May 31, 2020

I’m loving my garden

It’s just marvellous here at the moment, there’s no other word for it. The weather is fantastic – clear blue skies, quite hot for this time of the year but not unbearably so, with little wind. And so quiet. Normally by now the place would be crawling with tourists and as much as I sympathise with those businesses that depend on tourism, and there are many here, I love the calm, quiet and cleanness, of the air and the environment, that are the unforeseen benefits of the Covid-19 lockdown. Or more aptly, lock-out as far as visitors are concerned.

I almost bust a gut yesterday cutting what I laughingly call my grass in the scorching hot sun but it was worth it, because this is the view that I had from my front window a bit earlier this afternoon.

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It won’t stay like it for long, of course. Even if the grass stops growing if it stays hot, the weeds still manage to keep pushing through. And as we have possible thunderstorms forecast for this coming week, I’m expecting that in less than a fortnight, my garden will probably be back again to be an overgrown wasteland. So I thought that today would be a good day to go outside and take a few photographs.

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When I came to France eight years ago, I brought quite a large number of plant pots and containers with me that then stood empty up until last year at which time my lovely French neighbour, Chantal, decided that it was time for me to do something about it and dragged me down to the local nursery. I left with an empty wallet and a car full of plants and over a day-and-a-half she and I had filled all of my empty pots up, and more besides, because before we’d finished I’d had to go and buy a few more from the France Rurale store in Montignac. Plus I also put up some hanging baskets as I used to do in times past around the old family home in the UK.

Unfortunately, though we had left things a bit too late last year and too much of the season was already behind us. So the plants that I’d bought never managed to attain their full potential and also, I’d had to make do with others that weren’t really right in the roles for which they’d been bought – for example, fuschias that grew much too tall for the hanging baskets in which they’d been planted.

So Chantal, who is much more attuned to these things than I am, collared me much earlier this year to make sure things were done properly. Shortly afterwards we found ourselves in the local nursery again, which wasn’t officially supposed to be open but had done so anyway, with our masks on in company with a horde of other shoppers who evidently also couldn’t wait to start beautifying their gardens.

I ended up spending more than last year despite the fact that a surprisingly large number of plants had survived over the relatively mild winter and were just waiting to burst back into life, as many now indeed have. Once again with the two of us working over the next day, we got everything planted and it was pretty obvious even then that this year our floral display would be much more magnificent than previously. And so it is proving as the following pictures taken today show.

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This next display still has a bit of a way to go. The smaller plants in it were saved from last year and the larger one collapsed after I’d removed the plastic support that it came with. Since then I’ve raised it again and supported it with soft twine and a dead twig and already it’s covered in large buds so should soon be in much fuller flower.

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All of the flowers in the next container were saved from last year but were not together. Obviously they are now thriving in their new environment.

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Neither of the hanging baskets on the front of the house survived the winter but it was no great loss because the plants that they’d contained were not suitable. This year I made sure to buy smaller fuschias and some other smaller plants that I hope will tumble downwards as the season progresses. One of the problems was that the English moss that I’d used to line the baskets couldn’t hold enough water for the type of plants that I’d used, so this year I removed the old soil and placed a plastic membrane inside the moss before adding the soil and the plants.

So far it seems to be working and both of the hanging baskets on the front of the house are progressing very well. Here’s a shot of the first one.

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The two small plants at each end of the tub in the next shot were both survivors from last year and are now throwing out flowers again. The two plants in the middle were new this year and I think that the tub will end up being very colourful and a great success in a week or two’s time.

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I think that the plant in the next shot was new this year, in fact I’m almost certain it was. But wow, what a show it makes – and there’s more to come!

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I bought the little fuschia in the next shot in the second half of the season last year from France Rurale. Unbelievably, not only did it survive the winter but it seems to have thrived and is already covered in flowers.

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The plants in the large container in the centre of the next display were all new this year but all of the geraniums were bought last year and survived the winter. The plain-jane plant with green leaves in the closest pot was also from last year and I can’t wait to see what it turns back into. Chantal assures me that it will be covered in blooms, but somehow I have my doubts…

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This little triplet display still has a long way to go but already today the plants in the small pots burst into bloom after I’d taken the picture. They were both survivors from last year and I originally thought that they’d had it, but it shows just how wrong you can be. The plant in the vertical holder is new this year and also I’ve drilled the bowl of the container to make a drain hole as last year it flooded whenever it rained and dried out too quickly when it got hot. This year I’ve only put just the one small plant in it and am keeping my fingers crossed that it’ll do OK.

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This is a new fuschia that I bought this year especially to go on my window sill and I love it. The pot it’s in is one I brought with me from the UK and was knocked off the sill by a cat and broken. However, I didn’t want to chuck it away so repaired it with Araldite and if you don’t look too closely, you’d never know.

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The next two are both new additions this year and look as though they’ll be great successes, both of them.

