November 28, 2019

Can’t be too hasty

When I typed my last post I thought that by now I’d at least have a ferry booked to return to France or might even have already left by now. Instead I’m still here in Kent and there are two reasons for this. Firstly, we’ve had some diabolical rain and wind over the last day or so and I couldn’t leave 24ZN parked outside in the open where it has been for anything up to three months without being able to check on it while it was being battered by the weather.

Secondly, the weather forecasts have been indicating the possibility of a lull in the bad weather for a few days next week and after waiting so long for such an opportunity I couldn’t pass it up even though I’ve been caught out so many times in just the same way over recent weeks.

A final clincher was that I’ve been promised that if I do have to leave the aircraft parked outside at Clipgate it can be moved in the next day or so to a more sheltered spot and when that happens, I want to be there to make sure that it is done carefully and safely. Remember, when the time comes I’ll be taking off and embarking on a Channel crossing within a few minutes and I don’t want the aircraft to have incurred any damage beforehand that I don’t know about.

So I drove over there this afternoon and I was very pleased to find that in the absence of wind and rain, 24ZN looked perfectly OK and showed no signs of having been affected at all by the recent weather. Here are some shots that I took which show what I mean.

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There’s also a possibility that if I don’t get away next week (my goodness, after waiting so long I think that I at least deserve to), as 24ZN will be there for around 3 months and won’t be flown in all of that time, there might be enough space for it in a corner of Clipgate’s new hangar. If so, that would suit me very well so now it’s just a matter of keeping an eye on the weather and seeing how things work out.

November 26, 2019

Decision made

Albeit reluctantly. I’ve decided that it won’t be possible to fly 24ZN over to its new home in France this side of the new year. Although there may be a weather window next week, another wave of rain has lashed most of England including the south-east with more to come over the next few days and even if the weather improves enough to make the flight possible, the ground will be far too waterlogged to take off.

I went over to Clipgate this afternoon and was extremely dismayed by what I found. 24ZN is tied down in a position that’s fairly sheltered from the northerly winds that we’d usually expect at this time of the year. However, it’s very exposed to winds from the south-west and that’s what it was being buffeted with, together with sheets of rain.

And because I’d tied it down with its nose into the wind, its covers were billowing up in the wind, the force of which had lifted its nose so it was standing on just its main wheels with its tail skid touching the ground. This hadn’t caused any damage and wouldn’t do so but it was still not a desirable state of affairs.

Tomorrow I shall see if anything can be done to find a more a sheltered location as when I’ve returned to France, I won’t be able to pop into Clipgate as I would normally like to do to make sure that everything’s OK – the aircraft will have to remain in a safe condition until I can get back. However, in the meantime I turned it round and roped its covers down in order to reduce the billowing so they won’t be ripped by the wind. I also found a heavy truck wheel that I tied its nose wheel down with that is not shown in the following pics that I shot.

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I don’t like roping the covers down because several years ago I came across an AX3 to which the same had been done and the buffeting winds had caused the ropes to abrade its wing covers causing quite severe damage. However, unless I can find a more sheltered spot tomorrow, I don’t think that I have a great deal of choice.

November 24, 2019

Time to make a decision?

I’m looking ahead at the longer range weather forecast and I not seeing anything to encourage me. As a consequence I’m coming to the conclusion that I’m probably asking for the impossible – or at least a very rare event – namely two consecutive days of weather suitable for a long, non-stop flight from the south of England, across the Channel and down practically the whole length of France, at a time of year when the days are becoming progressively shorter and the weather increasingly unstable.

If so, there can only be one logical conclusion. It’s possibly time to think about throwing in my hand, at least for this year. I’ve been waiting for a weather opportunity since late September and yes, I’ve missed a couple, but here I am with December looming and I’m effectively no closer now than I was six or eight weeks ago. And in addition, there are things I need to address and deal with back home in Plazac.

So should I be thinking about packing my car up and heading back south? I think it’s something that I need to seriously consider. 24ZN is now outside but is secure and covered and sealed as far as possible against the weather. Nothing more can be done as far as that is concerned but it’s irrelevant anyway as it’ll have to stay where it is if I’m just going to be sitting waiting for an opportunity to fly it out which is unlikely to materialise.

My mind is almost made up. It looks as though I’ll need to make arrangements to head off back to France with the idea of returning to the UK again, probably around February when the weather has improved and there are likely to be more opportunities to do the flight. It’s a tough one, but I’ll post what I eventually decide.

In the meantime I thought I’d upload a very short video of my take off in 24ZN on my way to Headcorn a few days ago after it reopened after the visit by the air ambulance.

