June 30, 2020

The ex-pat Xair story so far

At the time of writing I’ve missed my planned window for flying the Xair over to France from England so I’m just having to make the best of things as it now looks unlikely that I’ll get another opportunity before the end of this week or the middle (Tuesday/Wednesday) of next. However, I’m making good use of the time available by doing work on the aircraft that I’d originally intended to do when I got to France as I’ll show later and I’m pleased about that because I’d rather fly with an engine that’s as near perfect as it can be rather than with a question mark hanging over it.

But first some shots that I’ve taken since I’ve been here at Clipgate Farm airfield near Canterbury. The first two show the Xair after I’d uncovered it and was getting ready to load its outdoor covers in the wings.

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The complete set of covers rolled up and stowed secured by elastic bungees in the gap between the wings.

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The central cover refitted with the outdoor covers stowed beneath it.

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Although not necessary in France, I thought that I’d avoid any confusion while the old UK ‘G’ registration is still partially visible by mounting the Xair’s French reg on its vertical tail surfaces. It’s only a cheap-and-cheerful job done with sticky black tape but it’ll do the job and I think that it’ll be a good thing to have obscured the old reg while I’m in transit.

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Now up to the current day. Regular readers may know from past posts involving my old Xair that elderly Rotax 582 engines seem to have a reputation for going through stator coils. These are responsible for creating the sparks via the magnetos that make the engine fire and when a stator starts to go it has two immediate effects.

Firstly, there’s a differential mag drop when you do your pre-flight engine checks. You usually look for a mag drop that’s about the same on both mags of about 2 – 500 rpm. However, when a stator is on its way out, you see maybe 100 rpm on one side and around 1000 rpm on the other. You also get anomalous rpm readings with the rev counter typically reading a lower figure than is actually being delivered.

Therefore at take off you think that the engine is under-delivering and abort and when flying you find yourself flying faster than normal at lower than expected revs. The downside of this is that you can then be using considerably more fuel than usual and I think that this was a contributory factor to my running out the other day.

Although a stator in this state is unlikely to cause an engine to fail it’s clearly an undesirable state of affairs, especially when on a long flight as I will be with fuel planning critical. I therefore decided that rather than wait until I got to France, I’d deal with the problem now and replace the Xair’s stator.

I ordered a new one yesterday and it arrived today, so having been kindly loaned a flywheel puller by the now-retired local BMAA inspector and bitten the bullet and bought yet more new tools, I got cracking on the job this morning.

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I’m not sure that I’ll be finished today as the new stator didn’t arrive until lunch time and I’ve also had various unavoidable delays involving shifting the Xair out of the hangar temporarily into the pouring rain and back in again. However, I should be finished tomorrow and I’ll then be much more confident in both the aircraft and its engine, especially when making the Channel crossing.

June 27, 2020

X-pat Xair – the next chapter

After refurbing 24ZN’s Mikuni fuel pump and fitting two new in-line fuel filters obtained at a local motor factors I did some high speed high power taxies followed by another test flight. There was a big improvement when at low revs but for safety reasons, I switched the electric pump on for take off and climb out. So far so good.

I then switched the pump off in the cruise (5600 rpm ~60 mph) and the engine continued running sweetly but with fuel pressure on the minimum, 0.2 bar. I made it as far as Faversham (15/20 minutes) and the engine briefly pulled it’s trick again so it was time to switch the pump back on again, head back to Clipgate and look even more deeply into the problem.

I got back without incident with the engine running fine with EGTs both good and the fuel pressure at a healthy 0.4 bar with the electric pump on continuously. However, I’m not satisfied with that as I don’t want to fly the length of France, let alone the Channel, relying on an old, unproven electric pump.

So I was thinking about replacing all of the fuel lines when something hit me. Whoever tinkered with the Xair last (at least 11 or 12 years ago) had replaced all of the fuel hose from the hand primer up to the Mikuni with 6mm hose. Now I reckon that 6mm is probably of large enough diameter to run from the pump to each carb but NOT as the main supply to the pump as it will not supply enough fuel for the engine at high revs for an extended period. So I decided that I’d replace all of the small bore hose that I just mentioned with new 7.6mm.

