September 30, 2019

All buttoned up

Done and dusted, all systems go. My X-Air is a bona-fide French citizen at last with a new registration to be applied to her wing. 24ZN is her new identity. So I will be off to England on Friday morning to get her ship-shape for her flight over the Channel to her new home in France.

Really excited about it, can’t wait 🙂

September 27, 2019

A good day

I was over-optimistic when I entitled my last post ‘Nearly there’ as I’d totally failed to take into account the labyrinthine nature of French bureaucracy. But maybe I’m being unfair, because at the end of it all, when you’ve surmounted all the hurdles and succeeded in getting an otherwise anonymous aircraft onto the French ULM register, you’re ultimately left very much to your own devices and allowed to get on with things with little interference from the ‘authorities’. That certainly can’t be said of several other countries in Europe and absolutely not of the UK.

The stumbling block was the document that I’d mentioned in my previous post, namely the ‘fiche d’identification’. I must say at the outset that I was wrong in my interpretation of the French rules. A ‘fiche d’identification’ dated and signed by the aircraft’s manufacturer (ie not the person who actually built it in the case of a kit-built aircraft, but its constructor) that proves that the aircraft in question meets the requirements for it to be described as an ULM and also conforms to the original specifications filed by the manufacturer must be filed with every French registration application.

Usually a ‘fiche d’identification’ is provided by the constructor when the aircraft is originally sold and submitted to the DGAC when it is first registered. When it is re-sold, therefore, subsequent owners never have to bother about it. It may well be that when my X-Air was exported to the UK, a ‘fiche d’identification’ accompanied the kit, but I don’t know. When my pal acquired it around 10 years ago, I made up a document file for it as all of its paperwork was just chucked in a box, but its all still in the UK and for now I’ve been unable to go through it again. I’ve been told that I’ve written ‘certificate of conformity’ in the contents, and that may refer to the ‘fiche d’identification’, but at present I just don’t know for sure. However, I suspect that it was actually just lost or mislaid as there was no need for it in the UK.

But all is not lost in such a situation as Rand Kar, the French worldwide X-Air distributor, is still around in the Loire Atlantique and is willing to supply a copy – at a price, namely 200€. This may seem a somewhat princely sum for a simple colour copy of a filed document, but given that it plus a one-off registration fee of 20€ is all that it will cost to get my X-Air onto the French register, it’s not worth baulking at compared to the high annual cost of permitting the aircraft in the UK.

But there’s a catch – Rand Kar will only provide the said copy if they are provided with the original French serial number of the kit – and the DGAC will not accept any other number either, including the (different) serial number allocated to it by the BMAA for its UK registration. So if it’s not among the paperwork, then there is a problem, and in any case, if I’m to make my Ryanair flight to Stansted next Friday to get the X-Air ready to fly over, I needed to get it sorted by the end of this week, ie today, or by Monday or Tuesday of next week at the latest.

The key to the problem was getting hold of the aircraft’s French serial number and Rand Kar seemed the best place to start. They said that they do have all of the serial numbers but in the period in question (1998/99) 49 were shipped to the UK and they have no knowledge of either the UK registrations or the names of the customers. However, they said that the Wessex Light Aeroplane Co Ltd, in the person of Gordon Salter, the UK importer, would probably still have a record. So I phoned him, he said that yes he does have the information on file even for all those years ago, but that he’s on holiday in Menorca until Monday week! He said that he’d let me have the info after he gets back but that’s too late for me of course.

So after sending Gordon a SMS with the X-Air’s registration and original purchaser details, I needed to think about how else I might be able to tackle the problem. I wondered if the BMAA might have kept a record on the build paperwork, so I gave them a ring. Roger Patrick, ex P&M and the new Technical Officer, said that he’d have a look for me and a minute or so later came up with the only reference that he could find in the form of a kit number. This seemed very promising to me and soon after sending it to Rand Kar, I received the welcome confirmation that this referred to a red and grey X-Air sold into the UK in the period in question ie my aircraft.

So the problem was solved and shortly after paying their fee by debit card, I received my aircraft’s correct French ‘numéro de série’ (serial number) and a copy of its ‘fiche d’identification’ that enabled me to complete all of the paperwork necessary to get it onto the French register. In view of the ever-shortening lead-time, I’ve asked for the new registration to be emailed through to me as soon as it’s available, and hopefully that will happen on Monday. After that I’ll have enough time to put my plan into action to fly over to the UK and fly the X-Air across to France when the weather is suitable. I’ve already got my route and flightplan worked out, but more of that later. For now I’m just relieved that the registration logjam has at last been broken 😉

September 22, 2019

Nearly there

Since returning from the UK, I’ve been focusing my efforts on my primary project – namely rescuing my latest aircraft acquisition for a new life in France. The transfer of ownership went through last weekend (Saturday 14 September) and deregistering it in the UK was easy. It only took one day and I didn’t even need to put it in my name. Registering it in France has been slightly more difficult, however, but now I’m there and just waiting for the ‘Carte Jaune’ to arrive in the post.

