March 23, 2019

Last goodbye

The final shots of my old X-Air 56NE as I was taxying to take off last Saturday 16 March on my way to fly it up to its new owner in St-Aubin in the Vendée. I’m grateful to my pal Victor who took them while standing by to close the entrance to the airfield after I’d left.

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The next thing will be to pull 28AAD, my Weedhopper, out of the barn so I can give it a good clean and readvertise it on Le Bon Coin. I’m going to do that later today and I’ll probably have a flight in it later on as today and tomorrow are both forecast to be warm, with the temperature reaching 20 degrees Celsius, and with a fairly light northerly wind on both days.

If I can sell it fairly quickly now the season is about to start and get the Kia back I’ll at last have my life back on track after all the disruption of the last couple of years. Keeping my fingers crossed 😉

Oh, and dammit, I’ve just gone ahead and ordered a new F.U.N.K.E ATR833S radio and cable set. The best price that I managed to find on the net was from www.fischer-flugzeugservice.de and as they seem to have both the radio and the cable set in stock (most suppliers don’t seem to have the cable set for some reason) I hope to receive both items very soon. If so, I should then be able to go ahead and replace the 25kHz Icom that I currently have in 77ASY with the shiny new 8.33kHz F.U.N.K.E before my planned UK flight at end April/early May. That’d be nice 🙂

March 22, 2019

Some good fortune

I was scanning the ‘ULM’ ads on Le Bon Coin the other day as I frequently do, when I came across an ad for a Rotax 912 rev counter.

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What was particularly interesting was that, as shown in the image above, not only was this an 80mm diameter one but that it was also labelled ‘ICP’ showing that it came from a Savannah. I missed one just like it a year or so ago and could have kicked myself, so seeing this one which the seller said has only had about 100 hours of use, I immediately got in touch and said that I’d like to have it. I sent my cheque off yesterday and am now awaiting its arrival in a few days time.

If you take a look at the picture below you can see why I’m so interested in having it.

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My Savannah currently has an Icom handheld installed (4) interfacing with two headsets via an Alphatec intercom (3). Not only does the installation look very scruffy (on the whole I don’t think that French ULM pilots are as concerned with appearance as much as UK ones are) but when I visited the UK in 2016 I had complaints about the quality of my transmissions which was something that I was not in the least happy about.

Now couple that with the facts that the Alphatec intercom is obsolete and a bit laughable, actually, when you think how things are done in the UK, that there is a requirement to switch in France from the current 25kHz standard to the new 8.33kHz one by the end of next year and that the changeover has already occurred in the UK, which I intend to visit again shortly, and it becomes clear that I need to think seriously about how to make the change in my Savannah in the most effective and economic way possible.

If you take another look at the picture of 77ASY’s panel above, you can see that the 80mm hole that would normally be filled by the rev counter has an electric turn coordinator (1) installed in it instead. I’ve stated my views about this on several occasions, and to be clear, I think that in an ULM it is about as much use as a chocolate teapot.

It’s great for your image if you’re a budding Airbus pilot (I think a previous owner of my Savannah saw himself in that light from some of the other useless pieces of kit that I’ve removed) but it’s of no practical value if you fly your ULM as you should and remain legal ie in VMC. And it’s also heavy. The original 80mm rev counter has been replaced by a 57mm one (2) in another hole in the panel.

The more I think about it, although I know that’s it’s the more expensive option, I’d like to switch the Savannah radio fit from a handheld to a panel mount. Not only will this markedly improve the panel’s appearance but I expect that performance will also improve. And also panel mounts have useful additional features, like being able to have a second frequency set up ready for an easy and quick changeover.

After getting some useful feedback from pilots both in the UK and in Europe, the model I’ve decided on is the F.U.N.K.E ATR833S, a picture of which appears below.

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Not only is this model very economically priced but it’s also very light and a simple ‘one hole fit’. So here’s my plan, which is simple, yet should be very effective and also gives me a path for further future developments.