And know what? After doing so the problem has been solved. The fuel pressure is the like of which I’ve never seen before in the whole of the 11 years that I’ve known this aircraft. I also found more split/perished ends on the old tubing that I stripped out and the bonus is that after switching off, the pressure now only falls very slowly leaving a small residual, as it should. And the pressure now holds up at take off revs without the need of the electric pump, falling only slightly as the throttle is opened wider.

The shocking thing is that this aircraft has been officially inspected several times over the years by different BMAA inspectors for annual Permits to Fly. These inspections are mandatory and are at the expense of aircraft owners and are required for ‘safety’ purposes. None of the inspectors concerned had picked up on this obvious fault which had the potential of bringing down the aircraft as my own experiences had shown.

High speed taxi runs having indicated that I had a normal working fuel system, I just needed to confirm this with an air test. However when I taxied back to the hangar and switched off, the engine kept running so at least one magneto wasn’t earthing. I was 99% certain that the problem was in the dreaded Xair multiconnector which I must have disturbed when I changed the vacuum pipe. It can be a problem in older aircraft and I cut my French Xair’s one off and replaced it with a bunch of single connectors.

It didn’t take too long to sort out the magneto earthing problem – it was in the multi-connector as I’d suspected. It took a couple of goes because in the process when I pushed the two connectors that had moved downwards in the bottom half back in again and remade the main connector, that pushed the two top parts out, which was hard to see, leaving the connections still not made. That multi-connector is a lousy arrangement and if I’d had my tools here I’d have taken it out.

But anyway, all was eventually sorted and I waited until the evening to do an air test as it had been so hot during the day. And I couldn’t believe it. I had a mag drop on one side and I’d gone from having an engine that was all-clear and running perfectly to one with the symptoms of a stator problem – yes, the well-known old Rotax 582 problem. Been there, done that with my old French Xair.

There was a slim possibility that it was due to eg fouled plugs from starting/stopping the engine while I was sorting the mag earth problem. If it turned out to actually be a stator problem I’d be placed in a difficult position, depending on its severity, as revealed during an air test, as I don’t have the tools here including eg a flywheel puller to do the job. And I don’t have a multimeter with me either to check the resistance of the relevant ignition coils. With the weather beginning to slowly collapse looking as though an early departure would be impossible anyway, all that I could do was go for an air test the following day.

Now I am ashamed to say that I have a confession to make. During the air test, at around mid-day yesterday, for the first time in over 50 years since I first began flying I ran out of fuel. I’d thought about adding some before I went off but decided not to as that would give me more time to burn off the old stuff in the tank and when I’d topped up on my return, I’d have had nearly all fresh fuel on board when I did eventually make the flight.

I’d filled up after my last check flight and had done only less than 1/2 hour more when I’d aborted the next one at Faversham but I hadn’t taken into account that I’d done numerous full power test runs since then, plus I’d lost a bit when I’d replaced the fuel hoses – probably more than I thought actually.

I was in such a hurry to get into the air yesterday that I didn’t visually check the fuel contents as I should have done. The result was that I was blithely flying back to Clipgate at 1800 feet about 4 miles north-east of Headcorn when it all went quiet up front. I realised what had happened when the electric pump wouldn’t give me any pressure so immediately declared an emergency (mayday) with London Information with whom I’d previously been in contact (readability 5 on an old 25kHz A20) and stated my intention to ‘land out’ as glider pilots say.

I had a huge choice of fields and well before I landed I told the controller that I’d found a huge field with sheep and goats (so short grass, no crop like all those surrounding it) and that I would be able to carry out a normal glide approach landing, which I did. I couldn’t contact London on the ground so it was a while before I could make a phone call to NATS and in the meantime they apparently had time to launch the D & D helicopter and I was told when I contacted them again later that they’d located me from the position info that I’d given, seen that I was safe and returned to base.

But anyway, no harm done and after adding fuel I got out of the field and back to Clipgate in under 20 minutes. The Xair is not perfect and does appear to have the beginnings of a stator problem. From my experience with my old French Xair I’m certain that it is, however, good for the flight south (whenever the weather allows) and I’m just left red faced.

