February 27, 2017

It’s official!

It doesn’t matter that there’s a very cold snap forecast for the UK or that there’s still a bit of rain and some brisk winds here in the Dordogne. Winter is officially over.

How do I know that? Because today I had flight after flight of cranes (‘grues’ in French) flying over my house heading north to their summer homes in northern Europe. And those canny birds know when to make the trip, they just do.

So don’t break out the bikinis and sun cream just yet, but maybe think about digging out the shorts and getting ready to put away the thick jumpers. It may not quite look like spring out there but it’s just around the corner, for sure.

Trust the ‘grues’. They’re never wrong – they can’t afford to be with all the effort that’s involved in flying as far as they do. Looking back on My Trike, it appears that they are about a week earlier than last year, which possibly bodes well for the coming spring and summer.

Let’s hope so anyway – it would be nice to have another long hot one – with plenty of flying, even if it does have to be first thing in the morning or late in the afternoon 😉

February 21, 2017

Double disappointment

The replacement Camloc fastener for the one that I lost from 77ASY’s engine cowling arrived in the post on Saturday so although it was an excellent afternoon for flying, I went to Malbec to fit it and then returned home to continue working on my new fuel rig. My plan was to finish the job off, leaving Sunday free for me to go flying.

I did indeed manage to complete the job before it began to get dark but then I had a major disappointment. I connected the rig up to a 12V car battery and the pump burst into life when I pressed the start button so so far, so good. Then I placed a jerrican containing fuel in position with the delivery tube feeding into an empty one and squeezed the primer bulb a few times.

Fuel did indeed rise from the jerrican into the filter but more to the point, I was extremely alarmed to see that at the same time it was leaking from the pump’s base plate. I checked the retaining bolts and they were a bit loose, so having tightened them this time I just pressed the power button.

The pump whirred but failed to deliver any fuel and instead just continued to leak like a sieve. I checked the retaining bolts again and also the top screws that I think retain the motor, from which area it also appeared to be leaking, but the problems continued. At that point I decided that it was time to give up as light was running out.

At least I had a flight to look forward to on Sunday, I thought, but yet again I was to be disappointed. Although the day had been forecast to be as good as, if not better than, Saturday, in fact we were subjected to mist that persisted for the whole of the day. Bergerac airport was reporting IMC for practically the whole day and as I’d planned a flight around the periphery of its CAS, I thought it sensible to give it a miss and 77ASY stayed in its hangar.

Earlier today I took the opportunity to get the fuel rig out again to have another look. I’ve contacted the pump supplier in the US and as I purchased it from Ebay and paid by Paypal, I’ve demanded a refund. I’ve also said that I don’t intend to incur the (substantial) cost of returning it since it’s only good for scrap, and I’m now awaiting their reply.

What I found a short while ago was that now that the leaked fuel has evaporated, what’s left behind is what appears to be a clean oily residue. This suggests to me that the pump had been tested using oil so I ask myself what’s going on? If it was tested after manufacture, how come they didn’t also find that it was leaking like a sieve?

For now I’ll wait for the supplier’s reply to my Ebay dispute but I’m thinking that what I’ll do, probably tomorrow, is strip the unit to see if there’s any potential for making up and fitting replacements gaskets made from, say 1.5mm nitrile rubber, that may stop the leaks in their tracks.

In the meantime, here are a few shots of the completed rig. First, a couple of shots fom the front showing the basic arrangement with the fuel delivery tube and start/stop button on the left and the long (too long, but can easily be shortened) 12V power leads with crocodile clips to connect remotely to my car battery, on the right.

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Now two shots of the rear showing the connection arrangement.

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All items excluding the pump, so that’s the fuel filter, the electrical junction box, the main connection cable, the start/stop button cable and the pump connection cable are secured to the backboard just by cable ties, the ultralight pilot’s saviour. I’m just hoping that I can do something to solve the leaky pump problem and that it’s not just been sold as a con trick because if I can get it working to the spec that’s been published for it, the rig will be exactly what I need. Here’s hoping, therefore.

