December 31, 2019

Old year, new year…

So here we are again, the end of another year and the threshold of a new one that will have its own challenges and adventures as it unfolds. Any new year resolutions? I haven’t, not really, except for one maybe, which will be to try to get more flying in next year than I have this.

I haven’t totted up my total hours for 2019 but they won’t amount to very many. It didn’t help losing nearly two of the last three months stuck in the UK while trying to get a weather window to bring 24ZN, my ex-pat X-air, over to France but even in the year up to then, I hadn’t flown anywhere near as many hours as I might have. My enthusiasm hasn’t dropped off but too many other things just kept getting in the way.

I’m going to try to change that next year, starting with another attempt to fly 24ZN out as soon as possible after I return from a short spell of winter sun in Egypt in the first week of February. Maybe things will start looking up a bit weatherwise going into March – here’s hoping they will anyway.

And here’s hoping for the best 2020 that we could wish for, each and every one of us. And on that note I’ll bow out for 2019.

December 21, 2019

Shortest day

Hooray, at last, it’s a longish haul but from today the days start to draw out again. Christmas and New Year are OK as far as it goes but in my opinion they are marred by the short, dull days that characterize this time of year and are a complete turnoff compared to the long, warm days of summer. And made even worse than usual this year, by the appalling wet weather that we’ve experienced during the autumn and the storms that have constantly buffeted us.

But I always say that before you know it, it’ll be getting warmer and the trees will be starting to turn green again and I haven’t been wrong yet. Me, I’ll be looking for the longer, warmer days to arrive so I can start to plan again to get 24ZN across the Channel and down to its new home in the Dordogne. And I can’t wait for that to happen 😉

December 16, 2019

You gotta love the French

It seems that not all has been quiet here in Plazac while I’ve been away. The reason is that the problem of intelligent electricity meters has again reared its head and the natives are restless.

When the subject was first raised a year or so ago, a meeting was called in the Salle des Fêtes and it was made clear that the local population wasn’t in favour of them. Not at all. But EDF is a government monopoly so it carried on with its steamroller tactics as government monopolies everywhere do.

But this is France. It’s not like the UK where the population just grumbles a bit and does what it’s told. Oh no. The people take direct action! I received a letter before I left for the UK the last time saying that I was going to have to have a Linky, as they are called over here, installed, as did everyone else in the commune. But it seems that the mood hasn’t changed since before!

My neighbour was telling me yesterday evening that the people are very angry and are not prepared to take this affront lying down. Oh no. They are not going to just sit back and allow this to happen. They don’t like the idea at all. There have been reports (apparently) of homes where Linkys have been installed bursting into flames because of EDF remotely meddling with the supply voltage and pumping in too much electricity, so who could possibly take that risk?

So steps have to be taken to prevent it. I’m lucky (I’m told) because my ‘compteur’ is inside my house so EDF can’t demand access to enter my kitchen and change it over. But what about the less fortunate souls, like my neighbour, whose meters are outside and therefore accessible to those seeking to furtively install Linkys without their knowledge?

There’s an easy solution. She’s out buying a padlock and chain at this very moment which she, along with many others, is going to put securely around her meter box with a strongly worded note attached thus denying access to it to the Linky installers. I said had she taken into account that the meter box wasn’t hers but actually the property of EDF, so she couldn’t do that and all they’d do is cut it off?

But she (along with all the others I guess) is undeterred. We haven’t yet got to the stage of creating barriers of burning tyres on our lane to keep the Linky installers out but if Plan A doesn’t work, it wouldn’t surprise me at all if that’s not down the line a bit, if not ready and waiting as Plan B. I’m digging out my Gilet Jaune so I’m ready to man the barricades at a moment’s notice. Great isn’t it?

December 12, 2019

Gotta new laptop

My old Dell Inspiron 1501 laptop is a dinosaur by modern computing standards. I bought it when Windows Vista ruled supreme so it must be 11 or 12 years old at least. It’s big, heavy and slow and I’ve only hung onto it because nowadays I don’t have that much use for a laptop, except when I’m travelling and don’t therefore have access to my home PC.

Up to now it has more or less met my needs, but this time, partly because I was away from home for so long but mainly because I had to keep constantly reworking my flightplan and route for my flight from the UK to France in 24ZN, its limitations became all too clear.