I always plan to have at least 30-60 minutes of fuel left in the tanks at destination. This is the first time ever that I’ve overlooked my own rule and could have paid the price for doing so – possibly a broken aircraft. I think that I’m paying the price of trying to get an aircraft that hasn’t been flown for several years back into the air with minimum work (because I aim to do a proper job down south). But this was out-and-out my own fault, in some ways brought about by my anxiety before taking off on a ‘make or break’ check flight. No excuses, however. You must never allow yourself to be distracted from the fundamentals. I’ve always believed that and this has brought it home to me in an unforgettable way.

When I called my mayday (in my book, total loss of engine is a mayday, not a pan), the services responded impeccably and nobody should ever be concerned about declaring if facing any kind of emergency. If in doubt, declare. London Info stopped all other traffic while dealing with me and would have continued for longer I’m sure if I hadn’t told them that I’d found a great field and was no longer concerned as I knew I could get in with a glide approach. I even called final just before I landed but couldn’t get them again when on the ground unfortunately.

All’s well that ends well but it’s embarrassing to say the least 😕

June 23, 2020

Too much excitement

I started on the Xair on Monday as planned and all went swimmingly until I came to start the engine and fuel came squirting out of the inlet joint on the rear carb from under the jubilee clip holding the fuel hose. I surmised that the tube end had perished as I’d replaced some of the tubing for that same reason last autumn thinking that I’d be replacing all of it due to age when I eventually got the aircraft to France. Sure enough, this was a small piece that I’d left that had decided to let go over the winter and luckily there was a good length in the scrap bin in the hangar that fitted the bill nicely to replace the piece that had perished.

Eventually I got to start the engine and with the primer pump off, all was well. With it on fuel was still finding its way out so evidently there was still some kind of fuel delivery problem but as there were no leakages while the engine was running under the pressure of its Mikuni fuel pump, I decided that I’d do a longer engine run and some taxi tests with a couple at take off revs along Clipgate’s runway.

I forgot to mention that over the winter someone had walked into the Xair’s pitot and snapped it off. I managed to find an old piece of brake pipe to replace it with but unfortunately when I fitted it there was no one handy to help me check afterwards that the pitot was actually working.

I thought that I’d do it while I was doing my taxi checks. This didn’t happen of course, because there was a tricky little crosswind and I was concentrating more on controlling the aircraft than checking its airspeed, especially when I was doing my couple of hops. Other than that the engine checks including the full power runs went perfectly smoothly. See how each little thing is adding up in the classical way…

Then it was time for lunch after which I thought that I’d do a flight of 1 1/2 hours to clear some of the old fuel that I’d left in the tanks since December so I could put some fresh in and also make sure that the engine was up to the mark for the Channel crossing. I noticed immediately during the take off run that there was no airspeed indicator but as I know the Xair well enough I decided to continue the flight using engine revs and experience and deal with it when I returned. And then, of course, it happened.

I can’t have got to any more than 50 feet (15 metres) or so before the engine began to fade. I immediately pushed the nose down to achieve best climb speed but there was only one problem with that. I had no airspeed indicator. Then the engine speeded up again only to fade again after a few seconds and the cycle then began to repeat itself, so a classical fuel starvation problem. Or was it? What if the engine was getting too much fuel – if that was the case turning the primer pump on could well have killed it completely so as I could hold altitude but not climb, I thought it best to leave things as they were.

I did have options. To the right there were some pretty decent fields where I could put the Xair down but they were in a valley and that would have meant a big derigging job and trailering it back to the airfield, which I didn’t fancy. While I was thinking about it though, although the aircraft wouldn’t climb, it had settled into stable flight albeit at low altitude and low airspeed and I wouldn’t recommend any low hours pilot to do what I decided to do as I know the Xair and its handling characteristics very well. I knew that I’d never be able to complete a full 360 degree circuit and return to land into wind on the take off runway. However, I thought that so long as the engine remained in its present state, I’d be OK for a 180 and a landing downwind.

The upside of this plan was obvious. The downside was that I’d be flying at low level over cropped fields (cabbages I think) and if I was unfortunate enough to go down I thought that I’d walk away but the Xair would get a bit messed up. The other downside was that I’d be landing with a 20kmh tail wind but to heck with it, I decided to go for it.