I’ve had to learn all about the French system for registering ULMs in a very short time. The first thing is that only ULMs with a French ‘Code d’Identification’ and/or ‘Fiche Technique’ can be registered in France. This means that only those with a ‘technical dossier’ created by the constructor that proves that the aircraft in question meets the ULM/microlight definition and meets acceptable standards of construction and airworthiness can be added to the French register. When this is done, the aircraft model in question is allocated an ‘identity code’ which can then be quoted by all ‘ULMs de série’ ie all similar models ‘in the series’ for them to be automatically deemed as acceptable. Alternatively, if the ‘identity code’ isn’t known, the reference to the relevant ‘technical dossier’ can also be quoted.

This doesn’t mean that an individual who designs and builds their own ULM can’t get it registered. They can, by applying for a ‘provisional’ registration that starts with the letter ‘W’ which I think only lasts for one year and can then be converted to a permanent one once the owner demonstrates by testing and calculation that the aircraft conforms. However, this doesn’t apply to my aircraft and I’m not absolutely certain of this as I haven’t gone into it in more detail.

I started by applying for a ‘provisional’ registration for my aircraft that I want to bring into France from the UK but was told ‘by return’ that this wasn’t appropriate. It’s an ‘ULM de série’ but made slightly more complicated as it was kit built in the UK. My initial problem was not understanding what on earth I had to do about acquiring an ‘identity code’ as the lady at the DGAC made it abundantly clear that without such a code I would not be able to get the aircraft onto the French register at all, which alarmed me somewhat.

She told me that I needed to contact ‘the constructor’ who would need to provide an attestation that it ‘conformed’ and also met French regulatory construction and airworthiness requirements. This I saw as being a major problem as the UK ‘constructor’, a private individual, assembled the kit around 20 years ago and for all I know, isn’t even around now. So getting this ‘attestation’ seemed to me to be problematic at best.

I suggested that the BMAA HADS (Homebuilt Aircraft Data Sheet) which had been officially signed off by a BMAA inspector not only confirmed that the aircraft met the ULM/microlight definition but also confirmed that it had been built to the required standard but this was firmly rejected by the lady at the DGAC. However, as I’ve found quite frequently with bureaucrats in France, although they will freely let you know when something is unacceptable, they won’t then go the next step and tell you what you need to do to get round the problem, so it was time to take a close look myself at the relevant regulations, namely Articles 3 and 5 that the lady had indicated as being key to my registration request.

First, Article 3 which I’ve posted a copy of below.

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This mentions the ‘fiche d’identification’ (technical dossier), its requirements and contents and also the need for an ULM to have user and maintenance manuals for it to be registered. But the single most important statement that struck me was that highlighted in yellow, namely that the ‘fiche technique’ or reference thereof of an aircraft applies for all aircraft sharing the same ‘key characteristics’. As my aircraft is an X-Air built from a French kit, this means that the ‘fiche technique’ that applies for all French-built 582 X-Airs also applies to my aircraft, thus overcoming the first major hurdle.

Now on to Article 5, which I’ve also posted below.

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The lady at the DGAC implied that the ‘constructor’ of my aircraft needed to provide an ‘attestation’ of suitability of the aircraft but it seems to me that either I’ve misunderstood her or she’s slightly confused by the meaning of the regulations. Firstly, it’s clear that the ‘constructor’ does not mean the individual or organisation who built the aircraft – it refers to the ‘constructor’ ie the designer/manufacturer of the aircraft or the kit from which it was built.

Secondly, once a ‘fiche technique’ has been issued and archived by the ‘constructor’ it’s implicitly assumed that the aircraft itself conforms. There’s then the need before registration is granted for there to be a declaration that the aircraft conforms to the required standards of construction and is airworthy, but it is clear from Article 5 and the registration form itself that neither the ‘constructor’ nor the actual kit builder have to do that – it is solely the responsibility of the applicant to ‘declare’, as always, that those requirements are met. This is the beauty of the French system – the pilot alone is responsible for the operation and airworthiness of his aircraft.

A bit more digging gave me the aircraft’s French description as an Xair 602T and Randkar, the ‘constructor’ to whom I showed pictures of the aircraft, gave me the Code d’Identité for an Xair 602T SP (sans parachute) which I put onto my latest submission of the paperwork. This joined a weight form (using the BMAA figure), a form confirming de-reg in the UK and a promise to pay 20€ when it was all done that I submitted earlier, so all’s well that ends well, as we say in the UK.