The video is very short because the recorder switched off for what I think is a weird reason. At exactly the same time, as far as I can estimate, as the recorder did so, 24ZN’s engine faltered. I thought that I was about to be on the receiving end of an EFATO but to my relief it picked up again. It was only afterwards that I found that the camcorder seems to have switched off at the same moment.

Quite close to the take off location there is a microwave tower of the type that I believe is used as part of our national defence network. These towers sport what look similar to satellite dishes that transmit highly focused microwave beams around the country and I wonder if the faltering in the electronics of both 24ZN’s engine and the video recorder was caused by flying through such a beam. I guess I’ll never know for sure.

November 21, 2019

Happy to be there

It was lucky that I didn’t decide to leave 24ZN at Headcorn overnight and move it to Clipgate today because if I had done, I wouldn’t have been successful. We’ve had a thick, cold mist for the whole day, but it didn’t stop me driving over there as I needed to remove the battery.

I had to get its dimensions so I could order a new one and I also wanted to reshape and replace the waterproof fabric that I’d previously placed over 24ZN’s nose to stop rainwater running down its screen and into the cabin.

After reshaping the latter, rather crudely I have to say, just by trimming it with scissors, I attached some cords to it to secure it in place and here are some shots that I took after I’d completed my tasks.

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I still have a great attachment to Clipgate where I did the training for my microlight licence nearly 10 years ago. It’s a well-organised, well run, pretty little airfield and going back to it revived a few old memories. It’s also a good place for 24ZN to be in the interim as it’s secure, fairly sheltered and well tied-down.

Although it’s a matter of great regret that I’m still stuck in the UK, the upside at least is that after my flight from Headcorn to Clipgate, I now have over an hour in the aircraft without any incident or cause for concern. That’s a source of considerable reassurance in advance of my eventual Channel crossing. The new battery I’ve ordered, a 9AH model rather than the 8AH that’s currently fitted and that also has a massive 165A cold-cranking power, should more than cope with the current winter conditions.

I’ve also ordered a refurb kit for 24ZN’s Mikuni fuel pump. Although Mikunis rarely, if ever, fail catastrophically and the current (low) fuel pressure will almost certainly hold up until I get the aircraft down to its new home, fitting it will be a good thing and will also make me feel even more secure.

November 20, 2019

No-go, again

Unfortunately, but this time for a very good reason. But first I’ll take you through last night’s time-line. Readers have probably realised by now that over the past many weeks I’ve become something of an expert on southern UK and French weather. Or if not an expert, an obsessive at least.

As usual when I’ve been waiting and watching for a suitable weather window for my flight to France in 24ZN, the last thing I did before going to bed last night was… check the following day’s weather. And this was especially important after circumstances forced me to miss yesterday’s super flying conditions (closure of Headcorn due to air ambulance being on the ground there attending a serious road traffic accident) and with having moved the aircraft there in anticipation of an early morning departure today.

I should make it clear that ordinarily today would not have been my first choice as it has been evident for some time that the window it presents would be a fleeting one with high winds moving in in the next day or so throughout the length of France, in the south of England and, of especial importance, in the English Channel. However, by moving 24ZN to Headcorn I was more or less forcing myself to go for the crossing today.

But last night’s weather check revealed that whereas if I’d managed to get away yesterday I’d have faced fairly benign winds in France, that would probably not be the case today. Not so bad as to preclude the flight but with a headwind the whole way that would have made the flight hard work at the very least.

But that wasn’t my only consideration. The short hop from the private field where 24ZN had been parked to Headcorn had not been sufficient to give me much information on its flight characteristics. Sure, it had flown as well as I’d remembered it did when I first flew it several years ago but when planning a long flight the likes of the one I’m intending to do, you need to know pretty much exactly what its cruising speed will be and how much fuel it consumes.

And I really didn’t have a handle on either of those two things. This may not be too critical if you’re going to fly for the most part with a good tailwind but the reverse is true if you’re anticipating a headwind, especially if it will be strong and variable. And that was the picture that was being presented to me last night.

Being an ex-corporate planner, it’s pretty much natural for me to investigate how numbers react to changes in inputs and when I plugged in alternative assumptions for airspeed and fuel consumption, it became very clear that I could well find myself running dangerously low on fuel in more than one sector of my planned flight.

I went to bed early but awoke after a few hours with such thoughts still in my mind. On re-checking the weather data, things had in fact got worse in the few hours since I’d last used them in my flight planning spreadsheet and to cut a long story short, I found myself at 5.00 am this morning completely re-working my route to take the more negative wind assumptions into account.

The fact is that at any moment in time, nobody knows how ‘right’ any forecast will be. Sure, we know what the final outcome will be within certain reasonable limits but even analysis of historical data, a lot of which I’ve been doing just lately, cannot tell us precisely what those limits are. So in a case like mine where ‘failure’ might mean running out of fuel with possibly disastrous consequences, it makes sense to identify the downside and plan accordingly.