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All of the plants in this next container are survivors from last year. I have to say that I thought that it looked a bit of a mess after the winter and would have to be re-done this year. However, on closer examination there were signs of life so we tidied it up a bit and left it and from the look of it, that was the right thing to do.

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This tub matches the other one and similar comments apply. Initially, the two small plants at the ends which are survivors from last year were placed too far into the tub and weren’t doing well. Having moved them outwards just a couple of days ago, they are already doing much better.

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This is the other one of the two new hanging baskets on the front of the house.

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The next plant stands near the back door and was bought new this year. It looks as though it’s going to be lovely.

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The next three plants were all bought new this year. Two of them are in glazed pots that were really intended for indoor use but are a bit too bright for my taste. They weren’t a success last year as they didn’t have drain holes in them so when it rained they retained the water and when it was dry, you were reluctant to make them too wet. As a result the plants in them did very poorly.

I’ve now drilled holes in the bottoms of the two jazzy green glazed pots and can therefore treat them as ‘normal’ so hopefully the plants we put in them will do a lot better this year, as they seem to be doing.

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The next pair of pots were my favourites last year because their colours go together so well and also the plants that they contained were so lovely. I’m hoping that after retaining some of them and adding some new ones that I’ll be able to enjoy repeat success this year.

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The same goes for the next pair of pots whose colours again complement each other so well. Last year they did OK but ended up looking a little bit messy and untidy. As a result, I have tried to make a better plant selection that will combine well as the season progresses and already I think that the effort is well worth it.

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Finally, we come to the last two hanging baskets that are mounted on the south-facing wall of the house. I had intended to re-do them in the same way as I did the ones on the front of the house but left it too late. By the time I’d got around to it, they were bursting back into flower, so apart from removing the odd dead bits, I’ve left them alone and am amazed at how well they’re now doing.

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So that’s the hard work done for this year. I loved having plants around the house last year and am even more delighted with how things are already looking this year. Sure, they need to be tended and looked after but the work involved is satisfying and more than paid-back by the wonderful display they present as the year progresses. I wish that the constant grass cutting was equally as satisfying and rewarding…

May 28, 2020

My plan’s coming together

The French government published its latest Covid19 map of France about three hours ago and the good news is that apart from the area around Paris and a couple of the overseas territories, the great majority of the country is now green.

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This does not mean that all restrictions on, for example, travel and social distancing in France have now been lifted but it does mean that they are likely to be far less restrictive as from 1st June. What does this mean for me? It means that the plan I’ve formulated to bring my ex-pat Xair over to France from the UK is likely to come to fruition in the first week or so of next month.

It’s now likely that the restriction on limiting flights to a maximum of 100 kms will indeed be removed as my contact in the DGAC said it might, meaning that I’ll not be needing a special dispensation to fly the Xair down from northern France to the Dordogne. But also, more importantly, it’ll mean that the airfields I need to land at, and especially the ones where I need to purchase fuel, Abbeville and Blois, will be open for business.

So what about the UK side of things? The UK government are continuing to handle the Covid19 crisis in the incompetent, bumbling and chaotic way that has resulted in the country becoming one of the most badly affected in Europe. As far as we all know, the ridiculous plan to impose a 14 day quarantine period on visitors entering the country is still likely to be applied as fom 8th June and despite the ridicule this has attracted, it will almost certainly go ahead as to withdraw it now would be seen as loss of face by the ministers and key officials who are behind it.

But luckily there are exemptions, one of which is ‘aircrew’ as defined in paragraph 1 of Schedule 1 to the Air Navigation Order 2016(h). For the purposes of this nonsense I’m going to assume that as a result of my reason for travelling to the UK, I will fall into this category. I have also made arrangements to overnight in the caravan used as Control on the airfield for the brief period that I’ll be staying over, hopefully no more than a couple of nights because my plan is to arrive on day 1, air test and prepare the aircraft on day 2 and depart on day 3.

This depends on the weather remaining favourable but it looks as though there’s a fair chance of that happening given current trends. I’ll then be leaving my car behind until I can return to pick it up shortly thereafter, even if it means coming back by Eurostar if the airlines aren’t back in business by then, so this means that I think I’ve got all the bases covered. I really can’t wait to be able to put the plan into motion so I can at last get the aircraft over here in its new home in the Dordogne.

And I have to say, I’m rather looking forward to the flight too, now that the conditions are looking so favourable, especially as with the long days at this time of the year, I should be able to do it in a single day rather than the two that I’d have needed in the dog-days of winter at the back-end of last year 😉

May 21, 2020

Expectations exceeded

I was in bed by 11.30pm last night so was up bright and early (for me) at 7.00am this morning and I decided that if I got my skates on, I’d be able to get away from Malbec by 9.00am, with no pressure or last-minute crises. And that indeed did almost happen because I was wheels up by 9.05am. It could even have been earlier because I ended up waiting over 8 minutes for my old 7″ Asus tablet’s GPS to latch onto enough satellites.