Re getting it over here, I’ve booked Bergerac-Stansted on 4 October for 21.99€ (the cost for my additional case at 12€ was more than my fare of 9.99€) and I’ll be taking with me things like new carb rubbers and new fuel pump mount rubbers as I found that one of the latter was perished when I looked over the aircraft last time. I’m pretty sure that there are no other major problems as although the fuel line ends were stretched and perished, this was because lines of too small a diameter had been stretched onto larger dia fittings. After cutting the ends off, they’ll be OK for now but if I find otherwise, I’ll replace them when I’m in the UK after doing my thorough inspection.

I’ll have to stay over in the UK for as long as it takes for suitable weather and then I intend to fly it over, this time taking 3 days rather than 2 as I did with MYRO. The first problem is that with Abbeville closed, I’ll have to go north to Calais before heading south so on day one I’ll do that and overnight at Abbeville, hopefully at the slightly grotty hotel on the airfield which I’ll book when I know my dates. And now Wanafly has gone, I can’t overnight there either so I’m hoping to stop over at Bellac where Roger, who is bringing his Shadow over from Ireland will be based. Then day three will be a short hop from there into Malbec.

Naturally I’m hoping that the fine weather that we’re enjoying at present will hold through into the first half of October – but luckily the X-Air has got doors and a nicely sealed cabin, so even if it’s a bit chilly, it shouldn’t be a bad flight down. So yet another adventure and I’m looking forward to it immensely 🙂

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September 16, 2019

Wheels are in motion

I’m remaining vague on purpose and will have to continue being so for some time to come as I want to stay under-the-radar and not attract unnecessary attention. But things are already on the move towards turning my little plan into reality.

Early yesterday evening I received the information by email that I’d requested from the UK plus copies of various items of paperwork and by bedtime the necessary forms had been sent off to the UK CAA by the same means. And by the middle of this afternoon the aircraft in question had been deregistered in the UK and the necessary paperwork submitted here in France for it to be added to the French aircraft register.

I was pleasantly surprised and very impressed by how quickly and smoothly the process went and I’m very encouraged that if things continue in this way, everything will be achieved even more rapidly than I originally thought. All will be revealed in the fullness of time and in the meantime I’ll continue quietly working away behind the scenes 😉

September 11, 2019

Back from the Basque country

Just after coming to France over 7 years ago when I installed my wood burning stove, I acquired a log splitter that I found on Le Bon Coin, the French free small ads web site. It was a low-level, horizontal type with a ram pressure of 5 tons and it gave me good service up until just before the end of last season when it began to leak oil.

I decided that given the relatively low price that I’d paid for it, it didn’t owe me anything and got rid of it for peanuts ‘for spares’ and was surprised by the interest that it generated when I put it up for sale. I finished off the season splitting the last few big logs that I had with a woodman’s axe, which was good fun (and good exercise) but not how I wanted to proceed for the long term.

I didn’t want to get another similar low-level, horizontal design machine despite there being quite a few bargains on offer. For starters, it gets your back having to keep stooping and bending, but they are also limited in ram pressure with 5 tons being about their limit. And I do get the occasional log of larger diameter that needs more than that, which is probably why my old machine eventually died a death.

I decided that what I wanted was a vertical machine with at least 7-8 tons pressure, and if possible a ‘high quality’ one ie probably not Chinese in origin. Since I returned from the UK I’ve been looking on Le Bon Coin and a couple of days ago I spotted the ideal candidate, the only problem being that it was miles away down near Bayonne in the Basque country close to the Spanish border.

It had been up for sale since the end of August so I took a flyer and made an offer that would make it worthwhile making the journey and was pleasantly surprised when the seller accepted it. And so it was, after dragging out both my trailers and giving them a long-overdue clean up, that yesterday morning I set off in the Kia with my small trailer heading south to Villefranque, a commune in the rolling countryside of the French Basque country with a beautiful view of the Pyrénées, taking incidentally, the same route that I had done with the C-Max when I’d headed off to San Sebastián for the Kia’s replacement engine that was now taking me back again.

The seller turned out to be a newly-retired ex-IT project manager from the aerospace industry living with his charming wife in a lovely mountain chalet-style house typical of the region. And as soon as I saw the machine I knew that I’d made the right choice. It was a very high quality German-manufactured Lumag with a 8 ton ram that had clearly received almost no use at all. Indeed, the seller told me that he’d only used it a couple of times and as they had central heating and enough wood to meet their needs, he had no further use for it.

We quickly did the deal and loaded the machine onto my small trailer. It was much heavier than I expected and took the two of us to get it on board and after doing so, I covered it with an old tarp that I’d taken with me as rain was forecast later and secured it standing vertically with ropes. Then, after a small beer as it had been warm work loading it up, I departed for home.

I took it easy on the journey back and by the time I got home again, it was already getting dark. So the machine stayed on my trailer overnight and this is how it looked this morning before I offloaded it.