LATE-BREAKING NEWS

I have just received a message from the American supplier of the pump via Ebay. They have acknowledged that it should be returned at their cost but also seem to be recognising that this may not be financially justifiable. They have therefore asked me to obtain a quote for shipping it back to them but to not return it at this stage. Encouraging signs 🙂

February 17, 2017

Home-made refuelling rig

After I had my refuelling accident with the Savannah last summer which led to my having to replace its windscreen, I vowed that I’d find a way to top-up the wing tanks without having the risk that such a disaster might ever happen again.

The problem is due to the need to raise the fuel up to wing height which can be no mean feat if you want to do it in one go, as then the jerrican that you’re lifting can weigh as much as 20 kgs. And even when you’ve got it up there, you then have to find somewhere on the wing surface to stand it without causing damage to the wing skin. And even then you have to find a way of getting the fuel out of the jerrican and into the tanks without spilling any.

That was when my problem arose as I was using a hand-held, battery powered pump to do the job, which it did successfully until its outlet tube came off, flooding the wing with fuel before I had a chance to switch it off.

For me, any meaningful solution involves electric pumping. I know that there are some good manual fuel pumps available but they still leave you with the problem of somehow tracking the fuel level in the tank that you’re filling if you’re working at ground level, or taking the fuel container up onto the wing with you, with the attendant risk of accident once again.

I wanted to come up with a solution that didn’t involve raising the heavy container and still allowed me to check the level of fuel in the tank while I was pumping and to do that I needed to have remote access to the pump stop/start and also a pump that delivered fuel at a reasonable rate.

The latter requirement was satisfied by an American pump designed for high powered road and racing cars that delivers fuel at the rate of 10 litres per minute at a cost of only around $60. That seems to me to be both realistic and economic as it would allow an average top-up to be done in something like 2 minutes per tank. It was then a matter of working out some sort of set-up incorporating it.

I mulled over the basic design for a while and as I need something to hold a jerrican weighing about 20 kg with its contents, it couldn’t be anything too lightweight and flimsy. Plus as far as possible I wanted to use materials that I already had to hand and that could be worked using standard tools.

My design incorporates a backboard that supports the jerrican and is tilted backwards so the fuel runs towards a low point. The jerrican also needs to be held on an angle by a fairly robust frame so the low point is a corner below the filler outlet making it possible to almost empty it with the pump using an inlet tube that reaches down into the corner.

I have made the backboard from a piece of old contiboard type material left over from an Ikea kitchen fit that I did for a friend and I’ve used copper tubing for the jerrican support frame and legs – 12 mm for the jerrican support frame and 14 mm for the rig’s legs.

Here’s where the job is as of today. First, the front view of the basic backboard.

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The rear view of the backboard

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The front view with a jerrican in place.

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Another view with the jerrican in place.

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Top of the backboard with the pump and other items in place showing the general scheme of things.

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The idea is that the in-line filter (top left), which is incorporated to ensure that only clean fuel reaches the aircraft tanks, will be securely mounted probably on the rear of the backboard. It will have 2-3 metres of tubing attached to it to reach up to wing level and there will be a plastic clothes peg arrangement on the end of the tube so the end can enter the wing tank filler mouth and be clipped securely to the lip that projects upwards leaving hands free.

The primer bulb will be used to prime the pump so it never has to run dry as it is spec’d at a high output and after being primed initially would always run wet in a vehicle. It will be attached to a length of stainless steel tubing that enters into the mouth of the jerrican and reaches down to its lower rear corner.

There will be an electrical junction box mounted on the rear of the backboard in which there will be connections for the pump, a push/release start/stop button on a flying lead about 2-3 metres long and flying leads about 10-15m in length that will connect via crocodile clips to my car battery with an in-line safety fuse.

