July 26, 2020

Back in business

We’ve had some scorching weather over the last few days and although I went across to Malbec to look at 24ZN’s charging problem it was too hot to spend very much time even in the shade in the barn and I didn’t solve it. It was cooler this morning so I went over again and this time got the problem sorted. I suspected that the multi-connector was again the culprit but this time I was wrong. When the battery initially went flat at Dreux on my flight down from the UK I’d found that an in-line spade connector had disconnected itself and after I’d reconnected it, I’d forgotten about it.

But I shouldn’t have. It had become disconnected because it was under strain from having been cable-tied too tightly and when I checked it again this morning it had separated once more. It didn’t take long to clean up both it and its pair that emerge from the stator charging coils and then reconnect and re-cable tie both of them and when I started the engine I was immediately rewarded with a large swing towards + on the aircraft’s ammeter. So job done, and if I’d had some tools with me I could have solved the problem immediately when it arose at Dreux and thus avoided all the hassle and delays at Blois and Le Blanc. A salutary lesson not to be forgotten for long flights in the future.

Here are some shots that I took of 24ZN after I’d done the job. Wim and Sophie’s granddaughter is visiting again this week and she always likes to go for a flight so I think that maybe now its battery charging problem is sorted, I might take her in 24ZN for a change. Mind you, I desperately need to get some air under my Savannah’s wings which has been standing for far too long in the hangar while I’ve been preoccupied with 24ZN and the sale of my much loved old Weedhopper but before I can do that it needs to have yet another thorough clean, which I don’t fancy doing while it’s so hot. Would you believe, we’re expecting 40 degrees Celsius, or even slightly higher, towards the latter part of the coming week.

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Now a change of subject, to my new Fimi X8 SE 2020 quadcopter that I received the day after I returned in 24ZN from the UK and is turning out to be a seriously impressive piece of kit. I’ve posted below a series of images lifted from videos that I’ve shot with it. I must emphasise that although the Fimi is capable of superb 4K videos and still images, these were all lifted as screen-grabs from videos that were shot in 2.7K (1080P) 30 frames/sec format so are nowhere near what the Fimi is actually capable of.

The village of Fanlac is located about 3.3km as the crow flies to the north-east of my house and the following shot was taken as I flew the Fimi towards it. Unbeknown to me, between my house and it there’s a beautiful little walled chateau in a dip that I didn’t know about. Google Earth tells me that the chateau is 2.6km from my house.

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There’s a track that I’ve driven in my Kia and ridden on my bike that runs from north of Le Bos over the hilltops and eventually down to the road between Fanlac and Thonac. I didn’t realise until I eventually recognised the buildings that I was looking at that I was flying the Fimi over that track. The buildings in the next shot are on that track and are 2.3km from my house.

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The next shot is looking back towards where I live.

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This is looking vaguely from above my house towards the east of Rouffignac.

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This is looking from above my house in the direction of Plazac, which isn’t visible because it’s in the valley between the hills.

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To the south-west of my house are located Les Étangs de Fongran, a group of three small ponds in the wooded valley between the hills. The two larger lakes are at a distance of 2.2km from my house.

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This farm, which is 2.3km from my house, is on the track that runs down from Le Bos to the Fanlac-Thonac road. The track runs between the buildings through the farmyard.

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This is the track as it winds its way up towards Le Bos.

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Here’s another shot looking back towards where I live.

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This is a shot taken towards where I live from the direction of Le Bos.

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And to end with, a couple of similar shots taken with my Hubsan Zino. They were taken in 4K 30 frames/sec format and I’ve lightened them a bit, but otherwise not edited them, to make them more similar to the shots taken with the Fimi.

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So where am I now? I have to say, that I love the rich(er?) colours created by the Hubsan but I’m already being persuaded by (a) the Fimi’s greater range (8km compared to the Zino’s 1km) and (b) its longer battery life. The Fimi is rated with a 35 minute battery life which is something like 10 minutes and even more in practise, more than for the Zino. So far I’ve only taken the Fimi to 25 minutes so as to maintain a safety reserve but the extra time already feels considerable.