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Here it is standing on my trailer as we’d loaded it after I’d removed the tarp and the ropes.

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When we’d loaded it in Villefranque, the seller and I had hauled it together up a pair of short wooden planks onto the trailer. I thought that I’d be able to drop it off without doing any harm just by myself but soon gave that idea up when I moved it and realised just how heavy it was. So I decided that I’d also make a ramp from a couple of boards which worked well until one of them, which had been out too long in the weather, snapped and lowered me and machine down to the ground.

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But no harm was done and I was then able to wheel the machine across the grass to a space that I’d cleared for it in the corner of my wood store where my old splitter used to stand on its end.

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I only had one large log to try it out on, which was the one that I’d been using as a chopping block for my woodman’s axe.

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The machine just laughed at it and split it effortlessly into 4 segments, which boded very well as now I’ll have no problem splitting any of the logs that I’ll be buying in the future. So taking everything into account, I think that yet again, I’ve made a great Le Bon Coin purchase. Even with the cost of the fuel going there and back to Villefranque, I’ve got an almost new 8 ton 700€ German log splitter for about half-price, so I can’t complain. And as a bonus, the Kia ran faultlessly towing my small trailer for over 700 kms, so that’s also a relief that will give me confidence for its future 😉

September 6, 2019

Flight from the UK – 3 September 2019

During my stay in the UK I’d done what I could to restore the brakes in F-JHHP and although not perfect, I reckoned that I’d got enough braking power back to get me safely back to Malbec including pulling up on Malbec’s short runway. I’d also managed to find and download software onto my phone so I could edit my returning GAR and Schengen forms and as I was already able to submit my pre-prepared return flight plan, I was well set up for my return flight to France.

Europe’s major ULM (microlight) festival took place at Blois on the week-end of 31 August/01 September during which the airfield was closed to visiting traffic so initially I’d considered returning via Romorantin Pruniers on Sunday 1 September. However, as it looked as though the weather was going to remain fairly settled up until Wednesday 4 September, I decided that instead I’d make my return flight on Tuesday 3 September routing once again via Blois.

I also thought that it’d be a good idea to pack my baggage into F-JHHP the evening before departure, especially as I was returning with several large Morrison’s supermarket bags containing biscuits and other difficult-to-buy-in-France British foodstuffs and this turned out to be a good idea as it saved me quite a few minutes the next morning.

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So after filing my forms before setting off for Headcorn and my flight plan on arrival, I was actually all set to go before my planned departure time with a forecast of a tailwind for much of my flight and broken cloud in northern France turning to CAVOK for the rest of my planned route.

Headcorn EGKH to Le Touquet LFAT

It turned out that the forecast for the first leg of my flight couldn’t have been more wrong and, uncharitably perhaps, one wonders if the weather forecasters ever tear themselves away from their complex computer models and look out of the window. I took off into practically unbroken lowish cloud (maybe 4000 feet) that became even lower as I approached the Channel and soon after I coasted out at Dymchurch it got even lower and began to rain.

I’ve doctored the next several photographs to make them clearer with the result that the visibility in all of them looks considerably brighter and clearer than it actually was. I’m not trying to make the situation more dramatic than it actually was but merely trying to explain the conditions under which I was flying at the time which were not ‘dangerous’ or ‘extreme’ but probably just not suitable for less experienced pilots to be up in.

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This was the sight that greeted me as I looked to the west towards Le Touquet so I asked London Information with whom I was in radio contact if they had the current Le Touquet weather. They gave me their latest TAF which was out of date and I said that as it was under low cloud and rain at that moment, I might have to divert to Calais, so they asked me to keep them advised of my situation.

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I crossed the Channel at under 3000 feet under lowering cloud and changed to Lille Approach as I approached the French coast. I asked them for the latest Le Touquet weather and after coasting in at Cap Gris Nez, they suggested that I’d best contact Le Touquet Tower immediately to obtain the current sitrep.

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I took their advice and Le Touquet advised me that the approach conditions were SVFR (Special Visual Flight Rules) due to broken low cloud and showers and cleared me to enter their zone for a landing. This was my view of Boulogne Harbour, Le Touquet reporting point November, as I approached it at low level. How different from when I was heading north just a week or so before!

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While tracking south down the coast towards the airfield I could hear, and was advised of, G-registered traffic overtaking me from the rear. I was at about 1400 feet and shortly after a Piper Warrior from Cranfield with a solo young Irish pilot passed directly under me and landed a few minutes before I was cleared for an otherwise uneventful landing, with plenty of braking to allow me to slow down, taxy to the parking and pull up.