I’d covered my refuelling needs by leaving the UK with full, or almost full tanks and carrying two full 20 litre jerricans with me. My idea was to land at Abbeville where I can easily buy fuel and refill my tanks again there, conserving the fuel in my jerricans ahead of an extended leg to my next fuel stop just north of Chateaudun where I would then add the fuel from my jerricans.

But now the revised stronger headwind forecasts plus my ‘flexings’ of cruise speed and fuel consumption showed that if I made the second fuel stop at all, it could be with just a few litres left in my tanks, much less than I’m prepared to tolerate.

And the same thing would be repeated with my next planned refuelling and overnight stop at Le Blanc south-west of Chateauroux – that’s if I could actually make Le Blanc in a day given 24N’s likely cruising speed and the expected headwinds.

So it was clear that I needed to add in some extra intermediate refuelling stops together with alternative overnight possibilities and that I did by factoring in stops at Blois, where I know I can easily buy fuel, and Chartres where I could top up using fuel previously added to my jerries. And both locations could also offer overnight possibilities depending on the distance managed during the day.

There was also another wild card. I’d previously been advised by ATC ‘management’ at Le Touquet that so long as I didn’t intend coming in on a week-end and called before departing Headcorn to provide an ETA, the officer on duty would allow me to enter the zone and land there without the usually mandatory transponder.

This would be useful under current circumstances because it would preclude my having to head north to a first landing in Calais before continuing my flight south against the headwind. Luckily I took the precaution of phoning ahead this morning before leaving home and was told that landing at Le Touquet was ‘impossible’ without a transponder. This was inconvenient, of course, but at least I knew armed with my recent route revisions that I could still manage either Blois or Chartres today and was able to ditch all of my planning papers and charts that included a stop at Le Touquet.

And so I eventually turned up at Headcorn this morning slightly later than I’d intended but with the necessary French and UK paperwork and my flight-plan filed. I’d packed the aircraft the night before and only had to install myself, my small overnight bag and the equipment I needed for the flight before starting the engine, taxying and taking off.

The aircraft had been left out uncovered overnight and it was still only around 2-3 degrees Celsius but when I pressed the starter the engine cranked somewhat languorously but didn’t start. I repeated this a few times with similar lack of success and after less than a minute the cranking reduced to a slow turning of the prop.

For me this meant the end of my plans to depart today. At the very least the battery would need recharging but I already knew that it was a several years old Varley Red Top which I’d previously considered replacing as a precaution. How right my instincts had turned out to be, because there was no way that I could take the risk of finding myself in France with a dead battery and the aircraft parked outside in high winds with no tie-downs. I had to order a replacement battery to avoid such an eventuality.

I therefore had to return home to fetch my small tool kit to remove the battery and after having done so, on returning I tried the engine again after the temperature had risen a few degrees and naturally it started. The ATC man at Headcorn asked if I’d now be leaving for France but I’d made my decision, mainly because of the expected deterioration in the wind conditions. I’d already made arrangements to ferry 4ZN from Headcorn to Clipgate Farm where I’d done my microlight training and without removing the battery, that’s what I did this afternoon.

The flight over took twice as long as I’d expected due to the increasing wind strength and I succeeded in pulling off probably the best and most challenging cross wind landing that I’ve ever done in order to get in there. So 24ZN is now parked there outside but sealed under covers and securely tied-down and that’s where it’ll be staying for, I estimate, at least a week in order to ride-out the incoming bad weather and until I get hold of a new battery. I also noticed today that its fuel pressure at 0.2 bars at normal cruising rpm is at the minimum acceptable level so I think I’ll also order a refurbishment kit for its Mikuni fuel pump. I’m fairly certain that I’ll have sufficient time to fit it.

November 19, 2019

Things are moving

At last, but not exactly in the way I’d have liked them to. I couldn’t phone until this morning to see if Headcorn would be opening today and even if it was going to, I would have to schedule a departure for around mid-day if I was going to make the Channel crossing today.

In the event I got the news that it would be opening today and that I would be permitted to fly in non-radio subject to making telephone contact beforehand and providing an ETA. So I immediately sprang into action to get things moving and meet my mid-day deadline.

But it soon became clear that I had much too much to do to get away as I would have had to replace 24ZN’s battery that was out being charged, remove its covers and fold them ready for packing, remove the heavy tie-downs from the animal field and replace them in the barn (itself a gruelling job just for one person), fly the aircraft out to Headcorn, return and pick my car up, drive back to Headcorn and load 24ZN up, file the necessary paperwork and take off. And all within 2-3 hours, well nigh an impossibility.