The electric turn coordinator (1) comes out and is disposed of. They seem to sell for 100-200€ on Le Bon Coin, so say 120€ to be conservative. The current 57mm rev counter (2) is also removed and sold – that one should go for 50€ on Le Bon Coin, possibly a bit more. The Icom handheld (3) is removed together with the Alphatec intercom (4) – I already have one left over from when I revamped my old X-Air’s panel – and if I’m lucky I might get, say 80€ for the pair on Le Bon Coin as they can’t now be used for a new install in an ULM here in France.

This gives me the 80mm hole into which the original-type rev counter that I’ve just bought will fit, leaving two 57mm holes in the panel. One of those I’ll use for the new F.U.N.K.E that I’ll shortly be ordering and the other will take a spare slip ball that I have in my kit somewhere but can’t presently find, although they’re cheap enough to get hold of so it wouldn’t be the end of the world if I’ve lost it.

But now what of the future? Someone has drilled a ruddy great hole in the Savannah’s panel to take the Icom’s cables and that’ll be left when the above work has all been done. For now I’ll have to either leave it, or more likely cover it with a small aluminium panel, but it can’t be left like that forever.

What I’d then like to do is completely revamp the Savannah’s panel. In the general area in the middle of the panel where the hole in question is located, there’s enough room with a revised layout for another 57mm hole that will be perfect for a transponder. Not only will it make for safer flying but it will also make flights back to the UK shorter and more direct as there’d be no need to fly around Class D airspace, and that’s the route that I’d like to go down.

So what of cost? The radio and cable will be subject to the DGAC’s 20% refund for switching from a 25kHx radio to an 8.33kHx one and will therefore net out to just over 1000€ and the only other expenditure will be the 70€ on the rev counter that I’ve just found on Le Bon Coin. Adding up the above figures for the items that I hope then to be able to sell on, my total outlay (excluding a transponder, of course) will come out to 800-850€, a reasonable amount I think to swap from the Savannah’s scruffy 25kHz Icom set up to a cool 8.33kHz F.U.N.K.E one. And all of those plans come from finding an 80mm Savannah rev counter on Le Bon Coin 😉

March 21, 2019

Can you believe this?

Tonight was ‘Apero Night’ at my house and just before my friends arrived for drinks, snacks and the usual chat I was on my computer and knocked a full glass of red wine all over my computer keyboard. And I mean a full glass because there wasn’t even a mouthful of wine left in it afterwards. All I could do was rinse the keyboard under the tap, shake it out, leave it to dry and grab the keyboard and mouse off my ‘spare’ computer.

After they left I was using keyboard number 2 a few minutes ago when I turned around and tipped a nearly full tall glass of cider over it as well. I subjected it to the same process – rinse under the tap, shake out and dry as best as possible and I’m using it now to type this. Whether it will continue working I have no idea but for some reason, although I should be mad as heck, I can’t stop laughing.

Maybe I had a little too much to drink this evening after all and it’ll all look different in the morning. But there you are, no point crying over spilt milk, or red wine, or cider. What’s done is done. Better get back onto LeBonCoin to see if there are any bargains currently on offer 🙂

March 18, 2019

Amazing experience

It was last Saturday, 16 March. It happened at the end of my last flight in 56NE, my X-Air, which I delivered to its new owner in the Vendée on that day. It was also a bit scary really, although I can’t say that I felt scared at the time.

After having several weeks of fine, settled weather we’re now going through a very unsettled period of high winds and rain showers. My X-Air’s new owner naturally wanted to get his hands on it as soon as possible and if anything, was even more keen to have it in his hangar than I was to see it out of the barn at Malbec and receive the rest of the agreed purchase amount.