The strength of the tail wind really only became apparent the closer I got to the runway and I ended up touching down a bit hard about half way down. The Xair bounced a little but the second time I held it down and braked like crazy as the trees at the other end rushed towards me -but no problem that’s what long grass is for at this time of year at the side of the runway. So I ploughed into it and decided that in the last resort I’d broadside the aircraft to kill the speed before arriving at the trees.

But there was no need. One of the chaps at Clipgate was coming dashing down the runway in his car to find out what sort of sticky end I’d come to only to find me taxying calmly back up towards him with no harm done. The funny thing is that I wasn’t perturbed at any time during the whole course of events. Even though I didn’t have an airspeed indicator I’d pushed the nose down instinctively as I’d been trained to. I’d checked out my options and made what I thought was the best choice for me under the circumstances.

But lastly I’d followed the old Bob Hoover maxim – always fly the aircraft the whole way through the crash. He was right and on Monday it worked for me.

Now onto today. It was obvious that I wouldn’t get away as I needed to solve the Xair’s fuel problem and not having brought any tools with me, I went out yesterday to buy a few. This morning I stripped the carbs and finding them as clean as a whistle, I decided to go over the whole fuel system. I found a jubilee clip swinging in the breeze at the exit joint of the electric pump so surmising that that was the source of a pressure loss I tightened it and did another couple of fast short taxies at take off power. Everything looked good, although the fuel pressure was on the low side as it has always been.

The next test was to tie the tail to a heavy object and give the engine a minute at take off and climb out revs. I would have liked to have raised the nose to make it more realistic but couldn’t lay my hands on anything that I could safely put under the nose wheel, but anyway, the test was far from satisfactory. The fuel pressure at full chat was lower than at idle so the Mikuni fuel pump has to be highly suspect. The test indicated that you need the pump on at climb out much like a Group A and that’s not right

I was brave (or reckless) enough to try an air test using the pump as above and the engine was as sweet as a nut. However, I descended over the property of the Xair’s previous owner and had another butt clenching moment climbing away so decided to cut the flight short and head back to Clipgate with the pump on the whole way.

When I was here in the autumn getting 24ZN ready to go I bought a Mikuni refurb kit and thought that I had it with me now, but I don’t. So I’ve got one on order with 24hr delivery and will refurb the pump tomorrow. Hopefully that will then solve the problem and I should have done it when I originally intended to. Will I get away the day after? I’ll have to wait and see. I did 1 hr 20 mins today but there’s no way that it could go down through France the way it is. It’s got to be right and if I get off with just replacing a bit of fuel hose, the pump and the plugs, I’ll have got off pretty lightly I think.

June 22, 2020

Here we go again

If you’re a pilot, what better sight to greet you when you open the curtains of your bedroom first thing in the morning.

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A pretty little airfield and, what’s better, wall-to-wall clear blue sky.

After travelling for nearly 14 hours yesterday I arrived at the airfield in the UK where my ex-pat Xair has been hangared since the first week of December last year. I got my head down in the ‘C’ (for control) caravan for the airfield last night and will be doing so again tonight before hopefully being able to depart first thing for Calais and the Dordogne tomorrow morning.

I had to deal with the tedious formality of the 14 day quarantine period that visitors to the UK are currently having imposed on them. Luckily, one of the exempt categories of traveller is ‘aircrew’ and this was accepted by the UK Border Force without any problem.

The only minor hiccup was that I was told by the Border Force at Calais that you have to submit an entry form before arrival in the UK but that if I did it on my mobile phone I could just show the screen on the UK side. This I did and as ‘aircrew’ I was allowed to depart the port through a side barrier without further ado, which was greatly appreciated. I was also told that I was the first at Dover to give that as my reason for visiting the UK.

Here’s another shot that I took of the airfield first thing when I opened the caravan door this morning.

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My plan today is to do an extended check-flight of 24ZN of about 1 1/2 hours so I’m confident that all is well with her. Then I’ll fuel her up and pack everything on board that I’ll be taking back with me and put her back in the hangar overnight so all I have to do is start her up and get away bright and early in the morning.

The weather forecast looks good and with a bit of luck I’ll do the flight in a day. In quite a bit less time that it took me to do the same journey in reverse by car yesterday, actually.