And finally there was yet another twist. When I did phone Headcorn to inform them of my impending take off they told them that I couldn’t fly in until further notice. The reason was that there had been a serious traffic accident close to the airfield and the air ambulance was on the ground within its perimeter and no movements would be allowed until it had left.

So that ensured that it would be absolutely impossible for me to leave today despite it being a perfect day for it as if I had gone ahead there was no way that I’d be able to make Abbeville before sunset. How did I know that it was perfect? Because at around the middle of the afternoon I eventually took off in 24ZN from the field in which it had been parked for the past week or so and flew it into Headcorn ready for a departure early tomorrow morning.

Here’s a shot that I took of it on the parking there.

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A departure tomorrow morning is not my preferred choice, far from it actually. The winds are forecast to swing from the north to the south-east meaning that I’ll have a headwind component that could be quite strong from time to time. But my main concern is that the wind in the Channel is forecast to pick up markedly from today and what should be a 20 minute crossing could take 30 minutes or even a bit longer. However, that’s for the morning. Now I’m off to bed to get a good night’s sleep.

November 17, 2019

They’re having a laugh

The weather gods, that is. From the weather forecasts over the past few days, I expected there to be an excellent 2-day window, today and tomorrow, for my flight in 24ZN from the UK to France. And there was, today being possibly the finest that I can remember in the whole of the last 6 weeks while I’ve been waiting for such an opportunity.

But yet again I was stuck on the ground. The reason was that I dropped into Headcorn yesterday and they confirmed that the airfield is closed due to the runway being waterlogged. Although the field where 24ZN is currently parked is muddy but still just about firm enough to take off from, I can’t depart for France from there as it would be too risky to try to take off from there fully loaded let alone then head straight off to undertake the Channel crossing.

So that was it for the next couple of days at least because there’s a high probability of high winds arriving tomorrow which would totally preclude starting off on my intended flight. And because of the possibility of the wind getting up, I had to ensure today that 24ZN will remain safe parked as it is in the open, so today I went over to its field and tied its wings down.

Here are some shots that I took afterwards.

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I’ve now got to play it by ear again. There’s a possibility that another new window will open on Tuesday of this coming week but I’m now becoming very fatalistic and although I’ll obviously plan for it, I’ll believe it when I see it and not before 🙁

November 12, 2019

Window closed – yet again

So here I am back in the UK and stuck again. As I mentioned in my last post, I had to return from France last Friday as 24ZN had to be moved out of its barn the following day, so I had to be there. I’d hoped that I’d then be able to move it out from where it currently is and to leave during this week but the battery went flat on me and now the winds are too strong again.

SteveU from the microlight forum suggested that I take a look at the Windy web site which I already knew of but hadn’t realised had been developed as much as it has been. I’ve been playing with it quite a bit in recent days and now know that it’s quite something – a really useful planning tool.

Over the past few weeks I’ve been struggling to identify 2 consecutive ‘reasonable’ days that will allow me an uninterrupted flight the whole way down and Windy confirms that there will now be no window this week. Using the ECMWF forecasting model which is the one I’m preferring after comparing recent actuals and forecasts over my planned route, the earliest I can hope for is Sun 17/Mon 18 November, so I’m keeping my fingers crossed for now and as 24ZN’s going to be outside from now until the time I do actually depart wherever it is, I’ll be leaving it where it is currently until then as it’s covered and sealed against the weather as well as it can be.

Experience tells us that the current ‘wild’ weather can’t persist for ever but I’m beginning to wonder whether, with the trend having changed after I acquired 24ZN during the period that it took to get the French registration done, I’m being too optimistic about flying the aircraft over this side of the new year. I hope that I’m not.

November 10, 2019

Foiled again

For the whole of last week, the longer term weather forecasts indicated that there should be a weather window during the coming week to do my flight in 24ZN, my ex-pat X-air, from the UK to France. As the owner of the barn in which it has been stored for the last few years told me that he now wants to fit a new shutter to its front that will restrict access into it and therefore 24ZN would have to be moved outside, I decided that this would be a good time to return to the UK and position the aircraft ready to fly it out.

So I departed Plazac on Friday morning under gloomy skies in rain which persisted for much of my drive up, the skies only clearing when I was about 40 kms south of Paris. As I approached Dunkirk and the temperature dropped I hit fog which wasn’t a very good omen, but when I arrived at my sister and brother in law’s home in Kent, the weather was still cold but clear.

But not so the following morning (yesterday) when, after several days of mornings that I was assured had been bright and sunny, we woke to see the area blanketed in thick mist. I hoped that it would burn off later on as the temperature increased but I wasn’t too optimistic that I’d be able to achieve my plans for the day as rain and blustery winds were forecast for later on.