It’s always been a problem and seems to be getting worse. On my last flight back to the UK it hung just after take off with all the hassle that involved while trying to climb out, turn onto the correct heading and get it rebooted and started again all at the same time. However, today there was one bright light. I recently bought an Asus 8″ tablet that I spotted on Le Bon Coin during the Covid-19 lockdown for not a lot of money. My idea was to hopefully use it to fly my new Fimi drone when it arrives, that’s if it has the correct wi-fi to connect to it.

But now it matters not. Luckily I loaded my MemoryMap navigation system into it when I first received it and had taken it with me this morning. Its GPS latched on in seconds and I therefore used it to navigate the whole of this morning’s flight. It performed magnificently, much better than my old tablet, so whether it can be used with the drone or not, I’m delighted with the purchase. You can see it on the top of the panel in the cabin pics that I’ve posted below.

Today was Ascension Day which is a bank holiday in France. I therefore expected the skies to be pretty busy as it was the first national holiday following the easing of the Covid-19 lockdown. And indeed the airwaves were almost as busy as for a normal week-end, but with little traffic from our neck of the woods. I heard aircraft making calls from Riberac, Montpezat, Egletons and a couple that went into Condat after I’d left (see route below) but mainly they were from further afield. And, surprisingly, none from Belvès.

Here’s a picture of the route that I flew today.

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My planning calculations gave a total time of just over 1½ hours excluding landings and take offs at an average speed of 145 kmh. My new tablet logged my track without me asking it to and that showed an actual time moving of 2 hours 10 minutes (my logged time 2 hours 11 minutes), a total distance travelled of 256km (planned route 225km), an average speed of 117.5 kmh and a top speed of 155 kmh. This to me is what flying the Savannah is all about – cruising engine revs 4800 rpm at which it uses about 14 litres/hour while clipping along at 145/150 kmh.

I set up one of my cheap little Chinese sportscam web cams on the Savannah’s right wing together with a power pack that was supposed to keep it running for at least a couple of hours if not more. Unfortunately, yet again it let me down. For some reason the power pack didn’t kick in and after the sportscam had switched itself off at around an hour of recording, after the flight it still showed 92% capacity. These damn things really are useless and even though today’s wasn’t a critical flight, I’d still like to have recorded it.

As it was, all I got (yet again, so not of much value) was the flight to Condat together with the landing and take off there. I’ve recorded those loads of times so today’s recording was just a waste. Luckily, I did have the GoPro mounted in the cabin. I realised while I was setting it up that I needed to remove its side door to connect a power pack to it and decided not to bother. I knew therefore that it would only run for about an hour but as it was in the cabin for the first time, it was an experiment more than anything.

In fact it was very successful and the quality of the recordings (Ultra HD 4K) were so good that I found screen shots from them were as good as pictures taken by my phone or Nikon camera. It’s just a pity that there weren’t more of them. The first of them shows the take off at Malbec.

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This shot was taken while flying past Montignac.

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This shot is of short final at Condat.

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This shot came from nearly the last bit of video that I got today and shows the magnificent curving railway viaduct at Souillac.

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After landing at Figeac I found that it was completely closed and everything was locked up. I didn’t even bother to get out of the aircraft let alone take any photographs and just restarted the engine to take off and head for Fumel. It was actually the same story there but as I needed to get out for a pee, I thought that I might as well take the next shot.

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And then on to Sarlat-Domme. It was much the same story again but there were one or two people on the aerodrome. As I arrived a young instructor (instructors are like policemen at my age – they all look young now) and a student were getting into a magnificent Robin Regent and after I’d filled in the movements sheet, I took this final shot just before they taxied out to head off to Brive.

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So how was the flight overall? Stunning, as I said in the title of this post, it exceeded my expectations. After a layoff, you always have a feeling of nervous anticipation before you fly again and that was true for me today. But as soon as I got into the air, I was back in the environment that I love. I also fell in love with my Savannah all over again. By taking off early, the air was relatively calm and it flew so smoothly, straight and well-balanced.

I’d forgotten just how good it can be and it was helped by my having reconnected the loose pitch trim wire since my last UK flight that had given me back my electric pitch trim and made it almost possible to fly hands-off. And d’you know what? Every landing that I did today, all five of them, were greasers. That always is the cherry to put onto the top of the cake after a good flight – which this time had cream on it as well 😉

May 20, 2020

All set for tomorrow

Yes, really. For my first flight since 24th February when I did 1 hour 45 minutes in my Weedhopper. So not that long ago really, and right now many pilots won’t even have had a flight since last year, but it seems longer than 3 months.

I was going to do a flight this morning but left it too late and then it became a bit too windy again, so I found other things to occupy myself with. Tomorrow’s flight will be a nice little outing in my Savannah – just under 2 hours and 5 landings (Condat, Figeac, Fumel, Sarlat and back to Malbec) so good stuff after the layoff. All of the landings will be on hard runways except Malbec because I think it’ll be a while before all the grass airfields are back in good shape.