June 14, 2020

Two new videos

It wasn’t much of a day yesterday – too windy to do very much outside – so I decided to stay home and see what I could make out of the video footage that I shot with my Hubsan Zino the day before. It had started off really dull and cloudy but it brightened up a bit as the morning progressed and I saw the opportunity to get the Zino into the air and take some interesting footage of the low cloud. It was a challenge making anything out of it but considering the weather conditions, it turned out better than I thought it would do and here are the results.

Later that day the sun broke through the cloud, although it still remained quite windy. In my last post I mentioned that I took the opportunity nevertheless to take the Zino to three locations not far away from my home, all in the Vézère valley, and record some more video. These were la Côte de Jord, la Roque St Christophe and le Chateau de Belcaire. In my last post I said that I probably wouldn’t bother making anything out of the footage that I saved but after looking at it, I changed my mind. I had to scratch around a bit to stitch the best bits together but the results are shown below.

It’s not Oscar material by any means and considering that the shooting was only supposed to be experimental, I’m quite pleased with the outcome. I’m also glad to have a video record of the first time that I got an opportunity to fly the Zino further afield than just around the area where I live and I hope that this will be the first such video of many more to come in the future. I’ve already been thinking about possible locations 😉

June 13, 2020

Local drone flying

I had my first opportunity yesterday to take my drone flying further afield than just the area around where I live. Initially I wasn’t very optimistic because the morning started off very dull with extremely low cloud, so low in fact that I took the opportunity to shoot a short video with the Zino that I’ll try to upload to Youtube and post on here later. However, things brightened up massively after that and although it was still a bit windy, not too much for the Zino to be able to cope with though, I decided that I’d take it to three local locations, Côte de Jord, Roque St Christophe and Chateau Belcaire and do some experimental flights.

My thinking was two-fold. Firstly, I wanted to shoot some video at the three locations to get some idea about the shots I should aim for when I return to each one at a later date. Secondly, I wanted to see whether drone flying in public places is likely to attract the ‘wrong’ kind of attention from passers-by and the general public that might create difficulties in the future. And I was pleased with the results on both counts, especially the latter. There were few people around in any of the locations that I chose to fly from but by being discreet I don’t think anyone really noticed, except, that is, for a young couple at Côte de Jord who watched the Zino flying with great interest.

I don’t know yet, but I probably won’t use the footage that I shot for a video as it was a bit ‘random’, but I have lifted a few screen shots from it which are below. First, the Côte de Jord, which is situated high on a ridge overlooking the Vézère valley just to the west of St Léon sur Vézère and is greatly favoured by paragliders when the wind blows from a southerly direction, resulting in ridge lift.

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Basically it just consists of a gap at the side of the road off which the paragliders jump after which they can soar for as long as they want to, while the wind lasts. Although some end up down in the valley, the experienced ones arrive back up-top right where they started from. I flew the Zino out through the gap and over the valley for a distance of a couple of hundred metres or so but didn’t want to go much further because of the wind. Nevertheless, I was pleased with the footage I got and can see the potential for going further when the wind isn’t blowing so strongly.

Then the Roque St Christophe. This is an historic site consisting of cave dwellings in and on the cliff face that has been preserved and is open to the public. Unfortunately, due to the time of day the face of the cliff was in shadow so the resultant video footage was a bit disappointing, as the following pictures show.

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Video shooting wasn’t helped by the fact that with the direction of the sun, I could make out practically nothing on the Zino app on my phone. I think that there’s great video potential there, though and the answer will be to return earlier in the morning, possibly very early, when the rising sun is on the face of the cliff. This would also have the advantage of there not being anyone around making it possible to fly much closer to the cliff face than would otherwise be possible.

And finally, the Chateau de Belcaire. This is a beautiful little chateau perched on a small rocky promontory on a bend overlooking the river Vézère just to the west of Thonac. When you take off from Galinat you fly directly towards it and I’ve taken several pictures of it from the air. However, they’re nothing like what you can get from a drone like my Zino. I crossed over the river at Thonac and flew the Zino from the opposite bank which proved to be a perfect location.

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The pictures above don’t actually do the images on the video justice due to the loss of definition and colour correctness, but they do give a good impression of the chateau and its stunning location overlooking the river.

All-in-all I was very pleased with my afternoon’s results and I’ll definitely be returning to each location in the near future when the conditions are as near perfect as possible now that I have a better idea of the Zino’s potential. Hopefully I’ll then be able to shoot some video worth posting 😉

June 8, 2020

Elegant, stylish, a classic design?