Its basic problem is that its processor although 64 bit, is very slow by modern standards and its performance very poor as a result even though I’ve upgraded its hard disk to a SSD one. It also doesn’t much like running modern software and as for convenience I’ve set up all my PCs (my main home PC and my backup machine plus my laptop) to run the latest version of Windows 10, it has increasingly irked me that my laptop is the odd one out of the three.

Nevertheless, I wasn’t actually on the lookout for a replacement while I was back in the UK but when I was asked which model I’d recommend for someone wanting an economically priced, general purpose machine, I did a search and came across a super little Lenovo. It was the Lenovo V415-AST, an unpretentious little machine with a 15″ screen and an AMD 64 bit processor, which I ended up buying.

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Its CPU is an AMD A6-9225 running at 2.6 GHz, which is a significant improvement on my old Dell. It has a 15.6″ high definition monitor with a resolution of 1920 x 1080 pixels, excellent for a machine of its size, 8GB of DDR4 RAM and a 256 GB SSD hard drive. It only comes with two USB ports but I can live with that, and as well as wireless LAN it also has plugs for a local network connection, HDMI and a card reader. It also comes with Bluetooth and a DVD drive, which is uncommon nowadays but which I still like as I often like to burn DVDs and CDs. And all of this was on sale at Ebuyer for only £199!

There was just one drawback, not for me but for some purchasers, because for that price you didn’t get a proper operating system (eg Windows). Instead it came with FreeDOS preinstalled on a small partition on its hard drive. This meant that for an ‘ordinary’ user to do anything useful with the machine, they’d have to install either their own Windows system or a version of Linux, which for some people could be a significant barrier.

It didn’t trouble me, however, because I was quite happy to install my own activated copy of Windows on it that was currently running on my old Dell and just to prove the point, although I didn’t have my software disk with me, by the end of the day on which it was delivered I had the latest version of Windows 10 running on it and activated just using software obtainable on the internet. And no, I’m not going to say how I did that or where I obtained the software from.

My idea was then to wait until I arrived home, to clear the FreeDOS partition off its hard drive using bootable disk management software and then to do a clean installation of my own legitimate copy of Windows. Although I won’t say how I did the previous Windows install while in the UK, I will say that after I’d downloaded and installed the latest Windows 10 64 bit installable from the Microsoft web site, the licence key that I used to activate it was my old Windows 7 one. This was accepted without question by Microsoft because it has always been possible, and still is, to upgrade old versions of Windows 7 and 8 to the corresponding version of Windows 10.

By the time I’d finished installing all of the software that I wanted to on it, including Firefox, my Memory Map flight planning package, drawing and graphics programmes, VLC video player, Filezilla FTP, word processing and spreadsheet software, Google Earth, CD burning and HD video converter software, I was truly delighted. Except for one thing. I still didn’t have properly ‘portable’ email.

I’ll explain what I mean. I use Thunderbird for email on my home PC and my laptop and Gmail on my phone. All three devices receive email without any problems because when set up properly, that’s how email works. Only my home PC, though, removes messages from the server of each of the various email addresses that I use so although I receive and can see them on my laptop and phone, they are all still waiting for me (in their hundreds on this occasion) to view again on my home PC.

But sending emails is something completely different. For this you need to use a SMTP server and these are much more secure as regards access, otherwise anyone could be using them for spamming or any other kind of useless or malicious emailing. So when you set up email on your home PC, for example, most people use a SMTP server made available to them by their internet service provider who can monitor their activity and ensure that it is proper and above board.

But then there’s the problem of how to deal with laptops and other devices that are portable and frequently aren’t connected to the internet using the owner’s internet service provider. In my own case, this doesn’t matter for my phone while I’m using it in France because it and my home PC both use connections from the same provider, Free. But I found that although it’s set up for roaming, this doesn’t apply while in the UK, where I could receive emails on it but not reply or send emails because clearly the Free SMTP server is only available in France itself. And the same goes for my laptop wherever it’s being used.

Up to now I’ve had to bite a very inconvenient bullet, namely that after I’ve received emails through my usual addresses on either my phone or my laptop, if I’ve then wanted to reply to them I’ve had to do so using a separate address on either Outlook Live (Microsoft) or Gmail (Google) set up on my laptop. And the same went for if I wanted to initiate a new email, but for no longer.