The idea will be to climb up to the wing tank filler on steps and place the end of the fuel filler tube into position, taking the stop/start button with you. The rig will be connected to my car battery standing several metres away which will be a good safety feature.

In theory the rig could be connected to the aircraft’s battery either directly or via the cigarette lighter socket. However, I don’t want to do that (a) because there seems little point in discharging the aircraft’s battery when the car battery will be close to hand and (b) it will require having the aircraft master switch turned on which, in the case of the Savannah (bad design), starts to clock up engine time on the hour meter.

The pump is rated at 10 litres per minute so if it performs to spec, I’ll have a rig capable of doing an average top-up in about 2 minutes per side as I wanted. And even if this stretches to 3 minutes or so, I won’t mind too much.

The whole project should be finished and working ready for testing tomorrow and I’m rather looking forward to it.

February 15, 2017

Aaaarrrrgggghhhh!

We had a beautiful day today – calm wind, a clear blue sky (to start off with at least), a high of 17 degrees Celsius and… the first butterflies of the year. Spring is here! Well, for this week anyway as it looks as though things will remain much the same, albeit maybe a couple of degrees or so lower, going into next week.

And both Friday and Saturday look as though they’ll be perfect for flying, so today was a good day to get the Savannah ship-shape and all ready to go. And as I needed to be at Malbec to move the X-Air to make space for an incoming ‘pendulaire’ who is joining us there, I had the perfect opportunity to combine the two activities.

Things went well and I soon removed the end terminals of the new plugs and got them fitted. And today I also had the tool to remove the magnetic plug below the gearbox which I forgot to take with me when I did the oil change the other day. I’d expected oil to come out when I removed it but none did and I was pleasantly surprised that far fom having an overcoat made out of metal filings, all the plug had clinging to it was a light black sludgy material.

It only took a jiffy to clean that off and replace the plug and it was time to give the engine a run-up, which I did after pulling the Savannah’s nose out of the front of the hangar. In doing so I unfortuantely forgot that I’d left the four Camloc fasteners that secure the lower part of the engine cowl on the top of the fuselage just in front of the screen and, of course, during the process they fell off into the muddy grass below. As is always the way, I could only find just three of them.

Now if I was in the UK and had ordered some replacements from a UK supplier, I could be pretty much assured of the fact that I’d receive them by Friday at the latest. But this is France. I’ve ordered three more so I have two spares from ULM Technologie and I’ll be very surprised if I see them before Monday. If so, despite all my efforts, that’ll be my week-end’s flying up the spout 🙁

February 13, 2017

A day for staying indoors

The south-easterly winds began to pick up yesterday afternoon and by nightfall we were experiencing gusts of over 50 mph, which continued overnight and for much of today. Because of the direction from which they were coming, the winds weren’t cold but were quite damaging and when I went out later this afternoon, quite a few trees, especially old, weak ones, had been brought down. I’d also endured a rather restless night because of the howling and banging that the wind caused.

Fortunately I did the engine oil change on my Savannah that I’d been waiting to do for some time, yesterday afternoon before the winds increased in strength. I was disappointed to find when I came to remove the old oil filter that the new tool that I had acquired to do the job with was too large to get through the gap between the oil filter and the exhaust pipe of the front left-hand cylinder. In the end there was nothing else for it other than to remove the springs securing the pipe at the silencer end and slacken off the bolts attaching the pipe to the exhaust outlet on the cylinder.

This did the job but I still couldn’t use the tool to unscrew the oil filter because there was insufficient friction between the oil filter’s surface and the tool band that’s supposed to grip it. I found that very disappointing – the tool looks good but quite honestly isn’t very effective – and I ended up using the time-honoured process of bashing a sharp screwdriver through the body of the oil filter and using it as a lever to loosen the filter.

No problems getting the new one on and tight though, as it only needs a ¾ turn once the rubber sealing gasket touches the metal surface of the cylinder block and it didn’t take that long to complete the oil change. The exhaust pipe went back on nicely as well.