To all three, I don’t think so. But an aid to overcoming sun-blindness? Possibly. While I was flying the Zino yesterday I found that when the sun came out I could hardly see anything on my mobile phone. It’s something that other drone pilots complain about on YouTube but it hardly troubled me while I was flying my little Eachine E16. The reason was that although its ‘declared’ range was 200 metres, anything much above 80 or 90, and sometimes before even, its video signal just fell over and you were flying it ‘blind’ as far as the phone app was concerned, or in reality ‘by eye’.

This doesn’t apply for the Zino. Its range is 1000 metres and I’ve found as I’ve gradually increased the range of flights that I do with it, now to just over 300 metres, that at that distance you can hardly see it, let alone fly it by eye. So being able to see the phone app is essential as otherwise you’d have no idea where you were or what the drone was doing and could easily end up crashing into something. But flying it at that distance is no problem as I’ve found that the FPV (video) signal is rock solid, making it relatively easy to do so – so long as you can see the phone app.

The way I’ve tried to overcome the problem is by making a ‘shroud’ for my mobile phone out of an old cardboard cornflakes box. The endeavour wasn’t helped by having to rescue the box from my recycling having already folded it up to reduce its volume, but the result isn’t too bad as you can see from the following pictures. The first two were my initial ‘prototype’.

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When I took it outside, I found that it shielded my phone from the sunlight by quite a bit, but not enough to be of any real use. So I then came up with the idea of adding a shielding piece across its top to provide more shade.

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It actually works pretty well. I used it when I did my first 300+ metre range flight and could see the screen the whole time, not always perfectly but certainly well enough to have complete control of the drone. I even did my first ‘special mode’ flight with it in place – an orbit around a post that carries a power line in the field opposite my house – that involved putting my fingers inside it and tapping the screen to set it up, activate it and stop it, so I was very pleased about that.

What it now needs is to be painted matt black inside and out, so I’ll have to look in my workshop to see if I have anything suitable and if not, I’ll have to get a spray can from Bricojem in Rouffignac. The other thing I’m pleased about is that although the Fimi controller when it arrives grips the phone differently, it’ll also work with that. So maybe not a classic design – let’s just say more ‘utilitarian’, perhaps 😉

June 7, 2020

My mind is boggled!

After my new Hubsan Zino was delivered on Friday, I naturally wanted to get it into the air as soon as possible. Trouble was, Friday and yesterday too were not the best of days to be flying a drone, as the following shot of the weather that we had on Friday shows.

Bad flying weather

With wind like that it wasn’t really the time to be flying a new drone at all, let alone for the first time, especially as showers also kept rolling in to make things even more complicated and a bit fraught. However, although I hardly dared allow it to get above treetop height, I still managed to get enough brief flights in to see that it was capable of realising all the hopes and expectations that I had of it. Here’s a very (very!) brief video that I made from flights that I did on Friday. It’s not much, just a taster, and many more longer, proper flights will come in the future.

I had the time while the wind was too strong to fly, while the batteries were charging, to load all of the latest firmwares, so when I was able to get it into the air it was totally up-to-date and ready to go. And I was not disappointed! The UHD 4K 30 fps videos I’m getting on my PC are as good as any and better than most I’ve seen on Youtube. The gimbal is rock-solid giving ultra steady videos in even the fairly high winds that I was flying it in and the video quality is simply stunning.

Yes, the drone does ‘move around a bit’ when you first take off and at very low altitudes and we all know why – it has no downward facing sensors. But hey! It’s not for flying around at high speed and performing lunatic antics close to the ground. If you want to do that you choose another model. But if you are looking for what I am, a stable video platform that will do your work justice, you need look no further. That’s what this drone was made for and that’s the role in which it excels.

If I hadn’t ordered and had delivered a number of accessories for my long-awaited Fimi X8 SE 2020 , I’d probably now cancel the order. But I won’t and look forward eventually (soon I hope) to being able to compare the two models. The Fimi will have to do very well to beat the Zino in the role that I want to use it for.