I’ve always been pretty clued up when it comes to PCs, software and systems but as I grow older I recognise that I’m becoming slowly more out of touch. I’ve always been aware that what I needed was access to a fully portable SMTP server so I could send emails fom wherever I was, but up to now I’ve not been able to find one. However, searches seemed to indicate that if you have a Google account (I have two, one for Youtube and one other) you can use it to send emails not just from Gmail but from any other email address that you have, and now much to my great delight, I’ve proven this to be correct.

What you need to do is set up the Gmail SMTP server with the correct user name (your Gmail email address) and password (your Gmail account password which will probably be your Google account password) and the correct security settings. To show what I mean, here’s how I’ve configured the server in Thunderbird on my new Lenovo laptop (my user name blurred out).

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It works absolutely perfectly and now I’ll be able to send and receive emails on my laptop wherever I am in the world so long as I’m logged onto a wireless network. I’m very pleased as it’ll make my laptop far more useful to me than it was and as a result I’m sure that I’ll be getting much more use out of my new Lenovo in the future than I ever did out of my old Dell machine 🙂

December 7, 2019

Done and dusted

But only for now. A week of gale-force winds is in the offing so I was desperate to get 24ZN somewhere safe, preferably indoors, before they hit. It has been battered a couple of times in recent days by strong south-westerlies and rain while it’s been standing outside to the point where a tractor was parked behind it as a windbreak over one night. Fortunately it emerged none-the-worse for the experience.

However, now I’ve decided to return to France until the spring, I needed to make arrangements for the longer term and that I was successful in doing today. For now 24ZN has been moved into Clipgate’s new main hangar and there it will stay, at least until the worst of the winds have passed through during the early part of next week and hopefully for a bit longer. Here are some shots that I took of it in its new home.

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But at some time in the near future two extra aircraft have been pre-booked to go into the hangar over the winter and although there’s still room for one, it’s doubtful that there’s sufficient space for another. But there won’t be a problem. When the second one arrives, arrangements have already been made to move 24ZN into one of the smaller hangars. There are two aircraft, a Savannah and a Tri-Pacer (two types that I’ve owned, coincidentally), and a gyro in there at present and as there will be no need to get 24ZN out again until I return in the spring, there will be enough space to put it in behind the two other aircraft with its nose to the back wall.

I won’t be there when it’s moved but after today, I’m confident that it will be taken care of by people with experience of safely moving aircraft around. So that’s it – for now. I’m now happy that 24ZN will be in a safe place under cover and out of the weather until I return in the new year. I’m booked on a ferry from Dover tomorrow morning so I’ll soon be back in the Dordogne where I’ll be able to find out what’s been going on while I’ve been away and will hopefully find that my other two aircraft are safe and sound where I left them in the barn. I’m sad that I’ll be leaving 24ZN behind but after all the ups and downs of the past weeks I have to say that I’m looking forward to getting back.

December 3, 2019

Enough’s enough

That’s it, I can do no more. My flight to France in 24ZN is now definitely postponed until the new year. We had a freezing cold night last night in south-east England and when I arrived at Clipgate this morning my worst fears were realised. Not only were there extensive banks of mist in the whole area but 24ZN itself was covered in a thick layer of hoar frost. Taking off with it in such a condition, even if it could get off the ground, would be potentially fatal.

My guess was that it would have taken at least an hour for the frost to have melted, possibly longer, and then there was the question of what to expect over on the other side of the Channel. When I checked while still at Clipgate the whole of the French Channel coast was IFR and at the time of writing this post (11.30 am UK, 12.30 hrs France), Evreux, which is on my planned route, is still declaring LIFR in freezing fog.

Taking off much later than 8.30 am UK time is not really an option because we are now at the end of the year when the days are at their shortest and with the fuel stops that I’ve had to build in, there wouldn’t be enough daylight hours left to make the kind of progress that is necessary for this kind of flight. I also think that in order to get the kind of en-route conditions that I need for the flight, at this time of year the mornings will tend to be bright and cold like today and will almost inevitably be foggy on either the UK or the French side thereby preventing me from taking off until it’s too late.

So I’ve reluctantly decided to call it a day for this year. It’s difficult to believe that the whole saga began in summer-like weather in September. Unfortunately time was lost getting the aircraft onto the French register (around a month) and it was during that period that the weather changed for the worse. But the final conclusion has to be that planning a longish flight in an ULM across an international boundary at around the shortest day of the year is really pie in the sky.