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Re-entering France involved very few formalities – all I had to do was show the Customs officer my UK passport. That left me with just my landing fee (15€) to settle, to have a quick pee and get off again. I’d been keeping a close eye on the weather to the south and it was obvious that low cloud and showers were constantly rolling in from the sea so I had to make up my mind whether to take off as there was a risk that if I decided to turn back again, the weather could have closed in behind me. I decided to do so and pretty soon ran into it as the following shots show.

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There was some Le Touquet traffic doing practise IFR approaches, the conditions were pretty much ideal, and as I flew south I heard another aircraft approaching from the north SVFR for a full stop. He was advised that he was cleared to land except sea mist was by that time beginning to cover the far end of runway 31 which was by then obscured. Not that much of a problem as the runway is pretty long and they’d be turning off for the apron well before they reached it.

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I took the final shot above just as I was approaching a bank of low cloud and rain that I could see was moving from right to left from off the sea. I estimated that I’d just catch the edge of it if I continued on course and that even if I entered it, I’d still have reasonable forward visibilty. Actually I was wrong. When I hit it the rain was lashing against my windscreeen and although I could still see the ground I had no visible horizon having lost all of my forward visibility.

I quickly descended to around 800 feet to maintain sight of the surface and would have turned right to try to get out of it but to my surprise the rain abruptly stopped and the cloud began to lift after less than a minute. So I carried on. Thankfully that was the last I saw of the rain, which had lasted on and off for more than 40 minutes after leaving Le Touquet and gradually the cloud began to lift and conditions became much brighter.

After leaving Le Touquet, I’d been handed over to Paris Information who provided me with a fantastic service. It was comforting somehow to know that even though I was flying through poor weather I’d been identified on radar and a helpful soul was at hand if needed. Paris Info then handed me over to Evreux Approach who were inactive on my flight north but were active now. The lady controller was super helpful and kept me well advised of possible conflicting traffic, none of which I actually spotted, before handing me back to Paris Info, who I stayed with as Chateaudun was inactive until I needed to change frequency to Blois.

By the time I arrived at Blois, the promised CAVOK had arrived and remained with me for the rest of my flight. Here are some shots that I took there after I’d taken on fuel. This time I had to get hold of the airfield fireman (le Pompier) as I’d been told I would, who opened up the pump and took my card payment. Easy-peasy, no worries, except initially I couldn’t find him and had to seek the help of a gent cleaning the interior of a Citation business jet, one of two or three in the far hangar.

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After leaving Blois, my flight continued in rather bumpy conditions as I was flying at under 3000 feet under patchy, broken cumulus. There was plenty of lift around and I considered, but had decided against, climbing above it but with hindsight I should have. Here are a few shots of the landscape that I was flying over.

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My next task was to contact Limoges Approach to obtain clearance to once again transit their Class D airspace. Some Ryanair guys were doing some training exercises and there was quite a bit of local traffic but there was no problem. As I flew by the airfield I watched and heard a Ryanair Boeing 737 obtain take off clearance and depart for East Midlands and just afterwards the controller advised that due to traffic, as I was about to cross the extended centre-line of his approach, I had to either turn right or climb to 4000 feet. I did the latter and after leaving his zone and signing off with him, I started my long cruise descent for a landing at Malbec.

Conditions at Malbec were very bumpy due to the temperature and I started my initial approach a little bit high. To compound it, I was thrown up once too often just before I was about to land so with discretion being the better part of valour, I decided to throw the approach away and go around.

It turned out to be a wise decision, because the second, lower, flatter approach was much less dramatic and I ended up with a greaser of a landing of which I was truly proud, and here’s a shot of F-JHHP parked at the top of Malbec’s runway before I towed it up to the barn, unloaded it and put it away.

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And so ended my flight up to the UK and back. One is always very pleased to complete any long flight without any major incident and that’s how I felt again at the end of this one. It was very satisfying that I’d coped with the somewhat challenging conditions that I’d faced at the beginning of the flight in northern France and I was more than pleased with how my new avionics kit had simplified the whole process. Now I have the prospect of a two-day flight down in the X-air to look forward to and I know from experience that that will be a completely different kettle of fish.

September 5, 2019

More X-air

Here are some more shots that I took of my friend’s X-air that he wants to get rid of because it will take quite a bit of time, effort and money to get it re-permitted to fly again in the UK and he’s lost interest in it.

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After having thought about it for a day or so I’ve already told him that I’ll buy it off him and I hope that I haven’t bitten off a bit more than I can chew. My idea is to register the aircraft in my name in the UK with my French address and then to cancel the registration by reason of permanent export. Once I have all of the aircraft’s paperwork with serial number etc it should then be a relatively simple matter to register it in France. Then when I have the new French registration I’ll be able to add it to my French insurance, fly Ryanair, say, to the UK, remove the UK G-reg, apply the new French letters and numbers and spend a few days getting it into shape for the flight over.