I went across to Malbec earlier this evening and mounted my video cameras so they’re ready for the flight and I won’t have to rush to get them sorted before I take off the way I usually have to. I put my GoPro inside on this occasion and one of my cheap little Chinese sportscams that I’ve tested out on the right wing, so this time I have high hopes of getting some decent video footage. While I was there I took some shots of the two aircraft in their new positions in the barn.

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It looks as though shifting them around was a good thing because although there were a couple of rodent/bird droppings on the rear of the Savannah’s fuselage, there was nothing like as much as before. Only time will tell if the problem has been overcome, though – I have to say that I’m not overly-optimistic as those little birds, which I think are the source of the problem, beautiful as they are, can be a ruddy nuisance 😐

May 19, 2020

Tomorrow, maybe?

After mowing the runway at Malbec on Saturday, I went back the following day and cleaned both the Savannah and the Weedhopper – again. Even though I cleaned them what feels like only a short time ago, they were both filthy, which is the problem with their being in an open-fronted barn. Both were covered in what looked like the ‘sand of the desert’ and to make things worse, the inner section of the Savannah’s left wing was covered in what I’d always thought were mouse droppings.

I used to have the same problem with the Weedhopper when that was in the back corner of the barn. But why would mice want to cavort on the wing – and how would they get up there – and why only on one section of it? The answer, surely, is that they wouldn’t, so I’ve come to the conclusion that the mess is coming down onto the wing from the roof. And what would mice be doing up that high in an asbestos sheeted roof with only a few narrow metal beams to run on?

While I was pondering that question I spotted a little bird flitting around in the roof and then flying out through a hole in the corner of the barn, so I’m maybe thinking that what I’m assuming to be mice droppings are in fact the waste being produced by this little bird and its family – ie bird poo. Luckily, it’s always dry and not difficult to get off as it’s not really sticky, but it’s an eyesore and a ruddy nuisance and it’s annoying having to keep spending time clearing it off.

Afterwards I shifted the aircraft around a bit and put the Weedhopper with its nose into the opposite back corner and the Savannah in tail-first. Aside from making more space in the barn, I’m hoping that there won’t now be a wing of either aircraft directly underneath the roof beam where the birds evidently like to perch and do their business, but I won’t know until I go back again and can check.

Since then it’s been too windy to fly. Today it was even tricky flying my little EG16 drone and I only ascended briefly above the tree line around my front garden. So yesterday I drilled the two ceramic plant-pots that needed holes in their bottoms and also put a drain hole into another vertical decorative concrete plant holder. So after bedding the plants properly into all three, that’s my plant work finished for this year. I’ve left two hanging baskets and three large pots on the south end of my house alone, apart from tidying them up a bit, as they’ve all burst back into life and I’m sure that I’d do more harm than good adding new soil and stuff like that.

There’s been little GA flying in the area since the easing of the lockdown. Our friend Patrick flew over my house yesterday in his autogire and another flew over while I was at Galinat earlier this evening checking on the state of the runway. The unfavourable winds have been the main reason – autogires are little affected by winds that would keep ULMs firmly on the ground.

I went to Galinat as if I am able to fly tomorrow, I would like to have landed there. But I was met by a depressing sight. Unlike Malbec, which is open for business and looking gorgeous after its runway had been mowed, as the photographs that I posted showed, Galinat hasn’t been touched for many a long week. You can hardly make out its runway from the long grass at either side of it and it will now take an agricultural grade mower to cut the grass down to a level where the runway’s usable.

Luckily that may well happen as this is the time when the farmers do the first cut of the hay for their animals and in previous years this has included the airfield at Galinat. I fear that if it doesn’t happen this year, we could well lose Galinat for good. It hasn’t had a proper windsock for at least the last three years and it’s possible that Christian, its owner, may have lost interest as there aren’t that many visitors nowadays and likely to be even fewer this year as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. It would be a sad day if that were to happen. I must contact him and find out what his plans are.

May 16, 2020

Ready for take off

Well, it looks as though the few good days that were forecast have indeed arrived, although today was a bit too windy to have flown. But it was a good day to get the ride-on out and mow the grass at Malbec.

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When I’d finished, Malbec ended up looking as good as I can ever remember seeing it but it always does at this time of the year when the trees and the grass are so lush and green. Now we just need to sort out the windsock because the one that’s in place is hanging in tatters.

I don’t yet know what my plans are for tomorrow but I’d hoped to get some flying in in both the Weedhopper and the Savannah. However, from the current forecast, it appears that I might be thwarted as it could still be too windy and I don’t want to take even the slightest risk after such a long lay-off.

In fact, if the forecast is correct, I might have to wait until Thursday to get into the air, when the winds are forecast to be much lighter. However, it’s also forecast that Thursday’s high could be as much as 28 degrees C which could, of course, pose other problems. Like nasty turbulence, but we’ll just have to wait and see.

