June 30, 2019

Destination La Rochelle

As I mentioned in some previous posts, after installing the new 8.33 kHz radio and transponder in 77ASY, my Savannah, I had to get the new equipment officially signed off. As the nearest station to me is at La Rochelle in the Charente Maritime, I had to make the flight up there as I described a couple of posts ago.

Having waited quite a while for a suitable opportunity on account of the weather, I headed off on 19th June. The forecast was for 18th June to be marginal because of winds but for 19th June to be perfect. It couldn’t have been more wrong. The 18th, which I’d rejected, was the perfect day whereas on the 19th half of the flight was over solid low-level cloud. I also arrived and left La Rochelle in rain.

As I mentioned in the post of the flight, I made a video recording and as I also mentioned, although I’d wanted to record the whole flight, I only got an hour or so because the backup battery pack didn’t work. The video starts just before Périgueux with the cloud bank in view on the horizon and ends still over cloud to the north-west of the military airfield at Cognac.

June 27, 2019

Flower power

When I came to France just over seven years ago, I brought with me a collection of garden plant pots. Since then, due either to laziness, or I would say, lack of incentive, they have stood empty and forlorn outside my house.

But no longer! My neighbour, Chantal, who is a real sweetie, looked me in the eye the other day and asked what I was going to do about my empty pots. I mumbled a reply and she said, ‘Roger, you’ve got to buy some plants. You need some plants’. She was right of course, and she did nothing less than propose that we go together immediately to the nursery to pick up a goodly selection to fill the pots up.

And that’s why yesterday afternoon, in the full heat of the Sahara Heat Wave, we were outside in the garden doing precisely that. Rather Chantal was, because although I was there with her doing the heavy lifting, clipping back weeds, getting water and the more menial tasks, she was doing the really demanding stuff. Like choosing what plants were to go where in what combinations and gently packing the potting peat that we also bought, around them.

We finished off today after I’d ended up buying even more pots late yesterday afternoon to take all of the gorgeous flowers that we’d acquired the day before, and what a picture it has turned my house into.

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So there you are, when push comes to shove in the garden, you can’t beat the tender touch of a woman. As far as I’m concerned, you can keep your Alan Titchmarshes and Monty Dons. I’ll take Chantal, my sweetheart of a neighbour, any time 😉

June 19, 2019

The fickleness of the weather gods

Or maybe it’s just our weather forecasters who aren’t very good? I’ve been trying to get to La Rochelle for weeks now to get my Savannah’s new radio and transponder signed off but have been constantly thwarted by the weather. STAR at La Rochelle said that they could fit me in yesterday but on Monday I declined their offer as my fear, based on the weather forecast at the time, was that although I’d be able to get to La Rochelle OK, when I got back to Malbec I’d be trying to land with a dangerously strong tail wind.

So I said that instead I’d prefer to come to them today as the forecast looked to be for more or less perfect conditions. So what happened? Yesterday turned out to be perfect, and although hot (up to around 30 degrees Celsius), the winds at Malbec remained stubbornly calm. And today? I did the trip, as I’ll go on to describe, but conditions could hardly have been worse!

But before I start, here’s the route that I took. I flew north on a route out over Périgueux that took me to the north of Cognac and back on one that took me to its south. I planned to approach La Rochelle on a straight-in to runway 27 via reporting point Echo and to depart on a south-easterly heading via reporting point Sierra Alpha.

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Things didn’t go off too badly despite my needing to make an early start. I took off exactly on the dot of 7.15 am, which was my target departure time and the only thing that I failed to do was start my little camcorder that this time I’d mounted behind me in the roof of the cabin.

I seem to be jinxed as far as getting videos of my flights is concerned, because although I remembered just as I was approaching Périgueux and turned round to switch it on, yet again the battery pack that I’d attached to it to give me up to around 3 hours of video, possibly more, failed to activate and once again, I only got 1 hours worth before the camcorder’s internal battery was exhausted.

Here’s a shot that I took approaching Périgueux just after I’d turned the camcorder on. Look ahead and you can see an ominous cloud bank that extends left to right from horizon to horizon.

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Here’s a general view of Périgueux. It’s interesting because I don’t usually fly this close to the city.