My plan was to fly 24ZN out to Linton, the airfield just south of Maidstone where I used to keep MYRO and where 24ZN had also been based for two or three years, but hardly flown. It was there that I did the work on it to get it permitted when it was the property of a former owner and I was looking forward to the opportunity to fly it back in there as I know for a fact that it has never returned there since I flew it out in May 2011 to its new permanent home at Stoke.

But the signs were already not good that I’d be able to do so because of the mist so before driving up to see 24ZN I first decided to drop into Linton, which I found to be blanketed in fog. I’d also checked the forward weather forecast for the next few days and it was beginning to look as though my weather window for flying it to France was also closing, exactly as it had done the last time I was sitting on my backside in the UK waiting for 3 weeks for an opportunity that never materialised.

I left Linton to drive up to find out what was happening with 24ZN with the hope that the mist might clear later, a hope that wasn’t encouraged by the frequent fog banks that I drove through on the way. However both the fog and my mood had begun to lift a bit by the time I arrived to find the aircraft sitting outside the barn in the field with the goats, having been placed there earlier in the morning.

I had several things to do. Firstly I had to walk the temporary runway that we’d mowed in the field the last time that I was there. Despite the amount of rain that had fallen on it in the intervening period, I found it to be marginally soft but just OK to take off from, so at least that hurdle had been overcome.

The next thing that I had to do was start the engine and taxy up and down the field a few times which I did successfully despite the engine not having been run since I was last over and, more importantly, the battery not having been charged for much longer. By this time I was thinking about the flight over to Linton which would only take 10 minutes or so but where I was concerned that I still might be unable to land at as I had no way of checking before taking off.

So I took the precaution of phoning Headcorn which is not far from Linton and would be a safe diversion. They confirmed that they were open and clear of fog and kindly agreed to accept me non-radio (they now have a 8.33 kHz channel while 24ZN’s radio is old-school 25 kHz) if I was unable to get into Linton, so all I then had to do was put a little bit of air into 24ZN’s tyres in order to minimise the drag of the tyres in the softish ground. Having done that I called Headcorn as requested to say that I was heading in their direction and pressed the starter.

The battery was flat. Although the engine had started and run fine earlier, now the battery would hardly turn it over. I tried using jump leads with a battery out of a tractor which had also refused to start earlier and had been on charge for a couple of hours or so, but no luck. It was evident with the afternoon beginning to become a bit more gloomy and rain forecast for later that I’d have no chance of getting away so the priority became to ensure that 24ZN was placed in a sheltered spot, its covers fitted and sealed up as well as possible against the weather so it would be ready to go when conditions again became more favourable.

Here are some shots that I took after that had been done. The white covering over the aircraft’s nose is only a ‘temporary’ one to prevent rain entering the cabin as the original canvas cover section has been lost and will have to be replaced when I eventually get it to the Dordogne.

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But things have now been thrown back into the balance and I’m faced with yet another dilemma. If the weather is going to turn against me this coming week, what is the best thing for me to do with 24ZN? Parking it at Linton can only be a temporary arrangement and problems could arise if the period extends too far into the future, which experience has already shown could well happen.

I do have another alternative, but now 24ZN is safely parked in a sheltered corner of its field, would it be best to leave it there until I know that I can fly it out and immediately depart for France? It looks like I’m back again into a weather-watching cycle and only what happens over the next couple of days will tell. Ironically, as I type this it’s a glorious morning where I am in Kent with a beautiful clear sky and almost calm winds… 😐

November 5, 2019

The complexities of planning

I’ve been waiting for a weather window to fly 24ZN, my ‘English’ X-air, over from England to France since the first week of September during which period the southern parts of the UK and the northern parts of France have been ravaged by high winds, lashing rain and thunderstorms. So all I’ve got to do is wait until there’s a weather forecast for two or three days of suitable weather and just fly it over, right?

Well, yes and no. For starters, what does a ‘suitable’ weather forecast look like? You’d think that that would be an easy question to answer – light winds, fair weather, no rain – but it isn’t and I’ll explain why.

When you have a route set up for a flight on a specific day at a specific time there are weather services from whom you can get hold of a detailed weather forecast for the whole of the route, such as the UK Meteorological Office. However, such forecasts require considerable resources and when you’re just looking ahead for a weather window at some undefined time in the future, you can’t keep requesting such services ‘on the fly’ in the hope that a suitable window will be identified.

So you have to resort to using the ordinary ‘day-to-day’ services that are available to everyone on the internet and trying to spot when a suitable window might pop up, and then when one has, there are other services that pilots such as myself can use that provide ‘short term’ eg next day, data that can be used to plan a route in detail.