My only regret was that I hadn’t taken a tool with me with which to unscrew the magnetic plug on the side of the engine below the gearbox. So sadly that’ll have to be left either until next time or until I can remove the plug while having a means with me to stop the inevitable oil flow that will arise from the hole it will leave while it’s out.

The manual says that the engine needs 3 litres of oil and that volume brought the oil level to exactly the top mark on the dipstick. In comparison, the old black oil was half-way down, mid-way between the upper and lower marks.

I also forgot to take my small diameter spark plug tool with me yesterday so couldn’t swap out the old plugs for the new ones that I’d puchased. When I came to do so today, I found that whereas the new ones appear to have solid terminal ends, the old ones have had theirs removed and the plug caps fit straight onto the terminal end threads. I also found when I tried to swap out the first plug that the existing plug caps are of too small a diameter to fit over the terminal ends of the new plugs, which are the Rotax recommended model.

I now face something of a quandary. I do not like using plugs with their terminal ends removed as I believe that it creates a potential source of sparking between plug and cap and therefore radio interference. This is important because as I was told by a helpful chap at Sarlat the other day, my radio transmissions are being broken up by what sounds like engine interference. I’d therefore prefer to retain the terminal ends on my new plugs and either modify my plug caps or replace them, but before making any changes I need to find out what is the Rotax recommended arrangement.

Nothing’s ever straightforward, is it, even something as apparently simple as an oil change 😐

A bit of good news from today is that I have now received or already have, all of the components I need to make myself a refuelling rig. I vowed never to allow the possibilty to arise again in the future for a fuel leak during refuelling that could again damage the Savannah’s windscreen. I’ve therefore got a design in mind, which I’ll provide more details about in my next post, for a system with a 12V electric pump that will raise the fuel from ground level up to the height of the Savannah’s wing tanks and allow controlled filling of the tanks.

However, the wind smashed my post box into smithereens today and before I can go ahead and start work on the refuelling rig, I need to make a new one. I preferred my old, wooden rustic version to a nasty new metal one, which is all that you can buy in the stores around here. In such a way are priorities unwillingly forced upon us 🙁

And today was my birthday – yes, yet another one – so many thanks for all the messages and kind wishes that I’ve received from family and friends. Even if one did describe me as a dinosaur… 😉

February 10, 2017

Another lovely day

The weather forecast was for a cloudy day with occasional sunny breaks and a high of about 12 degrees Celsius. However, we had sunshine all day and a high of around 16 degrees and with very little wind, it would have been a good day to go flying.

But I couldn’t do that because the Weedhopper’s new ASI arrived today, as the seller said it might and I wanted to go over and fit it into 28AAD’s panel so I could finally call the aircraft finished. Here’s a shot of the ASI just after I’d unpacked it.

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When I packed up the car to go across to Malbec I also put all of the materials that I’ve had ready by the door for some time so I could also do the Savannah’s oil and plug change if I had enough time. That didn’t happen however, because once I’d fitted 28AAD’s new ASI I thought that it would be a good idea to run its and the X-Air’s engines to warm them up and give their batteries a bit of a charge.

Here are a couple of shots of two of my ‘fleet’ after I’d got 77ASY and 28AAD out of the hangar where they’re both being stored

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And here’s a shot of the Weedhopper’s now completed panel. I think that it’s turned out very well.

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As well as giving 28AAD’s engine a run I also gave it a taxi to the end of the runway and back again. It (and the X-Air also, I’m glad to say) started very easily with no messing around and there was plenty of power on tap when I opened its throttle a couple of times coming back up the slope to the top of the runway.

My plan is to do 77ASY’s oil and plug change tomorrow as it looks as though it could be another fine day. If so, I might also be able to get a short flight in in the Savannah during the afternoon. It’ll be nice to get the Weedhopper’s wings on so I can have a flight in that soon as well.