I can’t legally use all of the Fimi’s range in France (flights must be kept to line-of-sight so the maximum is a kilometre or so) but as I’ve already found, its extra sensitivity is a powerful insurance policy. I’ve only had one disconnection with the Fimi when I was testing it flying at distance behind trees while in comparison, when I shot the video from which I lifted the last two Zino shots above, I experienced a disconnection at only just over 460 metres. That’s quite some difference.

So much as I love my Zino, what should I do? I doubt that I’ll do enough drone flying to justify keeping both quadcopters so maybe I’ll consider selling the Zino on while it’s still in ‘as new’ condition. I haven’t decided yet but it’s certainly something that I’ll have to seriously think about. Another consideration is that the Fimi batteries also charge more quickly than the Zino’s and if I dispose of the latter and buy another Fimi battery from some of the proceeds (I already have two) that will surely give me more video time than I’m ever likely to need.

July 21, 2020

Dream machine?

There have been more twists in the story of my Weedhopper sale than in an Agatha Christie crime novel. I didn’t end up flying it up to Paris last week after all, of which more later, so I hurriedly booked train tickets to London, by SNCF regular train from Brive to Paris Austerlitz, TGV from Paris Gare du Nord to Lille Europe and Eurostar from Lille to St Pancras. The whole journey was not an edifying experience or one that I would wish on anyone, but my findings between the differences between my experiences in France and the UK were shocking.

First of all, what’s going on as a result of government policy. All of the trains that I took in France were pretty full if not packed. As well as family groups and individual passengers like myself there were also several large groups of schoolchildren, presumably travelling back to their homes after camps, school visits or other kinds of school outings.

Passenger numbers were quite high on all of the internal French routes that I took, including the Paris Metro when I crossed the city from Austerlitz to Gare du Nord and the main-line stations themselves were bustling with passengers all wearing masks and behaving responsibly.

In contrast, the leg on Eurostar to London from Lille wasn’t even a quarter full and I wouldn’t have been at all surprised to have seen balls of tumbleweed blowing through St Pancras, Victoria and the London Underground when I transited between the two. So it appears that Boris Johnson and his inept government have succeeded in a few short months in achieving what the Luftwaffe failed to do in all of the years from 1939 to 1945, namely to turn London into a desolate ghost town.

Their juvenile version of Project Fear promulgated by one of the most inept teams of ‘scientific advisers’ to have ever walked the earth has ensured that we may never again see the level of tourism that London once enjoyed, and depends on, and who can blame people for not coming if, almost uniquely among the great cities of Europe, they have to sit in their hotel rooms and self-isolate for 14 days of their stay and then, when they can venture out, find nothing open. No restaurants, cafes, theatres, clubs, pubs, bars… the list goes on. Just go to Paris instead where none of this stuff applies.

And then you have the fares. It cost me 167.60€ to travel from Brive to St Pancras, including the Eurostar leg from Lille (98.60€ from Brive to Paris and from Paris to Lille by TGV and 69.00€ from Lille to St Pancras by Eurostar). It then cost me £4.50 to travel a few stops from St Pancras to Victoria compared to 1.90€ for the same number of stops to go from Paris Austerlitz to Gare du Nord and a shocking £20.20 (described as a ‘Super Off-Peak Day Single’) to go from Victoria to Maidstone West.

The latter I find absolutely appalling, totally indefensible and a shocking indictment of all that’s wrong with the UK rail service. I hope that the management board of South-Eastern Trains rot in the fires of Hell.

Having arrived in Maidstone early Saturday evening, I picked up my car from Clipgate on Sunday and booked a P & O Dover-Calais ferry back to France yesterday afternoon, getting home just before 2.00 am this morning. And boy, what a relief it was to get back again. And what a surprise when I heard a delivery truck outside this morning, saw a GLS van driving away and when I checked my postbox, found the new Fimi X8 SE 2020 drone that I’ve been waiting for since 17th April inside it. Here are a couple of shots that I took after I’d unpacked it and charged its batteries.