One I use is an internet app called Metam which provides a world map showing current weather reports (METARs) and forecasts (TAFs) for all major and participating airports, data that can be used to prepare a forecast by pilots like myself for the whole of a typical route flown by a small aircraft.

After getting 24ZN all ready to go, I waited for three weeks in the UK for a weather window to fly it over before giving up and returning to my home in France. During the time I was waiting I could see for myself on a daily basis how the flight I had planned would be impossible due to the weather outside the door and since my return I’ve been doing the same thing ie watching for a suitable opportunity to arise, but from a distance.

The only information that I have to go on are the published weather forecasts and it has become increasingly clear that not only are they far from accurate but they also rarely agree with each other. Many times in recent days I know from talking with my family in the UK that they are enjoying a fine day with light winds when the forecasts that I’ve been viewing have been for almost the complete opposite, so it begs the question, ‘what can one believe?’

Here’s what I’m talking about. It appears that there could be a suitable weather window for my flight during the first half of next week. I use two forecasting systems, XCweather, a well-know UK system that gives a forecast for a week ahead, and Tameteo, a French system that gives one for the next 14 days. It’s reasonable firstly to ask how these forecasts compare for the same locations at the same times and the results do not inspire confidence.

Let’s look at a take off from Headcorn at 9.00am local time on Monday 11 November. XC says that the wind will be a light breeze of 4 kmh from the north-east while Tameteo says that it will be 4 gusting 25 kmh from the south-east. 25 kmh is just about the cross-wind limit for an X-air and flying for any longish period with such a gusting cross-wind would be tiring to say the least and definitely not to be recommended for a long flight. So would it be wise to take off on a long flight in such a wind?

Here’s another. Calais at around 11.00 am on Tuesday 12 November. XC forecasts a wind of 4 gusting 7 kmh from the north ie perfectly safe and manageable but Tameteo forecasts a wind of 15 gusting 29 kmh from the east which would be beyond a reasonably safe limit and surely it would be unwise to even start the flight from Headcorn knowing what was lying in wait on the other side of the Channel.

So then you have to ask another couple of questions. How good are the forecasts and which of the two is the more reliable? Tricky ones to answer without keeping a fairly long log of ‘forecasts’ v ‘actuals’ for each system. Qualitatively, my own feeling is that both of them err on the pessimistic side as far as wind velocities are concerned because as I mentioned previously, there have been several occasions in recent weeks when unacceptably high winds have been forecast and outside it has been a perfectly good flying day. However, that’s only a feeling and I have no quantitative data to back it up.

But let me give some final examples for today. The local forecasts for today were as follows:

XCweather…. 1500hrs…. wind from the south-west 13 gusting 26 kmh
Tameteo…… 1500hrs…. wind from the south-west 19 gusting 50 kmh
Actual……. 1500hrs…. wind from the south-west 5 kts (9 kmh)

XCweather…. 1700hrs…. wind from the south-west 13 gusting 33 kmh
Tameteo…… 1700hrs…. wind from the south-west 18 gusting 46 kmh
TAF for Brive 1700hrs…. temp 12/18 260/15G25kt ie west-south-west 28 gusting 46 kmh
Actual……. 1700hrs…. wind from the south-west 5 kts (9 kmh)

So who the heck can you believe? Tameteo looks to be very pessimistic re wind velocity but on the other hand, seems to reflect the ‘official’ aviation weather forecast more closely than does XCweather. However, the ‘official’ forecast also doesn’t appear to be that reliable and on today’s evidence, although still some way out, the XCweather forecast seems closer to the actual than the ‘official’ one was.

So what to do now? There is a little bit of good news. Even if both XCweather and Tameteo are forecasting higher winds than there actually will be on the days in question, both are for now suggesting that I will be able to do my 2-day flight down to the Dordogne either on 11/12 November or 12/13. The bad news, though, is that experience shows that between now and then everything can change and if I jump in my car to drive back to the UK next Friday say, I could well find myself staring outside after I arrive at yet more high winds and rain 🙁

November 3, 2019

One bright spot at least

A somewhat ironic title given that as I type this on my laptop we’ve been without electricity for around five hours following some fierce winds that we experienced late morning and it’s just starting to get dark. But that’s not what this post is about.

Following the conclusion of my 8 month course of chemo in early 2018 I felt the need for some winter sunshine to boost my spirit and restore my feeling of well-being and booked a short break in an all-inclusive hotel in Hurghada on the Egyptian Red Sea coast. This did the trick and I came back feeling much better for the experience.