February 9, 2017

A bit more Weedhopper stuff

My friends are all away on breaks and vacations until next week so I’m trying to make the best use of my time while they’re gone. The seller of the airspeed indicator that I’ve bought for 28AAD, my French Weedhopper, has told me that it’s in the post and likely to be delivered tomorrow, and as I want to put the Weedhopper to bed so I can turn to the work I have to do on the X-Air, there was one more job that I needed to do and wasn’t looking forward to, quite honestly.

That was to modify the Weedhopper’s inter-wing covers, or the upper one to be exact. Because the aircraft was previously fitted with a 582 engine that requires a different exhaust mounting to the 503 which it now has, there’s an extra hole in the upper cover and because it also had a ballistic parachute attached, there’s an even larger one more or less right in the cover’s centre. Both holes can be seen in the following image.

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MYRO’s old cover didn’t need and didn’t have these holes but although it’s red, it isn’t suitable to be used on 28AAD. The reasons are that (a) it’s in rather poor shape compared to the Weedhopper’s one and (b) it’s all red whereas the front of the Weedhopper’s cover is yellow to match the leading edges of its wings.

So what to do? I decided that rather than try to patch the holes, which I didn’t think would look quite right, instead I’d make some covers for them which could be applied using Velcro. I thought that, although it’s unlikely, doing so would also give a new owner the chance to fit a ballistic parachute of their own and even re-upgrade the engine to a 582 if they wanted to.

Although MYRO’s old cover is a slightly different shade of red, I didn’t think that this would matter and cut the pieces I needed for the job from its old lower inter-wing cover so I still have its old upper one should I need it. It’s taken me a couple of days with my trusty old Singer sewing machine but eventually here’s a shot with the two new covers lying next to the holes that they have been made to fill.

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And here’s the final shot with the two covers Velcroed in place.

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They seem to be pretty well attached so hopefully they will remain in position in flight. I’ll only know for sure when I get to finally assemble the Weedhopper’s wings and get it up into the air, which I can’t do soon enough for my liking 🙂

February 5, 2017

Funny old day

To start off with, we’ve had no telephone or internet service for the whole day again today, which is now becoming somewhat intolerable to say the very least. I think that I’m going to have to contact my service provider as although I think it’s to do with the hoped-for upgrade to ‘fast’ internet, I’d now really like to know what’s going on.

Then I had a message fom John in the UK that My Trike had been hacked. It appears that someone somewhere had exploited a weakness in the version of WordPress that I was using up until earlier today to hack in and post some anti-ISIS propaganda. It wasn’t serious and didn’t take long to resolve so hopefully with the updates and changes that I and my hosting company have since made, that’ll be the end of it.

And a big ‘THANK YOU’ to John for alerting me to the problem on a day of all days when I’ve been without a proper connection and have had to log on yet again using the data connection on my mobile phone.

It’s been wet and windy all day today, not as bad as in the UK but enough to make you want to stay indoors in the warm and dry. I watched the opening day of the Six Nations rugby yesterday and was pleased to see both England and Scotland win their initial games but wasn’t overly impressed by the English performance. And with today’s weather, I stayed in again and watched Wales beat Italy after a rather slow start, so not a bad week-end for TV, which I don’t tend to watch very much.

My friends are all on holiday for the next week or so, so in my more idle moments I found time to take stock of the tasks that I have before me in the immediate future. These mainly concern my aircraft because for the time being, with Sterling still at a very low level after the Brexit referendum, I’ve sadly had to put the work I have planned on my house on hold. The pound’s collapse has in effect increased the cost of my plans by something like 10-15% and that isn’t acceptable for me.

But I don’t think that all is lost. I am of the opinion that there is an impending Euro crisis just around the corner, which if it occurs will change the complexion of many things. Greece will inevitably be unable to make even a token part of its bail-out repayment that’s due in September, which I think will have repercussions. Also, the banking crisis in Italy still hasn’t been effectively resolved and will not go away, as won’t the problems at Deutschebank.