My life has been on hold for too long waiting for a weather window that hasn’t materialised and is now unlikely to do so and I have things to do back in Plazac. I’m hoping to make arrangements for 24ZN to go into the new hangar at Clipgate in which there appears to be space for another couple of aircraft and if I can do that I’ll be heading off back to France by car with the idea of returning in the spring when the weather starts to improve. If so, I hope that the whole sorry story doesn’t start all over again.

December 2, 2019

Read the NOTAMs!

Today would have been the perfect day for me to take off for France but I hadn’t planned to go as the weather forecasts had indicated that the northerly wind could be a bit too strong. But not a bit of it! On this side of the Channel it was calm for nearly the whole of the day while on the other side the winds were fairly benign throughout the whole length of my planned route.

So a window missed but I couldn’t go anyway as unfortunately I had a family commitment that prevented me from leaving and that’s why I plan to depart tomorrow. So I just hope that tomorrow turns out to be as good as today. There’s a real danger of early morning fog on both sides of the Channel so it’s in the hands of the gods as to how things will work out.

But what I did do today was check the en-route NOTAMs, something that I should really have done a while ago. And lucky for me that I did because I was surprised to find that from late November through into the new year Chartres, where I intended to land to replenish my tanks from my on-board jerricans, is closed to all visiting aircraft. So a lesson learned!

But it’s not a disaster. I’ve had to change my route yet again and instead of landing at Chartres I’ve decided to drop into Dreux. It’s on my route but whereas Chartres has a long hard runway, the runway at Dreux is grass. There’s nothing to say that it’s closed so I’m going to just go in without phoning ahead. I need much less than what’s available so I don’t think that I’ll be taking much of a risk. Its just annoying that I’ve had to rework my route, planning spreadsheet and charts to take the change into account but maybe that’ll encourage me to check out the NOTAMs a bit sooner!

Unfortunately my family commitment today ran overtime a bit and as a consequence, I didn’t have all the time that I needed to complete all of my preparations for an early morning departure tomorrow. But I got 24ZN’s outdoor covers off and stowed away and refilled my second jerrican that was empty after my flight over from Headcorn to Clipgate. Assuming that I can get away early tomorrow morning, stowing them and my modest baggage in the cabin won’t delay me by very much.

It was dark by the time I finished at Clipgate early this evening but here are some shots that I took when I’d finished which I’ve had to lighten quite a bit to make them more clearly visible.

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As the weather forecasting model that I’m using (ECMWF) is only run very 12 hours and after 9.00pm local time this evening will not be run again until after my planned departure time tomorrow, I’ll redo my route planning this evening and get my modest baggage and the contents of my flying bag organised. And that will be it until I wake up tomorrow morning and see what greets me outside my bedroom window. I just hope that it’s not thick fog…

December 1, 2019

Looking good?

Impossible to say for sure but it appears so. And it has been that way, consistently, for several days now, which alone is encouraging. But not only that, there could be up to three possible days to depart during this coming week, which has been unheard of during the whole time that I’ve been waiting to do my flight to France in 24ZN.

As of this evening, the weather could be suitable on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday with Wednesday looking the best of the three, although if Tuesday looks OK, I’ll probably grab the opportunity. However, if as has been suggested there could be local fog on Tuesday morning, I’ll naturally postpone my departure until the following day. I just hope that all three days don’t end up with light winds that would allow me to take off but with fog on either this or the other side of the Channel.

By way of making preparations, today I fitted 24ZN’s new battery, topped up its tanks using the fuel remaining in one of my two jerricans, which I’ll refill tomorrow ready for when I do get away, and ran its engine for the first time for ten days. I was very pleased when, with the new battery, its engine cranked very healthily and started almost immediately with hardly any delay. Hopefully therefore, the new battery will sort out any starting problems that there might have been.

There was a bit more rain today but hopefully there won’t be any more until I leave and it’ll be OK to leave 24ZN uncovered tomorrow in the hope of getting away early on Tuesday morning. If I can’t take off due to fog it shouldn’t be a problem leaving it uncovered for another night in the hope of getting away on Wednesday instead. I’m now keeping my fingers crossed.