I noticed a weird anomaly when I picked up fuel at the local Carrefour in Rouffignac today. Usually there’s quite a large price differential between 95 and 98 octane fuel but today 95 was priced at 1.19€/litre and 98 at 1.21€. As I needed to buy 98 octane for the Savannah, the ride-on at Malbec was assured a drop of the good stuff today, which Victor whose mower it is, prefers to have put into the tank anyway. So no problem today Victor!

May 16, 2020

Now thinking Xair

General aviation flying has now restarted in England (but not in other parts of the UK) so if things are ‘go’ for me as from 1st June here in France, it looks as though I’ll soon be able to start making plans to return to the UK and pick up 24ZN, my ex-pat Xair.

The only possible fly in the ointment might be this weird ‘shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted’ UK government plan to force visitors coming into the country to self-quarantine for 14 days after arrival at pain of a £1000 fine. It’s already beginning to crumble with suggestions that ‘business’ visitors and delivery drivers will have to be excluded as otherwise the country will be paralysed more than it is already, so I’ll have to wait and see what will happen.

I’ve had my route sorted out since the last time I went off towards the end of last year in the hope of bringing the Xair over and I’ve already got my current UK chart in the Asus tablet I use for my navigation. So who knows, things might now begin to happen sooner rather than later. And about time too, I say…

May 15, 2020

Here we go again

Yesterday I was again shown why the French economy is in such a mess and why France will never be successful as a trading nation in the form of yet another example of bloody-minded non-customer service.

The day before the Covid-19 lockdown started in France I purchased a foot-pump at the Feu-Vert branch in Boulazac but found immediately that it didn’t work. I ended up pumping up the tyres of my trailer using the branch’s air line in its workshop but only later was I able to confirm that the pump itself was faulty. It was too late by then to return it for refund as the lockdown had started and I was only able to yesterday now that we are permitted a greater degree of free movement.

The terms and conditions of sale of Feu Vert make it quite clear that if customers wish to exercise their right of refund they must return the goods to the point of sale in unused condition with proof of purchase and preferably in their original packaging after which Feu Vert will take up to 14 days to effect a full refund, so I expected my visit to be brief and a mere formality.

But not so. Initially the clueless youth on the till said that it was their policy to only offer refunds up to 10€ and above that I had to accept a coupon which I could use to purchase another item. This, of course, I declined, at which point he said that I’d need to talk to the manager who was due back any moment. And this after I’d already been waiting for the best part of 15 minutes while other customers behind me in the queue were dealt with.

When the manager arrived he tried to fob me off in the most rude and off-hand manner and said that the store did not offer refunds. I pointed out to him that under EU law the store had to as the item I’d purchased was defective but he still refused to cooperate in the most obnoxious way, especially when I asked him to put this down on paper with his signature. He then even refused to provide me with his name.

So I’ve now got to launch myself into the process of yet again making a claim against a French company whose staff member has decided that it can act outside the law. I will win again as I always do but it is becoming tediously repetitive and I wish that French companies would do some staff training instead of employing morons who think that by behaving so stupidly they are doing their employers a favour.

Changing the subject, it looks as though we can now expect some good flying weather in the next few days. In fact the weather would be perfect at present for flying the Xair over from the UK but that option isn’t open right now as I haven’t made the necessary arrangements. However, it looks as though from tomorrow through until the middle of next week it should be possible to get airborne locally, so I’m looking forward to getting a few hours in in both the Weedhopper and my Savannah. Watch this space.

May 14, 2020

I couldn’t resist it

OK, I know that I haven’t even received my new Fimi drone yet and when I do get it, it’ll do everything I want it to. It’ll create excellent HD 4K video images and photographs, have great range and have plenty of flight time, especially with the extra battery that I’ve already received and am champing at the bit to actually use. But… sometimes an offer comes along that you just can’t refuse, and that’s just happened with the original Hubsan Zino, now called the Zino H117S.

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It was a bit buggy when it was first launched a couple of years ago but since then its app and the firmware of both the quadcopter itself and its controller have been updated several times to the point that it is now an excellent machine that flies well and has all of the ‘special’ features that you need, like orbiting, tracking and waypoint mode flying.

Hubsan have now used the same platform with the updated software to launch the Zino 2 at a considerably higher price together with the Zino Pro that’s also more expensive, but apart from having greater range (the Zino H117S ‘only’ has a range of 1 km), the new versions offer little more for an ‘average’ user like myself. In fact, I considered the Zino Pro before opting for the slightly more expensive Fimi X8 SE 2020 that I’m waiting to receive in the coming days.

So what couldn’t I refuse? Well, the Zino H117S is still on Hubsan’s own web site for over 400€ and most retailers are still offering it, even on line, in the upper 300€’s. However, one or two are a bit more clued-up and have clearly decided that with the new versions now having been launched, it would be better to clear their stocks of the old one rather than be left with them months down the line and I found one offering the H117S for under 300€ complete with a second battery and free delivery. That’s cheaper than used models are being advertised for on Le Bon Coin!