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Here’s a view of a building in Périgueux that I unfortunately became quite well acquainted with – the main hospital. You can see the yellow paramedic helicopter standing in front of it on its landing pad.

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I took this shot as I was approaching the cloud bank that I mentioned earlier.

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This shot shows me passing over the edge of the cloud bank.

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The cloud cover started off being not too bad as the following two pictures show.

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However, within quite a short time it began to thicken considerably.

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Within a few minutes the cloud cover was total and it became impossible to see the ground. My little camcorder was recording at this time and pretty soon I’ll produce a short video of this part of the flight. In fact the whole of the recording, almost an hour’s worth, is just of me flying over solid cloud cover and the following image is of a screen grab taken from it showing just how thick the cover was.

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Now, I’ve mentioned previously on My Trike that it is up to each individual pilot to decide where their comfort zone is regarding flying over cloud cover and I would never presume to suggest that what I think is safe for me is also good for anyone else. On this occasion, I had plenty of fuel on board and I knew from the actual weather that I could turn around at almost any time and head back to a clear sky.

In fact what I also did was climb as soon as I could and keep calling up La Rochelle Approach, who I could hear talking with other aircraft, until they responded to my call and requested details of their weather to make sure that if I continued on, I’d be able to let down safely before arriving there. They told me that they were VMC with restricted, but legal, visibility due to rain and advised me to call again when I was closer to their area, which I did.

As it turned out, the low cloud cover did clear before then and was replaced by floating clumps of cumulus the closer that I got to the airport, as the following two pictures show.

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However, although the pictures show bright sunshine at the time, this was replaced by a gloomy bank of rain with reduced visibilty that came sweeping in from the north-west and persisted right up until I’d landed and beyond. The controller at La Rochelle was very accommodating. He allowed me any approach that I wanted and called me number 1 to land well before I was really on final.

As a result I allowed myself the amusing experience of hurtling down towards the runway on final for a flapless landing at 160 kmh. The controller probably thought that I was imagining that I was flying an Air France ‘Hop’ ATR like the one that came in shortly after I’d taxied up and parked outside the STAR hangar 🙂

Here’s a shot that I took there showing the ground covered in puddles from the rain that I’d just landed in.

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There’s a very interesting aircraft parked outside the STAR hangar. I couldn’t work out whether it’s still actually flyable or not as it has been stripped out like a jump aircraft with only a pilot’s seat inside. It looks to me as though it’s a Cessna Centurion, although I may be wrong, but with a turbo-prop engine fitted (with an extended nose) instead of its usual large piston engine.

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Here are a couple of general views of La Rochelle airport. I had taken a yellow ‘gilet’ with me just in case the regulations were being enforced but I needn’t have bothered.

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I was wandering around quite freely although I didn’t approach the main apron despite there being only a couple of red metal barriers that would have prevented me from doing so. Everyone that I met just kept saying, ‘Bonjour’ to me. Imagine what the security would have been like at a comparable British airport!

There’s a thriving aero club on the airport and here’s a shot that I took showing its club house and hangar.

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The checks on my new avionics only took a bit less than an hour, I think. The guy used a large item of test equipment, presumably for detecting spurious emissions, but no airborne check was required. I’m guessing that that was because I’d pre-programmed the transponder and all he had to do therefore, was check with the controller that it worked as it should, but I don’t know for sure.

I also found some weird squawk codes in it when I reset it for my departure, like 7776, so he must have done some kind of technical checks on it.

The whole exercise cost 210€ including a reduced landing fee at La Rochelle, and this I am entitled to add to the cost of the equipment plus any other installation charges before claiming the 20% rebate for changing from a 25 kHx radio to an 8.33 kHx one.

I then needed to top the Savannah’s tanks up because I’d used a bit more fuel than I’d planned for on account of there being a stronger headwind. The Avgas facility is self-service and accepts 24 hour bank or credit cards and works the same way as some petrol pumps do in France. You get your card authorised first then pump your gas and it provides you with a receipt once you’ve finished.

The only thing was that before I started, it began to rain again and I had to be careful not to allow water running off the wet nozzle to enter my tanks. And finally, having finished and secured the cabin, it was time to get start up clearance, a squawk code and taxi clearance from the Tower for take off.