I mentioned in a previous post that I tried to video the whole of the first flight that I did in my Savannah following the easing of the Covid-19 lockdown but only managed to record the first leg from Malbec to Condat-sur-Vézère. Although I’ve done many recordings in the past of the same flight, this one was the first I’ve done on a GoPro mounted inside the cabin. I’ve given a link to it below and if you click on it you can join me for the flight in the cabin with no social distancing and no face masks necessary.

To give an idea of the internet problems we face down here, it took over two days (yes, over 48 hours non-stop!) to upload the video onto YouTube. I’d like to be able to publish so much more material on my YouTube channel but at that sort of upload speed sadly it just isn’t possible. One of the prices we pay for living a life in paradise, I suppose…

June 5, 2020

At last!

I’ve been very patient for a very long time (since the first week of April) and this morning my patience was finally rewarded. There was a knock on my door and outside was our Postie with a small pile of parcels standing on the top of my dustbin, two small packages and one large one. He kept his distance while I squiggled a signature for them (using my pen, he insisted), took them indoors and placed them on my kitchen floor.

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One of the small packages contained the spare propeller hubs for my little EG16 drone that I ordered right back on 4th April and the other an external hard disk enclosure ordered on the 20th of the same month. I’ve rarely seen a post van on our road for the past couple of weeks and I think that the Post might have been keeping packages back if they didn’t have many deliveries until it was ‘economic’ to send a van into our area. But no matter, the contents of neither of the small packages were that urgent.

However, I’ve been champing at the bit to receive the large one because I knew exactly what it contained. Here at last, after all my trials and tribulations of ordering new ones, receiving a dud that I had to return for refund to China, still waiting for another that I ordered on 17th April and ordering yet another that was never delivered and for which I also received a refund, was my first ‘pro grade’ ultra HD 4K drone, the Hubsan Zino that I found on Le Bon Coin at the beginning of this week.

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And when I opened the parcel I was not to be disappointed. Inside was the complete, Zino ‘Portable’ kit that I’d been promised by Carlos, the seller up in the 91 département just south of Paris, and just as he’d said, you couldn’t tell that any of the items in the kit had even been used as they all looked brand new.

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And when I eventually came to take a look at the drone itself, I was pleased to see that the camera lens isn’t totally round but has straight edges on its top and bottom.

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This means that it’s a recent model, which is nice. I’ve already connected the Zino to its controller and my phone and everything worked smoothly. I’ve also taken it outside, run through all of its calibrations and done a brief take off and landing, which went perfectly. However, wouldn’t you know that we’ve got fairly high winds today and flurries of rain, so up to the time of writing, a longer test flight hasn’t been possible.

But maybe that’s a good thing, because it’ll give me time to fully charge the controller and drone batteries and install all of the latest firmware, for the controller, drone flight control software, gimbal and video controller. That way I know that everything should be perfect when I’m eventually able to do a longer flight. Better get cracking then…

June 2, 2020

Drones – the latest twist

I’m spending more time talking and writing about my drones now than I am flying them. The main reason for that is because my mainstay up to this point, the little Eachine EG16 that I bought to learn to fly with back at the beginning of April has let me down.

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It happened about a week ago. Having flown it a couple of times during the day in question, I decided to do one more flight over the field across the road in front of my house. Luckily I’d crossed over the trees between the front of my garden and the road and the drone was heading down the field at a height of not much more than 10 metres or so when suddenly it just flopped uncontrollably down to the ground.

Fortunately the field had only just been mowed so there was a good, soft cushion of grass stubble for it to land on and there was no harm done and as it had never done such a thing before, I was eager to find out why as I walked across to retrieve it. When I restarted its motors it was obvious what had happened – one of them had failed. I thought that maybe an internal plug had come loose or a soldered joint had failed but when I took the drone apart there seemed to be nothing amiss.

So it looks as though I’ve had another bit of bad luck and one of the motors may always have been faulty from day one. Anyway, there’s no point in making a fuss about it with the supplier because if I made a warranty claim, they’d just say to return it to China, which would be totally uneconomic. I’ve just gone ahead and ordered a replacement which has only cost just over 6€ including delivery, but once again I’m back into the wait-30-days-for-delivery mode.

I’d only had the EG16 for less than a week when I decided that I’d like to get more involved in drones and ordered another Eachine model, an EX4, with a better 3-axis stabilised camera, longer battery life and greater range.