That also puts it at around the same price as the Eachine EX4 that I returned to Banggood in China which only has 1080p video and has proven to be flaky and unreliable whereas in comparison the Hubsan is quite the opposite, having come out of a 2-year development process in the market place as a reliable step-up from being much more than just an entry-level machine.

So I’ll end up with two 4K machines – so what. There are loads of opportunities to get excellent drone footage just in this area alone and having the two will obviously provide me with more opportunities. And as the Hubsan will be less expensive, I’ll maybe prefer to use that in locations and conditions in which I’d prefer not to use the Fimi. Anyway, that’s for the future – and the deed is done 😉

May 13, 2020

Moving forward again?

Maybe. I zipped an email off a couple of days ago to the DGAC in Paris asking whether, if any restrictions still applied to long distance flights in France in June, they would be prepared to provide me with a special dispensation to fly 24ZN, my ex-pat Xair from the UK and through France to the Dordogne.

I’ve just received a most helpful reply saying that they expect all restrictions to GA flights in France to be lifted from 1st June and that therefore the flight should be able to go ahead in any event. They add that I should check that the aerodromes that I want to land at are all open and that no restrictions do in fact apply and that in such an event I should contact them again for a ‘laissez-passer’.

How good is that? It means that on the French side, I can start to make plans again to pick up the Xair and fly it over to France as from the beginning of June. Now all I’ve got to do is make similar arrangements for the UK side of things. What’s the bet that that will be far more difficult wih bundles of red tape to be cut through and problems even finding the right people to talk to, bearing in mind that I’ve got to overcome possible problems even entering the UK from France. I’ll let readers know how I get on and am already rolling up my sleeves.

May 11, 2020

All a bit confusing

Today’s the day when the Covid-19 lockdown is starting to be eased and we start to get some of our freedoms back. But everything’s not as clear as it should be and especially when it comes to private flying.

We can now go outdoors to take as much exercise as we want, defined as ‘walking and jogging’ within I think still a 1 km radius of our home and I’m almost certain that we can travel as much as we want up to a radius of 100 kms. But I’m not sure whether that includes having more than one person in your car, because if not, in theory you’d still be subject to a hefty fine. Exercise I think must still be a solitary activity save for with anyone from your immediate family with whom your ‘self confining’ and ‘social distancing’ must still be observed, so no ‘group’ activities.

Most shops will be reopening but still no cafés, restaurants and bars till at least the end of the month, so maybe we’ll start to see a few more deliveries to our local ‘relais’ points, local shops and stores that take in and receive parcels on behalf of carriers other than La Poste. Hopefully I’ll soon begin to see a few items from the now growing backlog of items that I’m waiting impatiently to receive.

The latest newsletter from the joint federation of private flying organisations says that private flying can now start ‘within the constraints of the laws relating to public health’. It implies several things but doesn’t seem to confirm that they do now actually apply. For example, flying schools can now open for training and although social distancing is still supposed to apply, as driving schools can now recommence activities, there’s no reason why dual instruction shouldn’t be allowed. But is it?

It also implies that after taking off, there should be no distinction between flying between ‘green’ and ‘red’ départements, but again doesn’t seem to confirm that that is now so. And do we still need the letter of ‘dérogation’ from the DGAC to travel to our airfield to run the engines of our aircraft for 20 minutes once a month? I suppose someone knows, but I certainly don’t and it all seems a bit of a balls-up to me.

We’ve had more than 24 hours of rain since I did the plant pots outside the front of my house with my neighbour, Chantal, but although it’s still not ‘proper’ weather for the time of year, it’s a bit brighter this morning. So I fired up my little Eachine EG16 drone and took a few pictures.

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I’ll be glad when my new Fimi arrives. The above shots are OK as far as they go but have far too much ‘fish-eye’ distortion to be of very much real value. The new drone won’t suffer from such problems. I’m really annoyed because I’m still after more than a month waiting for a refund fom Banggood for the rubbish EX4 quadcopter that I returned to China. It seems that the Chinese customs are holding back the shipment because of ‘a missing invoice’. But there is no ‘missing invoice’ as the item isn’t being sold to Banggood, it’s being returned.

And Paypal Customer Protection is proving to be useless at the moment, just sitting on their backsides and providing no support. I think that it’s time to start poking the hornets’ nest with a sharp stick.

May 9, 2020

The last lockdown week-end

While the bungling government of Boris Johnson lurches totally out of control and ideas, from one crisis to another in the UK, here in France we are looking forward to an easing of the Covid-19 lockdown conditions as from Monday. I had high hopes for Boris Johnson when his government was elected at the end of last year but it appears that he and his team are as crass, ineffective and bereft of knowledge of the real world as all those British politicians who have gone before them.

Imagine a senior manager in the private sector being set the task of sourcing a quantity of personal protective equipment for his company – a simple item like a protective gown for which there are established standards for manufacture, performance and quality – and when they arrive they are ALL, 400,000 of them, not fit for purpose. That manager would have been summarily dismissed on the spot, but apparently the same standards don’t apply if you are a UK government minister.