The controller was very helpful and accommodating. I said that I’d take off from the mid-way intersection without back-tracking and he said that it would be fine for me to do a left turn-out to exit the CTR at Sierra Alpha. The same controller was working both Tower and Approach and as I left the CTR he bade me a cheery farewell, so not a painful experience at all. And all done in English.

My left turn-out took me over a port industrial area before I continued on parallel to the water’s edge and past La Rochelle itself. It was raining quite heavily by that time as the following pic that I shot at the time shows.

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Here’s another shot taken heading south-eastwards in the rain. Visibility wasn’t too bad though and I knew that the rain would clear as I got further away from the coast.

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Here’s a shot of the northern part of Rochefort, which is on the river Charente to the south of La Rochelle.

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Here’s a shot that I took at the same time looking ahead that appeared to show no immediate prospect of a great improvement in the weather.

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And here’s a shot of the southern part of Rochefort.

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These two shots are of Tonnay Charente. It’s to the south of Rochefort and is almost a suburb of it really.

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I spotted this interesting bridge at Tonnay Charente. I thought at first that it carried the railway over the river, but now I think that it’s a road bridge.

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This is the northern part of Saintes.

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This is a shot of the main area of the city.

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Saintes has an aerodrome of the same name to its west. It’s a bit strange because it’s in two parts – there’s a grass airfield for general aviation traffic and next to it there’s a hard runway that I think is used for military training. The shot is looking straight down the grass runway in the middle of the frame.

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Now a shot of the beautifully laid-out vineyards in the area. It’s surprising to me that the vines thrive in a maritime environment with its relative surfeit of rain, but they do.

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As I flew on, the cloud began to build up again, but nothing like as much as during the flight up.

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There was no possibilty that the ground would be covered but I decided that it would be a good idea to climb above it to avoid the bumps and the need to keep dodging around the floating clumps of cumulus.

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These next two shots were taken while above the main cloud layer although some of the clumps were quite high and there was still the need to dodge through gaps between them from time to time.

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I eventually arrived back at Malbec and it was time to let down for a landing in conditions that were quite thermic. In fact I ended up shoving on full flap (40 degrees) on final to give me enough drag to get down after being on the receiving end of a big lump of lift, but it all worked out fine and I was glad to be back after a successful mission.

My total distance flown was 444 kms. My logged time including taxying heading north from Malbec to La Rochelle was 2 hours and 5 minutes and my return time was 1 hour 45. I started with full tanks (70/72 litres 98 octane mogas) and added 27.49 litres of Avgas 100 at La Rochelle for the princely sum of 58.20€. That equates to 2.117€ per litre, so rather expensive juice. I estimate, but didn’t check closely, that I have just over half tanks remaining, so I got my usual approx. 15 litres/hour from the Savannah.

All in all I was very well pleased with the day’s results and greatly enjoyed the flight and the experience of landing at a new, large airport with all of its associated procedures. My only disappointment is that my guizmo that controls the Savannah’s hour meter is only working intermittently, so I guess that there’s a poor connection somewhere.

Oh well, it’s going to be bad weather for flying this week end, so maybe it’ll be a good time to pull the new panel out again to investigate. And also find out why my oil temperature gauge isn’t working. It never ends, does it 😕

June 18, 2019

La Rochelle here I come!

I phoned STAR this morning as requested and we agreed that as tomorrow will be the last weather window for several more days, they would squeeze me in. But there’s a sting in the tail. They want to do my check first thing in the morning which means my arriving at their workshop by 9.00 am.

I’ve checked the weather and it looks as though I’ll benefit from a light tail wind on the way up (and possibly one on the way back, even) but it means that I must take off from Malbec by at the latest 7.15 am tomorrow morning.

I’ve spoken to ATC who have given me permission to land at La Rochelle (as I’ll be flying an ULM) and they’ll be expecting me at around 8.45 am, so as 77ASY is fuelled up and ready to go, it’s now just a matter of seeing how everything works out. I must admit to being quite excited about the whole thing.

Changing the subject, on Saturday Wim and I noticed that 77ASY’s compass was well out (by around 30 degrees) on some headings and although this hasn’t worried me up to now as I always fly using my GPS, I thought that I ought to do something about it. So this afternoon I swung the compass.