So much so that I decided to do the same thing again last year despite my health needs not being foremost that time around and felt all the better for it. Afterwards, although I’d enjoyed it and planned taking some winter sun the following year, I thought that I wouldn’t return to the same place again but would instead seek out another destination. But after looking at the alternatives the economics of going to Egypt again are the deciding factor and I’ll be off again to the same hotel at the end of this coming January.

And I’m delighted with what I’ve been able to arrange for my upcoming visit. The first time I went I booked through Thomas Cook and got 7 nights in the hotel having arrived after midnight on the first one for a total of just under 627€ including taxes.

Last year Thomas Cook was not offering a similar package (it was on its way to going bust) so I decided to make my own travel and hotel bookings and by doing so I got 9 nights in the same hotel, again arriving at past midnight on the first one, for just over 535€. So I made a saving of nearly 100€ for a stay of two more nights, thus revealing what Thomas Cook’s problem was in trying to stay afloat when people like me have the power of the internet at their fingertips.

But last year I was to find that there were two major problems, both actually as a result of my connecting flight to Hurghada being with Belgian-based TUI. The most major was that it departed from Charleroi which must offer one of the worst customer experiences in the whole of Europe.

The terminal offends the eye by being decorated in shades of black and grey but that was not the main source of my misery, which was two-fold. Firstly, in order to make my connection I had to catch a morning flight from Toulouse which meant that in order to be sure of making it, it was best to travel the day before and stay in a hotel close to the airport, thus incurring an extra cost. But the worst was yet to come.

The timing of the flight from Toulouse meant that I had an overnight layover at Charleroi of over 16 hours which turned out to be one of the most excruciatingly awful experiences of my life. I was in the company of several hundred other unfortunate souls doing the same thing, but not by choice I’m sure because not only was there only enough seating for not much more than half of the people, but what there was was cramped and extremely uncomfortable.

And I say that as one of the lucky ones who did get a seat and did not end up either lying on the floor or on their cases or on anything else they could find, like old baggage pallets. The year before I’d had a night-time layover at Istanbul but it was shorter and at least the seating on offer was somewhat more comfortable. I for one will in future try to avoid Charleroi like the plague, especially if I have to stay over there for any length of time and especially if at night.

TUI also have a ridiculous baggage policy, rather like Ryanair. With the latter, though, although you can nominally only take a small bag on board, you can take a ‘proper’ case for an extra 12€, which is disingenuous but is, at least, transparent. With TUI, however, you are saddled with only being allowed a smallish overnight size case and if you want to take something larger you incur a fairly large financial penalty.

As a result I ended up taking just a small case with me, much of which was filled with the books that I took with me to read in the sun and it didn’t help when I saw the locals boarding at Charleroi with much larger cases, apparently ignoring TUI’s rules and getting away with it.

So what of this year? I’m delighted to say that I’ve managed to do even better than last year in almost every way! Firstly, I’ve succeeded in booking flights plus a stay of 11 nights for just over 569€, so two more nights for just over 30€ more. But that’s just the start. And this time all of the flights that I’m taking to get to Hurghada are with Easyjet and that alone offers a whole bunch of benefits.

Firstly, they allow a Cabinmax size case on-board, the largest permitted by any airline, at no extra charge so this year I’ll be able to take all the books that I want plus a decent amount of clothing. Secondly, I’ll be setting off from Bordeaux in the evening, so no need to leave the day before and incur an overnight stay in a hotel.

Also, the connection to Hurghada will be made at Geneva, which I hope will be more accommodating than Charleroi. There will be another overnight layover, but this time half of the duration of the one at Charleroi last year, thank goodness, and I’ll also be arriving in Hurghada at a civilised time and not in the middle of the night.

So is that all? No! The return flights via Easyjet will also be through Geneva but with only the briefest of waits for the connection to Bordeaux where once again I’ll be arriving at the reasonable hour of 9.00 pm giving me time for a comfortable drive back home.

Taken all round, I’m incredibly pleased with this year’s plans even if I will be going back to the same hotel for the third time. And there’s one last thing. Last year I flew out from Toulouse and back in again by Ryanair. Receiving the boarding pass for the outbound flight was OK because I was able to download it at home before I left. However, due to Ryanair’s petty, in my view, policy of only providing the boarding pass for the inbound flight just before you need it, while you are still abroad, I did not receive mine which was sent while I was actually at Stansted but with a flat phone battery.

Consequently I had to go to the Ryanair customer service desk (an oxymoron if ever there was one) where I had to pay an extra £20 for the privilege of having one printed out in order to board. Easyjet, on the other hand, sends you all of the boarding passes you need for your flights with them before you go. Guess who I’ll be flying with again next time if I get the chance 😉

BTW, at the time of posting it’s been completely dark for quite a while – no electricity for over 10 hours… 😐

Update, 4 November. The electricity came back on again at just before 2.00 pm today, so we had a power-out of just over 26 hours, one of the longest for some time. It came back on again while I was trying to get my old generator to work that I brought with me from the UK and haven’t used for something like four, or even more, years. It looks as though no fuel is getting through so its carburettor needs to be stripped and cleaned.