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Is it a Dream Machine? To be honest after doing just two or three flights today I don’t know. I was really impressed with its precision landing capability when it landed automatically smack in the middle of the landing pad on the first two attempts and just on its edge on the third. However, I’m more interested in its stability, range and video output quality and whereas the first two were really impressive, albeit on a hot day with practically no wind to speak of, I’m not so sure about the latter.

In ‘Auto’ mode, I know that my Hubsan Zino will respond to the ambient light conditions and with few exceptions, produce stunning videos and still images. I didn’t find that today with the Fimi, which I found a bit disappointing. Take a look at the following two shots that were lifted from a video and are of the same scene taken a few moments apart. The only difference is the position of the gimbal – in the first one shot when the gimbal was raised a tad to include the horizon and a bit of sky, the colours are rich and acceptable if not perfect. In the latter they are washed out and lacking in detail (look at the grass in the left foreground).

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But OK, it’s early days and I have to look closer into the video settings to see what can be done to change things manually, but even so if it is possible to improve the situation, it would be a bit of a pain to have to do it every time you want to shoot a video. I also found the yaw control (rotation) to be a bit too sensitive, starting off OK but then suddenly sending the drone into a quick turn. I’ve adjusted that for my Hubsan and I’ll have to find out, maybe tomorrow, whether I can do the same thing with the Fimi.

And last but not least, my old Weedhopper. I’m not going to say too much here on My Trike, but the new buyer, in my opinion foolishly, asked the workshop at Montpezat to take a look at the engine with the idea of doing any maintenance work that might be necessary. Now bearing in mind that its 503 engine was obtained by me only a few short hours after it had been fully reconditioned, including a new crankshaft, after the aircraft it was on had been blown over in a storm and written off, and that it has done only 100 hours or so since then, I was let’s say surprised, to say the least, when the new buyer told me that he’d got an estimate for nearly 2000€ to rebore the cylinders and replace the pistons, which are both ‘shot’ (the photo he sent me shows a perfectly normal engine in the middle of its life) and that this total could increase even more if when they look further the crankshaft is also ‘gone’.

This engine is fitted with both CHT and EGT gauges and has never overheated. It runs smoothly (for a 2-stroke), has plenty of power, makes no smoke, has no unusual noises and starts easily. Now I don’t know what readers make of this story but I know what conclusion I’ve come to. Before Montpezat, where I flew it to totally trouble-free of course, got their hands on it I would have happily flown it immediately from Montpezat to Malbec to Paris. But not now, after they’ve removed the cylinders.

When you do a 447, 503 or 582 decoke you don’t remove the cylinders without good reason, just the heads to remove the carbon build-up on the piston crowns. The reason is that the highs and lows on the piston sides and cylinders ‘wear in’ and align with each other. This is not so once you remove and replace the cylinders as even the slightest change from their original positions, which inevitably happens, means that the highs and lows create new complementary wear patterns, but still leaving the old ones, thus reducing the engine’s life.

I’m very sad about the latest turn of events and mentioned to Victor, who’s a highly qualified and experienced engineer, that if I’d known of my buyer’s plans, I wouldn’t have sold him the aircraft. But it’s too late now, and for all I know my little ‘Dream Machine’ Weedhopper may never accord with such a description ever again 🙁

July 14, 2020

It’s never over until it’s over

There’s been another twist in the tale of 28AAD, my lovely old Weedhopper. When we first got in contact many weeks ago, the now new owner said that he wanted to do the flight himself from the Dordogne up to the airfield in the north of France where he proposes to keep the aircraft. I said that maybe it was a bit unwise for him to consider such a long flight so soon in his ULM flying career, as not only do such flights require considerable planning but they are also very tiring and demanding of even the most experienced pilots. I therefore said that I would be happy to undertake it for him but he said that he really wanted to do it himself and thought that he’d be able to cope with it after a few hours of instruction.

After having flown 28AAD for a while he now realises how good that advice was and considers that he doesn’t have the experience to do it right now after all. This doesn’t come as a surprise to me and I think that it’s to his credit that he has come to this conclusion in advance, before embarking on what might have become a potentially disastrous event. This, of course, now leaves the problem of how to get the Weedhopper up to the north of France, so it looks as though I’ll be getting another long cross-country flight in it after all.