There are a couple of question marks over this plan, principally to do with having a radio for the flight. As I will be acquiring the aircraft for a relatively small sum, I could splash out and buy a new 8.33 kHz hand-held for the flight which would be legal in both the UK and France. However, I think that that would be only as a final resort.

I still have the 25 kHz radio kit that I used in the UK in MYRO, in France in my French X-air that I’ve now sold and that I’m still using in my French Weedhopper even though strictly speaking it’s not approved for use in France. It’s fully transferrable from one aircraft to another and although I couldn’t now use it legally in the UK, I doubt that anyone would know or care if I used it to contact London Information on 124.6 for the Channel crossing. At a pinch I could even file to do the crossing from the UK non-radio.

25 kHz radios remain legal in France until the end of 2020 so although it’s a Vertex VXA-220 that isn’t approved for France, I reckon I could get away with using it for just the one flight even if queried to contact Lille Approach for the entry into France from the Channel crossing and to land at Calais. The best thing would be to just do it without asking anyone beforehand because it would be over and done with before anyone could raise an objection.

I’d need two days of good weather to fly the X-air down to the Dordogne and to plan for the required fuel stops every 2½ hours or so and the planning will be quite demanding as I know from when I flew MYRO down over two days back in April 2012.

So taken all round it will be something of a challenge to get the X-air out of the UK and into France but it will be worth it, if only to cock a snook at the ridiculously restrictive and expensive UK microlight permitting regime which would more or less otherwise be consigning this pretty little aircraft to the scrap-heap. That I could not possibly allow to become a reality.

My French Weedhopper is up for sale and as a possible bonus, a young pilot who saw it last year when I flew it into a fly-in at Ste-Foy-La-Grande has spotted the advertisement and contacted me expressing an interest in it. How nice it would be if he purchased it off me and as it left the barn at Malbec the UK X-air arrived to take its place. That’s the vision that I’ll have to work towards 😉

September 4, 2019

Flight to the UK – 24 August 2019

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I departed Malbec for the UK in my Savannah, F-JHHP, as planned on Saturday 24 August at around 9.25 am. For a change, the weather forecast was CAVOK for the whole route and I was really looking forward to it after all of my planning. At one stage I’d planned to land to refuel at an airfield to the east of Blois named Romorantin Pruniers but I’d dismissed that idea after calling the aero club at Blois and speaking to a gentleman who I subsequently met when I landed there and who served me with fuel, who assured me that I’d have absolutely no problem paying with my bank debit card even though their automatic fuel dispenser required a ‘Carte BP’.

This was my first long-distance flight through France with it and I was looking forward to taking advantage of my new transponder. Accordingly, I’d planned an almost direct route from Malbec to Le Touquet through several areas of Class D airspace. I’d also anticipated being able to converse in English with all of the ATC controllers, even though I could have managed French if necessary, and that proved to be the case. In fact the service that I received was impeccable, in both directions up and down, with one exception that I’ll mention later. And I was even blessed with a small tailwind for the whole of the flight.

Malbec LF2467 to Blois le Breuil LFOQ

F-JHHP at Malbec ready for take off.

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The take off from Malbec

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After taking off from Malbec, I turned right for an almost northerly heading. While I did so, I noticed that the GPS ‘needle’ on my Asus tablet on which I run my Memory Map navigation software was stuck and wasn’t moving. That might have been a problem if I’d taken off from an airport in an area that I didn’t know but I blessed the fact that I’d recently swung my compass so it now reads the almost exact heading, turned onto the heading I needed and restarted my navigation software. Luckily that did the trick.

Unlike for my previous long flights, I haven’t checked on Google Earth to identify the exact names of the places that I flew over, except for the major ones, but I took plenty of pictures as I flew northwards at 3000 feet the whole way. My first test of my new transponder and the ATC was relatively straightforward, to request a transit of Limoges’s Class D airspace passing abeam the airfield via reporting point WA (Whiskey Alpha). The controller accepted my request without a hiccup and this shot was taken as I flew through with Limoges and the airfield in the distance.

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The following shots were taken in the Haute Vienne to the north of Limoges as I continued to fly northwards.

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At some point the Haute Vienne became the Indre and eventually the Loire et Cher and I think I took these shots as I approached Blois.

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I’d already received instructions from the ATC controller while en route that parachuting was going on there and although there was no ATC controller at the airfield, the jump controller advised me not to join overhead but instead to join left downwind for runway 12. This I did without incident but it was after touching down while I was braking to take the first turn-off that I had my first shock of the flight. I didn’t have any brakes!

I swiftly straightened up again to avoid keeling over onto my right wingtip and decided that if I cut the engine to a slow idle, I’d then be slow enough to be able to turn off at the next junction and if not, there was plenty of grass left to slow me right down. In the event, I was able to turn off and taxi slowly up to the apron, cutting my engine and coasting to a halt just before reaching the refuelling station. I was so relieved that just before leaving for the UK, I’d set up F-JHHP’s tickover and now that I needed it to, it was capable of ticking over smoothly even at the amazingly low engine speed of 1500 rpm.

