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.
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… 😐