Victor and Madeleine are leaving for a brief holiday and Victor therefore won’t be around to give me a hand after Thursday. The weather at Montpazat looks as though it might be a bit tricky with local winds and strong gusts coming in tomorrow, so I’m proposing that with Victor’s help I’ll get down to pick the Weed up on Thursday evening to fly it back to Malbec. If the weather then remains according to forecast I’ll then fly it out early on Saturday morning as far as Coulommiers to the east of Paris where I’d expect to arrive at around 1.30 pm.

This is all a bit rushed and not the usual way I go about things but it does have a useful outcome because I could then take the train to Paris and the Eurostar to London, from where I could make my way to see my sister and brother in law again and thence to pick up my car at Clipgate. Whether it will all work out like that we’ll have to wait and see, however 😕

July 13, 2020

The long good-bye

I said good-bye yesterday to my much-loved little French AX3 Weedhopper. I put it up for sale towards the end of last year and the young guy who finally took it over had been waiting since then, initially for the weather to improve and latterly for the Covid-19 travel restrictions to ease. In the end he wanted to come down from Belgium where he and his young family live, last week-end but it wasn’t possible because I was then still in the UK getting ready to bring my ex-pat Xair over to France. Fortunately or plans finally all came together yesterday.

Things started with a minor hic-cup because he flew into Périgueux with friends in a light aircraft and wanted me to take the Weedhopper in there for him to see and try out. Unfortunately I’d inadvertently left the radio kit for it in my car back in England and when I phoned to see if they’d give me permission to go into Bassillac non-radio, the bureaucrat in the office made all sorts of exploding noises over the phone, as bureaucrats do when asked to make decisions about such matters, and told me that they have far too much traffic at week-ends for such a thing to occur. In fact my buyer and Victor, who went to pick him up, said that there was no traffic, no ATC service and everywhere was locked up, as I’d found at most of the destinations that I’d stopped at earlier in the week with the Xair.

But in any case, I’d already decided that the best alternative was for me to fly the Weed into Condat, where there’s a very long, hard, up-sloping runway (so helpful for both landings and take offs) and for Victor to bring him there to see and fly the aircraft with me. And that’s what we did. Here are what will almost certainly be the last shots that will ever be taken of the lovely little aircraft at Malbec after I’d pulled it out of the barn and was getting ready to take off for Condat.

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I got to Condat quite a way ahead of the agreed time so I knew that everything would run smoothly, which meant that I then had to wait in the sun. Here’s the aircraft parked in the beautiful sunshine at Condat, probably for the last time.

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I’d arrived at 11.45 am after a 20 minute flight. It was already becoming quite bumpy by then due to the heat of the day increasing and creating bubbles of lift and while I waited I knew that it would be getting gradually more severe. The young prospective buyer arrived quite some time after the time we’d agreed and while I’d been waiting I’d decided that conditions would be far too tricky for someone not accustomed to them and that although he could walk around and inspect the aircraft as much as he wanted to, to his heart’s content, there was no way that we would be taking it for a flight until things had begun to cool down. And that would be at the end of the afternoon, or even early evening, as the temperature was then already climbing into the mid-30s Celsius.

Victor suggested that the best way to use the time would be to get away and see if we could find somewhere for lunch and although time was getting on, we thought that we might as well give it a try as more amd more tourists are flooding into the area by the day and we’d be bound to find somewhere open. This proved to be a much-loved watering-hole on the bank of the river at St Léon sur Vézère where we were served up with a sumptuous Caesar Salad complete with foie gras, walnuts, gisiers and goat’s cheese. Delicious!

But when we’d finished and said our good-byes, it was still too early (and hot) to go flying, so we took our friend on a lttle tour of the area for him to take a few photographs of some notable places and landmarks while we waited. But eventually we got back to Condat and it was time to take to the air. And for the most part, our young friend did a very competent job. That was until we came to the landing.