You get to keep your job, your fat salary, all your perks and your juicy pension and you also get to go onto TV where you can lecture the populace on how to run their lives. And this is after another (the same?) minister purchased and paid for millions of Chinese Covid-19 testing kits, all of which were found not to work. You couldn’t make it up. It makes hiring a ferry company without any ships to ‘help with Brexit’ (doing what for God’s sake?) look like the act of a mastermind.

The latest hare-brained UK government schemes are to subject all ‘elderly’ people (and ‘elderly’ means over 60 – I ask you) to permanent house arrest for at least a year after they ‘restart the economy’ (God help us…) and, after having previously let hundreds of thousands of Covid-19 infected travellers into the UK while the pandemic was building, to subject everyone entering the UK to a mandatory 14 days of quarantine ie self-confinement, now that just about every country in the world except the UK has got the pandemic under control and they’d be subjecting themselves to more risk coming to the UK than they’d be exposing the population of the UK to. Such a move would, of course finally kill off all of the UK airlines (lucky for all the other foreign ones, eh) and ensure the total demise of the UK travel and hospitality industries. They just don’t have a clue.

Moving onto other things before I become so exasperated that I explode. The prospective purchaser of my Weedhopper, who is Belgian incidentally, is as impatient as I am to get the transaction underway. He hasn’t even managed to get down to see it yet because of the Covid-19 crisis and was bemoaning the fact that with the travel restrictions that are currently in place, he doubts that it’ll be possible much before mid-June. So I decided to shoot a little video to send to him when I went over to Malbec this week to start and run its engine.

I’m glad to say that he contacted me after he’d seen it and said how much he’d enjoyed it, so I’m glad that I made the effort.

Changing the subject again, plant time has come around again. Last year I filled up all of the plant pots that I brought with me from the UK and which had been standing empty since I arrived in 2012 and was glad that I did because the plants that I put in provided a delight of colour right through the summer and autumn. I say ‘I’ but it was Chantal, my sweetheart of a French neighbour, who twisted my arm to do it and she got busy working on me again a week or so ago.

However, the weather wasn’t right at the time and we ended up going to the local nursery the day before yesterday to buy the stocks that I needed. The place was heaving with cars and people who were supposed to be ‘social distancing’ but as Montignac is a relatively small place and almost everyone there knew someone else, there was really no chance of that. But nobody is really worried – the Dordogne is a ‘green’ département and the Covid risk is therefore very small, and anyway, those who wanted to wore masks and some even gloves.

The prices seemed quite a bit higher than last year, probably because the nursery owner anticipated that sales would be down this year. However, I think he could well make a killing given the crowds who were there snapping up trollies-full of plants just as I was.

We put most of the plants in yesterday and I was pleasantly surprised by just how many of last-year’s plants had survived over the winter and were sprouting and growing again. You expect plants like geraniums to because they’re pretty hardy anyway, but many of the ‘annuals’ were showing new growth, small buds and even little flowers.

Today I finished off three of the five hanging baskets that I have, two of which showed no sign of life whatsoever. The other three all have some good growth going on though, with flowers already out, and having re-done one of them today, I’ll come back to the last two some other time, but before it’s not too late.

I also cut the grass today and picked out quite a few large stones that had risen to the surface over recent months, so it ended up being quite a long day. I went out this evening after I’d had my evening meal and shot a few pictures with my little EG16 drone. Here’s one but I’ll wait to post some more when it’s a bit more bright, sunny and inviting.

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I’ll be taking it a bit more easy tomorrow. The main job will be to drill some holes in the bottoms of a couple of plant pots. The pots are glazed and are really meant for indoors but they’re a bit too garish for my taste. As they’re glazed, it’ll be a bit tricky but really should be little different to drilling a bathroom tile, say, so I have high hopes. I’ve also got to drill another little decorative free-standing concrete plant container to prevent the rainwater staying inside it and drowning the plants it holds.

Then with a bit of luck, if everything goes well and to plan, I might even be able to get across to Malbec later on to start and run the Savannah’s engine. I really need to do this because it’s only been run once (I think) since I returned from the UK in it back in September, and it needs to have its oil circulating again.

May 1, 2020

Still keeping busy

Well, here we are nearly six weeks into the Covid-19 lockdown in France, and although I’d obviously rather be doing other more important things, I’m still managing to find lots to do. Mainly I’ve been occupying myself with my little Eachine EG16 quadcopter while waiting for my new Fimi X8 SE 2020 to arrive and learning how to make videos using it. And it’s quite a lot more challenging than I originally thought.

OK, anyone can just start the drone’s video camera running and then make a simple video afterwards as a sort of record of the flight using video editing software. But that’s not what I want to be able to do. I want to be able to make multi-frame videos the way that a lot of drone reviewers do on Youtube showing not only what the drone sees but also what you the operator see while you’re flying it.