I couldn’t see how to do it in the beginning but the two tiny screws securing a small panel on the face of the compass aren’t used to do the adjustments as I originally thought but instead allow you to pull the face off the unit when they’re removed, giving access to the adjustment screws.

I was quite surprised to find that the error on the N/S axis was actually quite small but that on the E/W axis was huge. Maybe this was something to do with my having removed the old panel top edging, which contained metal, and replaced it with a rubber type that contains none.

Anyway, I did the adjustments as best I could being as I can’t install a compass app on my phone and had to rely on a print out of the yard outside the barn that I took off Google Earth and on which I’d overlaid the N/S and E/W axes. I estimate that the compass error in any direction is now no more than 5 degrees and it’ll be interesting to see how it correlates with my calculated headings during tomorrow’s flight.

Oh well, it’s nearly 7.00 pm… best to think about getting to bed… 😉

June 16, 2019

Corrèze, Lot and Dordogne

Wim and I enjoyed a super flight together in the Savannah today. It came about because while on a walking break last week in The Corrèze, Wim met a gentleman who mentioned that there was a small airfield in his commune that needed visitors.

He said that as mayor of the commune, he would like to keep the airfield going but with fewer and fewer visitors arriving there, if there was local pressure to close it, he would find it difficult to resist if it remained virtually unused as it is at the moment.

So this morning Wim and I set off on a round-trip taking in LF1951 Les Chansèves, near Argentat in the Corrèze, Figeac-Livernon in the Lot and Sarlat-Domme in the Dordogne, a total distance of 193 kms and a flight time in the Savannah allowing for landings and take offs of around 2 hours.

We took off from Malbec at around 10.00 am in superb, almost calm conditions after the morning mist had burnt off in most places with small fluffy patches of broken cumulus with a base of about 2500 feet, the height at which we were flying. Here’s an image showing our route.

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It was almost possible to trim 77ASY and let it fly itself, although not quite, but nevertheless the flight to Les Chansèves was almost effortless and took almost dead-on 40 minutes by the time we’d joined and landed. Wim had been unable to get in touch with his contact to let him know we were coming so unsurprisingly the airfield, which has a 740 metre long hard runway, was deserted.

What a pity because it was a super little airfield with a very fine medium-size hangar that appeared to be empty as far as we could see through a crack in the locked door. Sadly, although there was a tractor there with a large mower on the back of it, the airfield grass was very long and unkempt although this failed to hide the huge potential that the airfield has. Here are some shots of the airfield environs and 77ASY parked at the top of the runway.

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We thought that what the airfield could do with to revitalise it would be a fly-in as all of the requisites are there, and Wim is going to suggest this to his friend when he can get in touch with him. If he doesn’t know how to go about doing it, we could maybe give him a hand, which would be good fun I think. After having a general look around, we climbed back into the Savannah and took off heading south for Figeac.

The route took us over Biars-sur-Cère, a small town on the east bank of the Dordogne and while Wim was piloting 77ASY I took a few shots out of my cabin window as we approached and flew overhead.

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A bit further on we flew close to St-Céré to the west of which there is a large chateau perched up on the top of a hill (Château de Castelnau Bretenoux). I took some shots of it as we flew past but they don’t do it justice and Wim said that it is actually a lot more impressive at ground level because then you get the full impression of its size.

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Shortly afterwards we landed at Figeac-Livernon and taxied in. As we’re finding is more and more usual in our part of France, there was very little going on there.

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There were two other ULMs, an old Skyranger and a Jabiru, on the parking and after we’d chatted for a few minutes, they left as there was nowhere that we could get a cup of coffee or any other refreshments and not long after they’d gone, we also took off for Sarlat-Domme. Here’s a shot of Gourdon off to our left as we flew by.

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And here are a couple of shots of 77ASY parked at Sarlat-Domme, not that I really needed any more as I have tons just like them already.

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Sadly for such a beautiful day, there wasn’t that much going on at Sarlat, even. In the nearly an hour that we were there, the parachute Piper Skyhawk took off and released a couple of tandem jumpers but aside fom a couple of other movements, that was about it. Luckily, although there was nothing doing in the flying club, where you can help yourself to a cold drink if you wish and leave the cash behind the bar, the Air Chateau outdoor café was open so we were able to grab a cup of coffee each.