But it wasn’t that easy to find a weather window good enough for me to safely make the flight, and not only that, I wasn’t keen on doing it anyway while it was very cold in an open aircraft without any doors. I’m NOT a flexwing jockey who all seem to thrive on having their extremities frozen until they turn blue and are almost ready to drop off 😉

So after having looked at and rejected the weather forecasts over several days prior, it was with a certain amount of trepidation that I decided that Saturday might be a go-er and made the appropriate plans. One plus factor was that after having had winds from the north over quite some time, the direction in which I would be headed, on Saturday we could look forward to an airflow from the south. This meant that with a bit of luck I’d be able to make the flight in a single hop without having to land along the way to top up the tanks.

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My destination was St Aubin-la-Plaine which is a small but very flat and open airfield with a grass runway on 11/29 of declared dimensions 1000×50 metres. The indications were that I’d take off in relatively modest south-easterly winds but that they would gain in strength as I proceeded further north. In fact the TAF for La Rochelle, some 39km to the south-west of my destination, gave a wind of 260/10 (260 degrees 18kmh) for about the time I’d be landing and although it also gave a gust warning, this was for much later at the end of the afternoon when I would be safely back on the ground.

The X-Air has a crosswind limit of 15mph, so the La Rochelle TAF (260 degrees, 16mph) would mean that there would be a crosswind component of less than that, so on that basis I decided to go. The numbers came out like this.

Distance 233km
IAS 90kmh
Estimated flight time 2 hours 29 minutes
Estimated GS 94kmh

I expected the winds to be light south-easterly at the outset moving to moderate to strong from the south-west at my destination, so I used wind numbers of 145/09(kmh) for my first planned leg (186km, 315°T) and 240/22(kmh) for my second leg (52kmm 318°T). The reason for the slight change in heading was to take me overhead the X-Air’s new owner’s club airfield where I could land should I need to take on fuel, but in the event it wasn’t necessary because the numbers came out quite a lot differently to how I’d expected them to be.

As I flew north, it became more and more evident that the southerly wind was quite a bit stronger than had been forecast. It wasn’t that easy for me to keep track bundled up in an open cabin with no doors because as soon as I picked up my chart it got blown around by the wind and one of the staples holding it together tore itself away. Even so, I knew that I was making much better progress than I’d anticipated but I was amazed when I saw St Aubin coming up on my nose in only around 2 hours after taking off.

But that was the good news. The bad news was that the wind over the airfield was not from 240° at all but was instead from 200°, an exact 90° crosswind and its speed was way above what had been forecast. I could see the windsock, which was standing out horizontal and rigid, and I estimated after landing that it was blowing at 25+ kmh, possibly as high as 30 kmh, but at that moment that wasn’t my main consideration. My first concern was how to get down and get down safely without bending either the aircraft or myself.

St Aubin’s circuit is always to the south, so the approach to runway 29 involved left-hand turns. As soon as I turned left downwind I felt the full force of the wind and found myself flying 56NE with its stick hard over to the right with some right rudder to maintain a course on the correct heading. But this wasn’t right, of course, because having lost sight of the field while I was on the downwind heading, when I turned tight left-hand to look for the runway, it was way over to my left and far too far away for me to regain a heading that would allow me an approach to land.

Luckily we’d agree that my friend on the ground would bring his hand-held Icom and when his voice came into my headset he asked if I could see his car, which I could. While I was struggling to bring the X-Air back around towards the airfield, on full power against the wind, he told me to keep watching as he drove it from his hangar to just beyond the middle on the right-hand side of the runway and turned it into wind. Then he told me to land following his car.

By now I’d been struggling to bring the X-Air into the wind and was overhead the runway at 90° to it and I therefore had to start to descend and do a complete 360° turn to position myself correctly for a landing in the way that he’d described ie into the wind across the runway running off into a clear area of flat, open grass. The struggle continued as I lined myself up to land and then, as if by magic, all the drama promptly ceased.

