Readers might have surmised by now from my continued silence in respect of my planned UK flight in F-JHHP that all didn’t go as planned. And they’d be right. Not that conditions weren’t perfect for it and the aircraft wasn’t immaculate and perfectly prepared for it, as the following pictures show.
So everything was perfect and with the glorious weather conditions on the day, Sunday 20 May, I was looking forward to an epic flight. However, an unfortunate sequence of events succeeded in putting paid to it, for now anyway, as I’ll go on to explain.
My good friends, Wim and Victor had turned up to see me off, Wim arriving in his Weedhopper and Victor by car. The first task was to get the Savannah out of the hangar, and while I released the internal retainers, Wim offered to raise the doors from the front. The doors are opened using cords on a pulley system which I’ve found over the months that I’ve been doing it require a bit of a knack rather than just brute strength and as he heaved on the cord of the first door it snapped.
This was a bit of a setback as there’s no simple other way to get the doors raised and propped high enough to extricate the aircraft from the hangar and it took us a good ten minutes or more to do the job with the clock all the while ticking away past my planned departure time. But in the end the Savannah was out on the top of the runway where I had to face it nose uphill to prevent fuel from the topped-up tanks from syphoning out onto a low wing as I’ve had happen on a couple of occasions in the past.
It then took several more minutes for me to load all my baggage and equipment into the aircraft after which I was ready to start the engine, let it run for five or so minutes to warm up and turn it around to face down the runway ready for take off. It was then that I made my fatal mistake.
Wim had left his aircraft to one side in the area where I would be turning and to give me as much room as possible, he moved it back a bit. Then I began to taxy slowly up towards the top of the runway and began my turn to get into position for take off and it became clear almost immediately to both of us as I did so that there was still insufficient space to make the turn.
But by then as the Savannah began to move downhill it was already too late. Even with the engine running at not much more than tickover, the momentum of the aircraft on the downslope was too much for the Savannah’s somewhat puny disc brakes to overcome and as I tried to pull the aircraft round as tightly as possible I was treated to the sickening sight of its right wing tip striking the engine of Wim’s aircraft.
So the flight came to an abrupt end even before it had started. I was furious with myself for not taking more time and trouble to turn the Savannah around in a safer way, but it shows how one’s judgement can be impaired when under pressure. We checked out both aircraft and luckily, apart from knocking Wim’s Weedhopper’s air filter askew, which was replaced back in position merely by loosening and re-tightening a retaining screw, there was no damage to his aircraft.
But the same couldn’t be said for the Savannah. Inspection revealed that luckily the wing itself was not affected and only the end of the wing slat had suffered any damage. I wasn’t keen, but Wim and Victor were quite sure that it could be patched up enough for the aircraft to be safely flown, and after several minutes spent reshaping the end of the slat and making it sufficiently stream-lined with duck tape, they proved their point.
However, I still wasn’t keen and they suggested leaving things until the next day before deciding, which I did. In the meantime, I’d left the Savannah outside because we’d been expecting a German visitor to fly in to whom in my absence we’d promised the hangar. In fact he didn’t arrive due to bad weather in Basel, I think he said, so I went back later to put the Savannah back inside.
Almost unbelievably, in doing so I managed to strike the hangar door with its rudder. It didn’t cause much more than cosmetic damage which was still really annoying even so, but for me this was the last straw and I decided that after so many disasters, it was time to call the flight off, for now anyway.
This was further reinforced by the fact that flying the next day, which was a bank holiday in France, meant that picking up fuel at my chosen airfields would be uncertain at the very least. To be sure of obtaining enough to get me to Calais, I’d need to completely replan my flight to go via Saumur, where fuel is available 24/24 by bank debit card, rather than via Blois, which would more than likely be closed, so that clinched it for me.
So what now? Well, luckily the damage to the Savannah’s wing tip is confined just to the slat so repairing it will be no problem. The reason is that there’s a factory kit to convert the wing design from slatted to vortex generator that involves removing the slats and replacing the leading edges of each wing with new ones with a larger profile and vortex generator tabs.
The upside is that the aircraft retains its trademark STOL characteristics but gains a higher cruise speed together with slightly lower fuel consumption. So gains all round then, for only 20 hours of work. However, the kit’s not that cheap at 2000€ TTC (including VAT) and although I had an idea of doing the job some time in the future, I really wanted to upgrade my radio and buy a transponder first to give myself greater flexibility on longer flights.
But it seems that the choice has now been taken out of my hands and the transponder will have to wait, together with the radio upgrade that won’t be required here in France in any case, until 2021. And looking on the bright side, as with the other work that I’ve had to do on the Savannah as a result of unfortunate mishaps, I’ll end up with a better (and more valuable?) aircraft afterwards. Sighhhh….. 😕
As a footnote, while I was typing this post it was such a glorious evening here that I decided to take a break and go for a short ride, up and down the road, on my electric bike. And it was well worth it, to feel the rush of the evening air on my face in the warmth of the evening sunshine. But it was only as I arrived back home and went to put my bike away that a little something happened that gave me such enormous extra pleasure.
My neighbour has a large ’tilleuil’ (lime tree) on the edge of his grounds that just overlaps the corner of my garden next to the shed in which I keep my bike. As I stood there in the still of the evening I could perceive the sound of what might easily have been the hum of distant traffic. But it was something that could hardly have been more different.
My neighbour’s tree is the twin of the one I had in front of my house that I had to remove in readiness for the extension that I plan to add at some time in the future. Like mine, it stands at something over 20 metres in height and like mine, at this time of the year it is covered in delicate bell-like flowers before the little lime fruits begin to properly form. And the sound was because the tree was alive with thousands and thousands of bees working away to collect the pollen contained in the little flowers.
Such an awesome and enthralling sight and sound must surely temper any feeling of disappointment resulting from one’s human activities and mistakes. And it certainly did for me this evening.
Thoughts and memories on this, her birthday, of my Mum who passed away in 2015. You are still greatly loved and missed.