Behind the bar there was a young English guy named Josh who apparently flies for Air Chateau and also does a bit of everything else apparently, including keeping bar if needed. He wasn’t overworked, though, because aside from us there was only a sprinkling of members of the public who’d come out with their children to enjoy the beautiful weather. It’s sad that we’re finding more and more that even quite large airfields in our corner of France are almost deserted when you go into them and you can but be concerned for their future if this continues.

After taking off on runway 28, we turned right to head back to Malbec and as Wim piloted 77ASY I took a few shots of the village of Domme perched on its hilltop. I’ve never actually visited it the whole of the time that I’ve been here and really must make the effort some time as it’s a very pretty little place.

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As we flew north, we could hear the jabber of pilots at Belvès flying circuits, as they had been doing during the whole of our flight, plus one or two more from longer distances. But really, the airwaves were not half as active as I’ve heard them in the past. Our landing at Malbec was uneventful despite conditions having becoming more turbulent as the temperature increased, to something like 24 or 25 degrees Celsius.

Later on I returned and topped 77ASY’s tanks up because the next few days are going to be fine and will present a good window for my flight to La Rochelle for the Savannah’s avionics check. I’m going to call the station up early tomorrow and, who knows, if they say that they can fit me in straight away, with full tanks I could get away immediately. I’ll have to see what they say 😉

June 14, 2019

More microelectronics

Here’s the latest incarnation of the little microelectronic guizmo that I installed in my Savannah to control its hour meter.

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The components were quite inexpensive. All of the inline components came in multi-packs (mostly 20s and 50s but just 5 for things like the transistor and diode) and as I bought two of the Arduino microprocessors, the second when I realised that the first one that I’d ordered was going to take weeks to come direct from China, I only had to order a second integrated circuit when it arrived to be able to make a second complete unit.

It occurred to me that this was quite a good idea. 28AAD, my French Weedhopper, uses G-MYRO’s old instrument panel which incorporates an hour meter that runs in the old-fashioned way from the charging circuit incorporating a very large capacitor, presumably so the meter only started running after a threshold voltage had been attained. You can see it in the following pic that I took way back when I was originally rebuilding MYRO.

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The problem was that the system has never worked correctly. When I initially got MYRO back in the air, the hour meter ran for a very short time and then stopped, never to go again. I didn’t bother finding out why and just recorded engine and airframe hours in the relevant log books from the figures that I took down at the time.

I thought that it was maybe down to just a bad connection, but now I don’t think that that was the reason, because exactly the same thing has happened again now that the panel is being used again in 28AAD. I suspect that the problem is down to the large capacitor deteriorating with age. It actually didn’t originally come from MYRO but instead from the AX3 whose panel I acquired to replace MYRO’s old one that was in a very bad state.

But in any case, it is now over 20 years old so is probably not working at all in the way that it is supposed to. So that gave me the idea that rather than waste the components for the second little microelectronic guizmo, I should instead use them to make a second unit to replace the capacitor in 28AAD’s hour meter circuit and get it working again, and that’s precisely what I’ve done.

Here’s a shot of the reverse of the unit showing the soldering – not very pretty maybe, but it works fine and won’t be visible and therefore won’t matter when the circuitry has been potted in clear silicone.

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And here’s a shot of the unit with its connector in place.

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My ‘Version 2’ is slightly shorter than my original because this time, on the advice of Sean in the UK who provided me with the circuit details and the programming, I’ve ‘hidden’ some components in the space under the Arduino microprocessor. Here are the details of the circuit and my layout.

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As 28AAD has a Rotax 503 2-stroke engine that runs at higher revs than my Savannah’s 912S, I’ve programmed the microprocessor differently, for the hour meter to begin reading at 4000 rpm and to stop at 2000 rpm. This is because the 503 engine typically warms up at 3000 rpm and the revs only then fall to 2000 when its being switched off after taxying in.

I’ll be finishing the unit off tomorrow, probably, while the weather is still unsettled and I’m looking forward to seeing how it then performs when installed in 28AAD.

June 8, 2019

28AAD local jolly

I realised the other day that the centre pin in the BNC connector on 28AAD’s antenna cable was missing and as this would mean that I couldn’t use my Vertex radio kit in it, I needed to order a new connector. In fact I ordered two, from a German supplier who, unlike those in France, realises that if you spend only a few euros to purchase some items on line, it doesn’t make sense to then quote 20-30€ in carriage.