I already put up a simple video here on Micro-Trike on April 1st showing my first impressions of flying the EG16 just after I’d received it and now here’s another slightly more complex one that I shot shortly afterwards which features just one frame-in-frame and begins to show what I’m talking about.

And the reason that things have been a bit quiet around here is that since then I’ve dived in even deeper and gone the whole hog, with up to two frames-in-frame using simultaneous videos from the drone itself (drone cam), from my smartphone of the app that’s used to control the drone (phone app) and from a head-mounted miniature sports cam (head cam). It’s been very tricky and a lot to learn as I’ll go onto explain, but first here’s the most recent and most successful of my efforts.

But if you’re using proper video editing software, why is it so tricky you may ask? Well, take it from me, the first hurdle is just shooting the video that you need. Naturally, it all has to be shot simultaneously and in sync and that isn’t easy given that we’re not talking about high end, expensive pro-quality kit here. Although I have a GoPro at my disposal, I’ve been using one of my cheap Chinese sportscams as a head cam. The reason is that if I have an accident, I won’t mind too much if the little Chinese jobbie gets damaged but I’d be distraught if anything happened to my GoPro.

For ease and convenience, I’ve mounted the sportscam on the peak of a baseball cap and the arrangement works well. The first problem was getting it lined up and I still haven’t quite got it right, but that won’t be difficult to do. What has been more difficult to overcome is the natural tendency while flying a drone to keep looking down at the controls then up at the drone and back again. If you keep doing that the picture in the viewfinder changes so rapidly that it becomes unusable and it takes quite an effort to get things under control.

The next challenge is to get everything started and running all at the same time. Luckily, I’ve found that once running, the frame rates of the drone video camera and the sportscam remain perfectly in sync, which makes things much easier than I’d expected at the editing stage. However, that certainly isn’t true for my Android phone’s screen recording software which not only runs at a different speed every time despite being set up to run at a specific frame rate, but also runs at wildly variable speeds while recording is in progress.

I’m sure that the main reason for this is the phone itself. It’s probably lacking in both processing power and memory and although perfectly adequate for normal every-day use, I’m pretty sure that it lacks the horsepower for the kind of tasks that I’m throwing at it. I have noticed that many (most?) of the drone reviewers on Youtube who are doing similar things to what I am own iPhone 11 Pro Maxes which cost ten times what I paid for my phone so that tends to support what I’m suggesting.

However, there’s no way that I can, or would, go out and splurge that much on a phone. I’m thinking that maybe a 5 GHx wifi tablet may be the answer – I’ll think about it a bit more when I’ve got my new Fimi and can see what will fit into its controller dock.

When you shoot multiple simultaneous video footage it’s obvious that it all has to be in sync to be usable. It needn’t be frame perfect but it has to be acceptable to the eye of the viewer. As I mentioned previously, syncing the drone and my head cam footage is not a problem, it’s just the phone footage that is tricky to sync with the other two sources. I’ve spent many hours over the past week or so developing my own techniques that more or less overcome the problem. They involve manually syncing the phone video at multiple points within the footage itself and as they are quite complex and very labour intensive I’ll say no more on the subject.

Once the syncing problem has been overcome, all that’s left is to compose and edit the video itself. This is not something that everybody can do or is good at but it’s something that interests me and that I enjoy doing. You need a video editing suite on your PC to do it though, and although there are many to choose from, some of which are free, I have used Corel Videostudio Ultimate for several years and will probably continue doing so despite it occasionally presenting me with problems as they all do in their own ways.

So that’s it for now on my drone videos. Changing the subject somewhat, I had an amazing and unexpected experience a week or so ago involving an incredibly beautiful creature. Late one evening I heard a flapping sound at my kitchen door and when I looked to see what was causing it, through the glass I saw an enormous moth that was similar in size to a small bird.

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It turns out that the moth was a ‘Grand Paon de nuit’ in French, or in English a Great Peacock moth. It is the largest moth found in Europe and mine had all of a six inch wingspan as the photographs show after I’d switched on an outside light and it had settled on the wall next to it. It seems that they are around from late March through to June, so this was quite an early example. They are rather sad in a way. They have no proboscis and are unable to take on any form of nourishment in either solid or liquid form so only live for about a week before dying.

The only upside for them is that during their short lifespan, their sole aim is to mate in order to ensure continuity of the species. To this end, the male sports sensors that can detect a receptive female up to a kilometre away. It’s a pity that I couldn’t communicate to my example that he shouldn’t be wasting his time flapping at my backdoor but should be doing his bit in the short time available to him to seek out a suitable lady friend in order to do the business.

As well as the photographs, above, I shot a short video which although of poor quality, gives some idea of the size of the moth that we are talking about here.

We’ve been on the receiving end of a few days of cloud and rain here in the Dordogne which should hopefully be coming to an end this weekend, after which increasingly better weather is forecast heading towards the summer. Let’s all hope that we’ll also all be heading towards the end of this dratted Covid-19 lockdown. Until then be kind to yourself, your family and friends and stay healthy.