I’d sat without taking the controls since after the inital climb-out just giving bits of advice, hints and tips as we flew and he did very well considering he had no experience of the Weedhopper or of any other aircraft like it. We ended up on final a bit too high and fast but it didn’t matter because we had tons if runway ahead of us and at my instigation he confidently stuck the nose down and closed the throttle.

Then we came to the flare and it all began to go pear-shaped as we started by flaring too high and then panicked a little bit and began to balloon back up again. This is a sure-fire recipe for a stall so I grabbed the stick, stuck the nose down and we landed, with a little bit of a bump but not much. Afterwards I asked him how he’d thought he’d done and I could tell from the expression on his face that he wasn’t very happy. He said that he thought that he’d failed miserably on the landing but I said that actually what had happened was quite normal for a pilot coming to the Weedhopper for the first time and that he’d done pretty well.

But then we came to the moment of truth. He had arranged to fly the Weedhopper to Montpezat further south in the Lot-et-Garonne where he was to receive some qualified instruction on it and have an engineer give it a once-over and now he wasn’t confident that he had the necessary experience to do so. I admired him for making such a decision and voicing his doubts, because I didn’t think that he had either. He said that he definitely wanted to still go ahead with the purchase so the question now became how to get both him and the Weedhopper safely down to Montpezat and to that there was only one answer. I’d have to fly the Weed there and he’d have to drive my car so I could get back again afterwards.

I hadn’t made any preparations, of course, but he had the flight loaded into his tablet in Sky Demon. I made him modify it to a dead straight line as it looked from the kinks and bends in it that he was going via every small town and village along the route, but once that had been done, I took off at around 18.55 pm with plenty of time to get to Montpezat in the by-now beautiful evening flying conditions while Victor whipped our friend away to pick up my car.

So there I was setting off on yet another cross-country flight less than a week after the last one. However, it only took 1 hour and 10 minutes and was a total pleasure compared to my last flight in the Xair. I landed at a Montpazat that was bathed in the early evening sunlight but which was all locked up and almost, but not quite, entirely empty of human life. Here are the final shots that I took of the gorgeous little aircraft parked in the same place that I’ve parked all of my aircraft at one time or another, except my ex-pat Xair which will probably end up there at some time in the future, in front of the airfield control tower and main buildings.

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It was some time before the Weed’s buyer also arrived during which I met the instructor who would be taking him for instruction the following day and who came wandering out to look at the aircraft and have a chat. Shortly afterwards the deal was done and 28AAD became his. I then left for the best part of two hour’s drive back to Plazac satisfied that the little Weedhopper had gone to a good home. I’ve since heard today that its new owner is very pleased and is enjoying flying it and that the engineer has given it a big thumbs up too.

I have wished him ‘Bons vols’ in return and just hope that the instructor does a good job and gets him totally prepared for his long flight back home without any incident. I think he will make sure that he is as he seems very sensible and responsible 😉

July 8, 2020

The long flight home

And it was too, much longer than I expected as I’ll go on to explain. Ever since I’d missed my last weather window on 23 June I’d been watching the weather constantly, just as I did last autumn when I was last in the UK and hoping to get 24ZN over to France. But just as then, to no avail because the wind just kept blowing and blowing. Then there were signs of a change and at one time it looked as though the whole of the week commencing 6 July would be suitable for the flight with a good chance even of tail winds.

But as the time approached, the window began to shrink until finally only a tiny window of a single day, Tuesday 7 July, remained and in the light of experience that seemed to me to be highly improbable. What were the chances that the weather forecast could be so spot-on that it would correctly identify the days either side of 7 July as being unsuitable and that just that one day would be good for the flight?

As it happened, the forecasters on this occasion were dead right, much to my amazement I have to say. There were Doubting Thomases at Clipgate who said that I wouldn’t get away at all as the weather was going to deteriorate day-by-day for the whole week, but I kept saying that I trusted what the forecasters were saying and that I would have a window and in the end I was proved right to do so.