The next shots were taken in front of Blois’s magnificent control tower after I’d refuelled F-JHHP with the assistance of the gentleman that I referred to earlier before I was ready to take off again for Le Touquet.

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Blois le Breuil LFOQ to Le Touquet LFAT

After refuelling, I’d pushed F-JHHP back onto the apron and was then faced with something of a dilemma. What should I do? Should I continue with no brakes or should I see if I could do anything to fix them or, more likely, get them fixed? I didn’t have any tools with me and as it was a Saturday afternoon, I thought that my chances of getting any assistance from an aircraft mechanic were more or less nil. In that case I’d be stuck there at least until the Monday, so realistically that only left me with the option of continuing without brakes.

But the situation didn’t seem that serious to me. I’d coped pretty well at Blois and Le Touquet has an even longer runway, so I reckoned that I could do just as well there, although I’d need to let the Ground controller know of my problem just to be on the safe side. The runway at Headcorn, although still long, is shorter than those at Blois and Le Touquet, but is grass which would make stopping even easier, so having thought it through, I decided that continue on I would.

I’d parked F-JHHP facing the taxiway to the runway and called on the radio to say that I’d be starting up, taxying and taking off without stopping due to loss of brakes. However, I was taken by surprise on starting up to find that the aircraft immediately began rolling even at only 1500 rpm. This meant that I had to do a full circle on the apron, which was fortunately clear of other aircraft, taxy straight out to the holding point for runway 12, enter the runway and take off. I took great care to watch and listen for any other traffic but fortunately there was none.

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After a left turn-out to take up a northerly heading again, it was time to check my chart to prepare myself for my next challenges.

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The first of these was to transit the Class D airspace of the airforce base at Chateaudun which I intended to cross via their reporting point SW (Sierra Whiskey). There was no time to spare between taking off at Blois and entering their airspace so I called up the relevant ATC service, only to receive a recorded announcement. This told me that the runway at the adjacent Orléans Bricy was closed and as far as I could tell, said that Chateaudun was not active. I hadn’t received absolute confirmation of the latter by my understanding but thought that the likelihood of an airforce base of lesser importance like Chateaudun being active on a Saturday afternoon to be pretty remote and as I would be visible on radar and squawking 7000 anyway, I decided to continue.

In the event, I got through without being buzzed by a Mirage and got ready for my next challenge, which was to cross the Class D airspace at Evreux. I didn’t know at the time that I could have had all the help that I needed from Paris Information but as I once again received a recorded announcement, I decided that yet again I’d continue on at 3000 feet squawking 7000 on my transponder. In the event this proved to be the correct judgement but, as mentioned above, I could have been talking to Paris Information who would have given me all the help and details that I needed.

Before arriving at the Evreux airspace, I passed the small airfield (deserted as usual) and city of Dreux.

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Shortly after leaving Dreux behind, in the northern section of the Evreux airspace, I passed over the mighty river Seine whending its way to the sea with a power station on its south bank, locks and barges.

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A bit later on, I was in sight of the Channel coast with first Mers les Bains and Le Tréport in the distance and then the Baie de la Somme on the Côte Picardie.

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At low tide, the Baie de la Somme was an impressive sight with its huge expanse of sandy mudflats.

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Then Berck Plage.

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And finally a glimpse of the Channel as I followed the coastline to join right base leg for runway 13 at Le Touquet.

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It was while approaching Le Touquet that the only negative ATC experience occurred. I’d been talking to Lille Approach who had handed me over to Le Touquet Tower who, in a very strong French accent, advised me to report ‘crossing the line’ as I thought. This didn’t make much sense to me, so as I crossed into Le Touquet Class D airspace abeam reporting point S (Sierra) I called in.

The controller angrily replied to ask what was I doing as he hadn’t asked me to do that. He also seemingly had a fit and said that if I couldn’t understand simple instructions I shouldn’t come to his airport. Now, arguing with a pilot is ATC’s cardinal sin and they must not do it as the former is under enough pressure as it is. But I was just annoyed. I began to turn left onto a reverse heading and he again asked me what I was doing. I said that I was leaving his airspace as his accent was unintelligible and would then await proper instructions before re-entering, so it was beginning to become a bit heated.

It was then that a helpful British pilot who had recent experience of Le Touquet and had been listening in broke in to say that the controller meant that I should proceed to the coastline and then track north along it towards the airfield. The controller then confirmed this so the problem was resolved and sanity again reigned. He even became really polite and helpful as I joined base leg for 13 and he called me number 1 to land, for which I thanked him profusely for his help. Ironic really.