I’m wondering if I have the enthusiasm for it. I bought it second-hand so it doesn’t owe me much and I think I’ll probably put it onto Leboncoin ‘for parts’ and buy a new one. The question is, is it worth it? A few of my neighbours had theirs running but although power-outs happen quite frequently, long ones are quite rare. I’ll have to think about it before shelling out…

November 1, 2019

Possible rethink

First, an update on 24ZN, the X-air ULM that I recently acquired and have re-registered to bring over from the UK, where it has been for nearly twenty years, to a new life in France. The previous owner was informed that it would be very costly to have its UK permit to fly renewed due to the onerous airworthiness regulations that apply there, but the rules are completely different in France where there are no such barriers to getting an admittedly elderly, but otherwise airworthy, aircraft back flying again.

But after giving it a thorough clean-up and check-over, changing a few parts that were either visibly worn or just suspect and making it totally airworthy to tackle a Channel crossing within an hour or so of taking off after not being flown for around five years, it’s still in its hangar in the South of England. The reason is the appalling weather that has continuously affected southern England and northern France and which continues even as I’m typing this on account of the most active Jetstream for many a long month creating a constant stream of high winds and rain sweeping in from the Atlantic. And this has been almost without respite for over a month.

There have been a few small weather windows but these have been short and far-between. My original plan was to make the flight south over three days, but as time passes I’m beginning to think that I’ll be lucky to get a window as long as that. When I flew MYRO south back in 2012 I did it in just two days, and that was starting from Stoke which is twice as far from the Channel coast as Headcorn is, from where I hope to be taking off this time around.

My reasons for going for the extra day were two-fold. Firstly, in MYRO I was able to head south from the French coast and land at Abbeville in order to close my flightplan and clear French customs. That isn’t possible any more because Abbeville has had its customs facility withdrawn and now I have to head north into Calais and then head south again adding an estimated 30 – 60 minutes to the total flight time. Secondly, I was originally able to end the first day at Wanafly to the north of Limoges, the flying school that was then run by Dave and Amanda Lord. However, they’ve now returned to the UK and their airfield is no longer available as an overnight stop.

My plan was therefore to make the first day little more than a short hop to overnight in the on-airfield hotel at Abbeville. The second day was then to finish up at Bellac, still to the north of Limoges but some way further south than the old Wanafly airfield at Azat-le-Ris and the third day was then going to be another short hop from Bellac to Malbec. And this may still remain the plan, although I’m now beginning to have second thoughts.

If, as I suspect, I’m being over-optimistic about getting three consecutive ‘fine’ days in which to do the flight, maybe I ought to think about scaling it back again to two? After all, the X-Air with its 582 engine is something like 5 kmh faster than MYRO was with its little 503, so even with the inconvenience of having to drop into Calais first rather than Abbeville, surely it should be possible to do the flight in the shorter time-frame, especially as I’ll be starting out from closer to the Channel than previously?

Actually, I think that it is but it would mean making some further adjustments. My new calculations show that on day one I should fly, as before, for a refuelling stop at Le Gault St Denis to the north of Chateaudun. Last time with MYRO I asked the school owner there to get fuel in for me but now I know that I’ll be able to take on fuel at Abbeville keeping my jerricans full with which to top the X-Air’s tanks up at Le Gault.

But my plans would then change. Instead of flying onwards down to Bellac, I’d end day one at Le Blanc, a town some way further north. I know from having flown past it just a few weeks ago in my Savannah that there’s a nice little airfield there with a lovely long hard runway on 04/22, just the heading that I’ll need for the north-easterly winds that I think will prevail. There’s also fuel there, although I can’t bank on anyone being available to supply me with it at this time of the year.

And not only that, the airfield is not far from the town itself, just a couple of kilometres, and I’ve already located a suitable small private hotel that would not be too far by taxi with a Super-U service station only 200 metres away should I not be able to obtain fuel at the airfield. I’d only need to fill one of my jerries to have enough fuel for the final short leg the next day from Le Blanc to Malbec.

So that’s the direction in which my thoughts are heading for the present and it’s now just a matter of watching the weather for the next window of opportunity. Poor weather with very high winds is forecast in the south of England and northern France over the next week or so but then it is likely that the winds will moderate for a sufficient period to allow me to complete the flight. I shouldn’t mention it for fear of alerting the weather gods, but that could be around the 11/12th of November… there, now I’ve gone and done it 😐