It did so when I was dead into the wind on a good final descent path to touch down just beyond the nearmost edge of the runway and the reason was that although the wind was still blowing as fiercely as before, it wasn’t gusting. This allowed me to set my approach up in the usual way with a steady approach speed and a well defined landing spot. All I had to do was make sure that I did hit the runway as the field in front of it was in crop and really muddy, so what a disaster that would have been if I’d touched down in it and ended up turning the poor old X-Air over!

But nothing like that happened. In fact I was very pleased with my landing and with the groundspeed at which I’d touched down, I could easily have pulled up within the width of the runway. But I didn’t. After slowing down, I added power, turned left with right aileron against the wind, taxied to the new owner’s hangar and switched off.

So that was it. An exciting end to my final flight in 56NE. She’s now gone to a new home and I know that her new owner will be a good one. All that was left for me was to get out, unpack and warm up.

My actual flight time was 2 hours 15 minutes, but that involved at least 8 or 9 minutes fighting against the wind over St Aubin getting the landing sorted out. That means that my actual average groundspeed over the whole flight was around 109kmh and the figure for the last leg was undoubtedly a bit higher. So who said that you can’t get anywhere fast in an X-Air?

Mind you, getting back home again the next day was a nightmare in comparison. I had to get up at 5.30am to catch a train leaving La Rochelle for Bordeaux at 7.44am. We made it just in time after driving through heavy rain under dark skies and it was a relief to finally be sitting on the train. We arrived at Bordeaux at around 1030 am, so not a very fast service that stopped at all the stations along the way. But that wasn’t the worst bit.

I enquired at the Information desk at Bordeaux which ‘voie’ was the next one for Périgueux, where we’d arranged for my friend Victor to pick me up. She told me which one and that the next Périguex train would be at 1630 pm that afternoon! Bloody Sunday service!!

I then spotted that there was a service leaving for Sarlat at 1111 am and asked if that was going to go direct. The lady smiled wanly and said that as it was Sunday it would terminate at Libourne in the Gironde where I would catch a SNCF bus for Bergerac which would be stopping at all of the stations in between. At Bergerac I’d change buses for one going to Sarlat, which would also be stopping at all of the stations along the way.

So after having taken just 2¼ hours to fly from Malbec to the Vendée, I eventually arrived home at 415pm, a total travelling time from La Rochelle of 9½ hours. Such are the pleasures of living and travelling by public transport in France… rural France anyway 🙂

March 12, 2019

Catch-up

I haven’t posted lately but I haven’t been idle. I put my X-Air up for sale last week on Le Bon Coin, the free French small ads web site, and had a very good response. The first person who came to view it on Saturday, from the Vendée on the west coast, decided to buy it and as we’re going through a spell of poor weather said that he’d like to take the wings off and trailer it back there.

I said that I couldn’t see the point of doing that because I’d be happy to fly it up to St Aubin where he has a place in a hangar, and if I couldn’t fly the likelihood would be that he wouldn’t be able to either. He saw the logic and we agreed that I’d do it as soon as there was a weather window – when he viewed it and loaded up his trailer with the ‘extras’ that I was throwing into the sale, it was pouring with rain.

I tried to have a go on Monday which was bright and sunny but the winds at Malbec were just too strong and too dangerous to risk a take-off, so I’m now looking at this coming Saturday as offering a possible opportunity. If so, the benefit would be that what would have been a flight of over three hours into a strong headwind with a fuel stop could become a single hop of around 2½ hours. We’ll have to wait and see.

Coincidentally, the route I’d be taking is almost the exact reverse of the route that Wim and I took to return home on the final day of our West Coast of France tour back in 2015 which, of course, I did in the X-Air.

This evening I’ve also just put the Weedhopper up for sale on Le Bon Coin and will now have to wait and see what sort of response I get. The ‘problem’ is that it only has MYRO’s old 503 engine on it, albeit with very low hours since a full overhaul, when most of the Weedhoppers here in France have 582s, so I’m keeping my fingers crossed.