In fact, because their delivery charge was so reasonable (under 6€ from Germany), I actually bought more than I was originally going to from their web site and have bookmarked it for future use. Read, mark and learn, French suppliers.

The parcel arrived today so late this afternoon I went to Malbec to fit one onto 28AAD’s antenna cable, and as the flying conditions were still very pleasant, decided to go off in it afterwoods for a little local jolly. It was about time too, because I haven’t flown 28AAD since September of last year and I therefore thought that it would be a good idea to do a few landings at the usual places, Galinat and Condat.

I didn’t bother planning a flight but instead just loaded an old one into my tablet, fired it up and off I went. I took a few shots along the way, and as there are only eight, thought that I wouldn’t bother choosing the best ones and to show them all below. The first two are of 28AAD at Galinat.

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Now one of 28AAD at Condat. There was some kind of party or function going on there and everyone watched me come into land, which was a bit disconcerting as the crosswind on the approach was playing some very weird little games.

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I then returned for a second landing at Galinat and here are some shots that I took as I approached and passed overhead Montignac.

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And finally, a couple of shots after I’d returned to Malbec of both of my aircraft in the barn there. I tried turning 28AAD round this time with its nose towards the back corner and it does seem to have given more room to push 77ASY further in.

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I put 28AAD up for sale on Le Bon Coin a few weeks ago but my asking price was a bit high and although there was some interest, there were no takers. Time to re-do the ad, I think, as it doesn’t make sense keeping two aircraft, and quite honestly, I don’t now enjoy flying the slow little Weedhopper half as much as I do the Savannah. It would be really nice to find a good home for her with an owner who will appreciate her more than I do.

June 4, 2019

Oh dear…

I spoke earlier to STAR, the organisation in La Rochelle who do the official avionics checks and sign installations off. It turns out that they can’t do anything for me before next week and certainly not this coming Thursday, which would look to be a good weather window to fly up there.

Next Monday is a national holiday in France, so that would be out and it looks as though the weather will be poor then anyway. It also looks as though the poor weather will continue for most of next week right up until Friday at the earliest with some days in between being quite stormy.

So it looks as though I’m entering yet another French marathon and I bet that it will be two or three weeks from now before I get my Savannah’s new radio and transponder signed off. If the weather’s poor I couldn’t fly anyway but if there are a few good days, I’d keep flying and using the kit in any case as nobody is going to check. Plus I always have the Weedhopper to fly if I want to.

But what it does do until the check has been completed is take away my own discretion as to when I’ll be able to fly to the UK and that’s what rankles. The last time I went, back in 2016, it was in August and I’d hoped to make it before then this time around. If things happened when you asked for them to it wouldn’t matter, but this bureaucracy when you have to hang around waiting for things at ‘their’ convenience is a damn nuisance 😐

June 2, 2019

Microelectronics update

I forget to mention after my flight on Friday, how the little microprocessor that I put in to control my hour meter performed.

I started the Savannah’s engine at 10.43 am and allowed the engine to warm up for 7 minutes during which time the hour meter did not run. I then taxied for take off at 10.50 am and switched off at Ste-Foy-la-Grande at 11.30 am, recording a flight time of 40 minutes. The hour meter showed an increase of 36 minutes, so just a bit less.

I switched on again at 11.43 am and began taxying, taking off shortly thereafter and switched off again at Sarlat-Domme at 12.35 am. This gave me a flight time of 52 minutes and the hour meter showed an increase of 49 minutes.

After enjoying a Coke at Sarlat, I taxied the short distance from the parking and took off at 13.00 pm. I switched off at Malbec at 13.20 pm giving a flight time of 20 minutes during which time the hour meter increased by 18 minutes.

I’m happy with that. The hour meter doesn’t start running now immediately the master is switched on and I don’t mind the recorded hours being a bit less than ‘actual’ to make up (a) for the times when the master has been left on inadvertently (well over an hour, if not more, for me alone) and (b) for when the meter was over-reading during every flight in the past.

So that’ll do me. If it keeps running reliably as from now, I’ll leave it alone to work away quietly behind the panel. All I have to do now is find out why the oil temperature gauge isn’t working and I’ll be a happy bunny 🙂