I landed OK without brakes and turned off the runway to taxy to the apron. I didn’t contact Ground, in truth I’d forgotten to write the frequency down, because there was a ‘Follow Me’ quad bike gesturing me to follow him to parking. He was somewhat bemused when I stopped short of the parking place that he guided me to but understood when I explained that I’d lost my brakes.

Unfortunately, I was then hit by a series of relatively minor problems at Le Touquet that ended up preventing me from taking any pictures there. I found that although I could file my flightplan for my flight over the Channel to Headcorn, I couldn’t edit the GAR form for my entry into the UK from France and my Schengen form for exiting France that I’d previously prepared. I’d brought my old Dell laptop with me for this purpose only to remember when I fired it up that the software that I wanted to use was no longer on it as just previously I’d updated it to the latest version of Windows 10 with loss of files when it had corrupted itself for some unknown reason.

I managed to get around the problem by using the copies that I’d loaded onto my phone as a precaution and submitted the forms with incorrect times on them having decided that they’d just have to do as I made a dash for F-JHHP after quite some delay in order to don my life jacket for the Channel crossing to come. Before starting up I explained my problem to Ground and asked if necessary for a gap in traffic so I could start up, taxy, line up and take off without stopping, which he kindly agreed to. I found later that due to no fault of my own, the GAR form wasn’t received because the UK Home Office had changed the email address without putting an auto-forward on the old one, but took off in blissful ignorance of the fact.

Le Touquet LFAT to Headcorn EGKH

And so began the final leg of my journey. From Le Touquet it’s possible to climb continuously so by the time you get to Cap Gris Nez, you can get to the height you need for the Channel crossing. In my case as the sky was clear of cloud, this was 5000 feet.

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Here’s a shot that I took of the harbour at Boulogne, Le Touquet reporting point N (November), as I passed by having been handed over to Lille Approach again from Le Touquet Tower.

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Then a shot of the English coast after I’d been passed over mid-Channel from Lille Approach to London Information.

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And finally, safely on the ground at Headcorn. I’d mentioned my braking problem to the controller there and he hadn’t been too perturbed as they regularly host vintage aircraft that have no brakes at all. The grass was indeed excellent as a stopping aid and I succeeded in parking almost dead on the chosen mark by cutting the engine and coasting to a halt.

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Unfortunately though, I had to take the decision for safety not to fly on to the small private farm strip that I’d originally intended to be my final destination. This was both disappointing and costly as overnight parking at Headcorn, which I’d have avoided, was £5 per day.

I found when I investigated them a couple of days later that the exceedingly hot weather that we’d had in the Dordogne (several days non-stop at over 40 degrees Celsius) had apparently caused vapour to form in both of my brake lines. I purchased a ‘high pressure’ oil can in order to add more fluid and bleed the lines but didn’t achieve total success. I did however, manage to get enough braking power back for the journey back home again and will be able to deal with the problem properly at a later date.

September 1, 2019

Oh dear…

Well, I’m typing this sitting at a table in my sister and brother-in-law’s home near Maidstone in Kent in the south-east of England. I set off for the UK in 77ASY according to plan last Saturday morning taking off from Malbec at around 9.25 am.

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I had a marvellous flight up that was not without incident that I’ll describe in more detail when I return home early this coming week but before then I couldn’t resist talking about today’s events.

I’d arranged with a friend here in Kent to give him a hand with his X-Air that he’s been unable to start for many weeks and had said that I’d do my best to get it running for him as he now wants to just get rid of it as soon as possible. Here’s a shot that I took of it this morning before I set to work.

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It didn’t take me long to get the engine running ‘as sweet as a nut’ and when I looked the aircraft over, I was very impressed by its overall condition – probably better than my old X-Air that I sold in March. But my friend still wants to get rid of I because he’s been told that it will be difficult and expensive to re-permit in the UK because of the time it’s been standing out of permit, unused and unflown. And because of that, he expects to get just peanuts for it when he sells it.

But no such constraints would apply in France and I’ve had an idea that would allow me to circumvent and in effect stick two fingers up at the ridiculous restrictive and expensive UK permit regime.

The X-Air is readily and easily registerable in France, a process that would only take a very short time and be quite inexpensive. So what I could do is buy the X-Air very cheaply from my chum who has told me what he would be happy to receive just to wash his hands of it, register it in France, remove the current G-reg, apply its new French reg, add it to my insurance (effectively replacing my old X-Air that was recently removed from cover) and then fly it out of the UK and down to the Dordogne.

I know that I’ve told everyone that I don’t need any more aircraft to work on having now sorted out two AX3s, my old X-Air and my Savannah but I’m finding the idea increasingly irresistible already. I also fancy the idea of another two-day adventure flying it down from the UK to Malbec. Oh dear… I think I might be feeling another project coming on 😉