And when you then toss the upcoming elections in the Netherlands (March), France (April) and Germany (September) into the pot, you have a recipe for a great deal of Euro uncertainty over and above that resulting from the Brexit negotiations, so my policy will be to sit tight, bide my time and see what happens. I doubt that Sterling will regain its previous lofty levels over 1.30€ but I think that there is major scope for it to rise considerably over its current level of 1.15-1.16€.

So what about my aircraft? First my Savannah, 77ASY. I mentioned in a previous post that its now in pretty good shape and the most pressing job will be to carry out an oil and plug change and general check-over ‘under the hood’. Hopefully I’ll be able to do that this coming week, but it’s not that urgent and the aircraft will still be flyable in the meantime.

Other jobs on the list include touching in all of the bare rivets left after fitting the new screen, cutting in the new carpet that I have to go on the cabin floor and taking another look at the rubber edging for the new panel top covering.

Now 28AAD, my little French Weedhopper. I say ‘little’ but it’s really only ‘little’ in terms of cabin width. In France it’s a 450 kg aircraft (UK, 390 kg) and it has the same wingspan (10 metres) as the X-Air. With the usual UK ‘logic’ (more like ‘illogic’), there the X-Air is a 450 kg aircraft whether it has a 582 or a 503 engine whereas the Weedhopper/AX3 is only available ‘factory-built’ with a 503 engine and a 390 kg max weight limit.

However, if home-built from a kit with a 582 engine, when it comes under the auspices of the LAA rather than the BMAA, then it becomes a 450 kg aircraft. Logical? I make no further comment.

Here in France, my Weedhopper, which originally had a 582 engine, will still be classed as a 450 kg ULM even fitted with MYRO’s old 503. Why the difference between France and the UK? Don’t ask – because that’s the way it is and if you DO ask, you’re told to shut up. I know, believe me.

But back to the jobs that I have in-hand on 28AAD. Fundamentally, it’s all ready to assemble and fly and I can’t wait for the opportunity to do that. I’ve got one more little job in the pipeline, though. Following the repair and renovation work that I did on it, I’d had to leave MYRO’s old airspeed indicator in its panel, which is unfortunately scaled in MPH. But good news! A few days ago I came across a used, good condition 80 mm diameter unit on Le Bon Coin (yes, again…) reading in KmH, just as I did for the VSI that I had needed and similar to before, agreed a price for it of 130€ including delivery.

My cheque has already gone off, so once it’s cleared I look forward to receiving and fitting the gauge and then 28AAD really will be finished and ready to go. I look forward very much to getting back into a Weedhopper and flying it for a short while but ultimately I hope that I’ll then be able to find a buyer for it ‘at the right price’ as the new flying season gets underway.

That just leaves 56NE, my X-Air and I’m in a little bit of a quandary here. I want to sell it ASAP really but to do so, I need to drop the panel and repair the connections to the twin EGT gauge that appear to have broken. It’s a tedious job, but not that difficult and I just need to motivate myself to do it. But that’s not the source of my problem.

The indications are that the ignition stator of the X-Air’s 582 engine has developed a fault. The rev drops are wildly different when a mag check is carried out and the rev counter readout is way off. Will this deter a potential buyer? I think that it will, bearing in mind that few French pilots seem to be as adept with a spanner as I am.

Having replaced the Weedhopper’s stator, it isn’t that tricky or long a job to do, and with a stator only costing 200€ from my favourite supplier, I think it might be a good investment that will lead to a quicker sale.

So that’s it for now. Now all I need is for the ruddy weather to start to pick up a bit as even though all three aircraft are under cover, it’s much nicer to be working on them when it’s a bit warmer and with the sun shining in a clear blue sky. Mind you, when it’s like that, you want to be flying… 😉