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I eagerly awaited delivery but when it arrived I was to be disappointed. I managed to get it into the air on only two or three occasions during which it was terribly unstable and almost uncontrollable and finally it ended up losing its wi-fi connection completely. So I ended up making a claim for a refund against the Chinese supplier and as they said that it would take at least 60 days for it to be processed, I called on the assistance of Paypal to get the matter resolved sooner.

Paypal was about as much use as a chocolate teapot and things got even worse when, after I’d returned the drone to China, having despatched it on 17th April, it became stuck in Chinese customs on 30th April and still is as far as I can see from on-line tracking. The supplier has made no effort to get it freed despite my telling them how to, on the advice of the postal service here in France, and I was therefore becoming more and more angry.

But yesterday there was good news at last. The supplier informed me that they are processing my refund anyway (after I’d pointed out to them that according to statements on their web site, they were obliged to) and my Paypal account confirms this. No thanks to Paypal, though, who after constantly kicking the can down the road and extending the dispute judgement date time after time, later sent me a message saying that they had ‘decided in my favour’.

Let this be a warning to everybody. Paypal customer protection isn’t necessarily all it’s cracked up to be and only does ‘what it says on the tin’ if they decide that it will.

After I’d sent the defective EX4 drone off to China, I decided that as you only get what you pay for, I’d go for something a bit more expensive and hopefully more reliable that would give me the sort of performance and video quality that I’m looking for. After scouring the internet and Youtube, I decided to go for the brand new Fimi X8 SE 2020.

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I ordered it and paid the money to the same supplier who had sold me the defective EX4 and as my dispute with them worsened, naturally I became more and more worried that I might not have done the right thing. The situation became even more acute because the Fimi was on ‘preorder’ as it’s an upgraded model and it seems that not only has manufacture been delayed by the Covid-19 crisis in China, but orders for it have exploded causing a considerable delay.

As at the time of writing, I still haven’t received mine but after the news of my EX4 refund came through, I’m now feeling much more comfortable about that. I did have the option of cancelling the order but I don’t want to do that as the model’s price has already increased due to demand since I ordered it.

When it became clear that I would have to wait several weeks for my new Fimi, I decided that I’d bite the bullet and order yet another drone with an ultra-HD 4K camera. A close contender when I’d decided on the Fimi was the Hubsan Zino H117S which is now a 2-year old design, so quite elderly in drone terms, but is still highly regarded.

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It has proven to be reliable and robust and having been in the market for that amount of time, its firmware has undergone continuous development and improvement to the point that it stands out as having exceptional performance for a drone at its price point. So I went ahead and ordered one on line at what was a very competitive price from a supplier promising delivery in 6-8 working days.

But it didn’t happen. I made allowances for delays resulting from the Covid-19 lockdown but once it got to 2 weeks or so, I was beginning to panic and could see another Paypal refund dispute looming on the horizon. But it turns out that I needn’t have worried. Clearly the supplier had misjudged their pricing and there was no way that they could sell the Hubsan at the price on their web site and make anything out of it. So as well as getting my EX4 refund through yesterday, I also got one for the Hubsan, leaving me right back at square one.

But not quite – there’s a final twist at the end of the story. I was idly scanning the small ads on Le Bon Coin again yesterday evening, which was a bank holiday here in France, and lo and behold I came across two attractively priced Hubsan Zinos, one of which was advertised as ‘in new condition’ with less than 30 minutes flying time. Certainly the photographs backed that up so I acted quickly and got in touch with the seller, up in the 91 département just south of Paris.

I was very cautious as the bogus seller who scammed me on a GoPro a few weeks ago also claimed to be from that area, but I’m sure the Hubsan seller is completely genuine as the details he provided checked out – he is in the on-line telephone directory at the address and with the number he gave. He also had a Paypal account and after we’d spoken on the phone, I went ahead and bought his Zino off him.

Amusingly, he dashed out yesterday with the parcel to catch the post having forgotten that it was a bank holiday, and has sent it off this morning. So I now have a copy of the tracking number and am again waiting for my ‘new’ drone to arrive. But the way the saga has played out so far and given the number of parcels I’ve got backlogged in the French postal system and am waiting delivery of, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if after all this, the new Fimi arrives before the Zino…