016

Will it, won’t it?

When I got up and looked out of the window this morning, I couldn’t see the hills on the other side of the valley where Galinat is because of a thick layer of gloomy ground-hugging mist. The sky was already cloudy and over the next half an hour it became even more overcast, so when Wim rang shortly after, we agreed that it would be unlikely that I’d be able to do much with the Savannah today.

But since then, things have been undergoing a dramatic change. The sun keeps appearing in longer and longer bursts and the cloud and mist seem to be slowly burning away. But it looks as though the problem that won’t go away is the wind, which seems to be picking up and looks as though it will attain, or possibly even exceed, the forecast of 12 gusting 16-17 mph from the north. And that might remain the fly in the ointment.

And that could also remain the problem for the next few days. There’s a remote chance that it might be flyable tomorrow morning, but I doubt it because it’s likely to be misty at the very least, if not drizzling, with heavier rain forecast later on. Sunday should then be dry and bright but the wind could be gusting as high as 20-30 mph from the south-east, which would rule out flying yet again, and then we have rain forecast for much of next week. And so it goes on.

Although I’ve managed just under 6 hours in the Savannah (2 hours of circuits at la Ferté and 4 hours on the flight down), I’ve only got in one flight in the X-Air, back in January, so the whole of March this year has been a wash-out for me. This feels pretty disastrous, so I’ve just been looking back at my log book to see how previous years have compared.

After the final flight for the year on the last day of December 2013, my first flight in 2014 was in March, and that was it for the whole month. However, things then perked up and after six flights in April 2014, by the end of that month I’d managed a total for the year of just under 6 hours. So still not good and actually even worse than this year if only total hours flown are considered.

But last year was a bit better. I managed to get in a couple of good flights in January 2015 with good continuity in February and March. However, by the end of April 2015, my cumulative total for the year was still only 6 hours, so although I’m frustrated with the way things have gone so far in 2016, things haven’t been any better in previous years. Slightly worse actually!

I think that my main frustration has been due to the fact that I’ve had the Savannah parked up and ready to go but haven’t been able to. Although I now see that it’s been almost the same in the last couple of years, I’ve just felt it a bit more strongly this year, I think, because it’s a new aircraft that I desperately want to be flying!

So how are the prospects now looking for today? Not too good unfortunately. Although there are still weak flashes of sunlight, the breeze is bending the trees a bit and there’s still a lot of clag about making it impossible to see the hills on the opposite side of the valley. I can’t see it improving very much, but I’ll keep watching, just in case.