Having replaced 24ZN’s ignition stator, I’d been unable to do an air check but I managed to get one in in very windy conditions the day before which showed that its ignition problems had been cured, so that evening I got as much ready as I could and packed it in 24ZN’s cabin ready to go. I also filed my flight plan, GAR form and Schengen entry form so I could make an early start the next day and that I managed to achieve for once, getting away at 7.20 am on a beautiful calm morning. Here’s a shot of the take off.

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I hadn’t prepared myself to take any still pictures, luckily so given what was to come later on in the flight, but I’d set up a GoPro on 24ZN’s wing that recorded the whole flight from Clipgate to Calais, from take off to landing. Here are some shots that I’ve lifted from the video showing my climb out as I approached Dover, and when I say ‘climb out’, actually I was slowly climbing from take off the whole way to mid-Channel by which time I was just under the cloud base at between 4500 and 5000 feet.

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Here’s a nice shot of the port of Dover and its harbour.

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The next shot was taken just as I was coasting out at Dover and with the visibility being so good, the French coast is clearly visible. The usual crossing point that most pilots aim for to coast in at is Cap Gris Nez which is the coastline that juts out on the right of centre. That is the shortest route but I was aiming for a point a bit further to the east, closer to Calais. It would mean being over the water for a few minutes longer but I decided that having reached that far, the chance of anything going wrong was very small and the risk therefore only slight.

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Here’s a shot taken somewhere around mid-Channel. If you click on the image and enlarge it you will see in the bottom left hand corner what I think is a UK Border Force boat standing off from and observing a small vessel with a tiny wake, presumably a rubber dinghy containing illegal migrants.

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The next shot was taken some way further on by which time I had reduced engine revs and was beginning to slowly descend. I’d tried several time to raise London Information without success and I had the same result with Lille Approach so I’d been out of radio contact for the whole of the crossing. I think though, that if I’d had an emergency, I’d have got through on 121.5, but by now I was so content that the engine was running faultlessly that I wasn’t really very concerned.

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Here are a couple of shots taken as I tracked the French coastline flying towards Calais.

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Here’s a shot of the port of Calais and its harbour and in the distance you can just make out the port of Dunkerque.

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Approaching Calais with the airfield on the starboard beam. I’d tried to raise them several times on their published frequency but without success so just continued broadcasting my position as I joined the circuit downwind for runway 24.

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Turning final for 24.

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About to land on runway 24 at Calais.

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Taxying in to parking.

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Parked in front of the terminal buildings which are so quaint and so very French ‘ancien régime’.

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Yours truly removing my life jacket worn for the crossing.

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I went to enter the terminal building only to find that it was locked, nobody was there and that they clearly didn’t expect to be doing much business because on the door was a notice saying to call the number shown to close your flight plan. I rang it a couple of times, it turned out to be in Mérignac, Bordeaux, but there was no reply. This left me with a problem because flight plans have to be closed. I solved it by calling NATS, D & D actually, in the UK who said that they would pass on the information and do it for me.

I then bumped into a couple of people on what was almost a ghost airport. One turned out to be the person I’d spoken to a few weeks before when I enquired about going into Calais and we chewed the fat for a few minutes. Then it was time for me to take off and head off to Abbeville where I had to pick up fuel in order to top up my tanks and the two 20 litre jerricans that I was carrying next to me on the passenger seat in the cabin.

I expected from the weather forecast that there would be a bit of wind on this leg but I was surprised by just how turbulent it was and how much I was buffeted by it. Little did I know that not only would this be the story for most of the flight but that it would also get worse as I proceeded further south. Here’s a shot that I took of 24ZN at Abbeville.

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I was rather annoyed by the service that I received on this occasion at Abbeville. After transferring fuel from my jerricans to top up my tanks, I needed to buy fuel to refill them and get on as soon as I could. But the airfield office was closed and locked and I couldn’t locate anyone to operate the pump. I eventually found the person responsible chatting with a mate and drinking coffee in a hangar some distance away but it took two attempts to instil some kind of urgency in him. By the time I was able to leave I’d lost well over an hour when I’d planned to be there for only 20 or 30 minutes at most.

The next stop was at Dreux where I’d planned to land in order to top up my tanks from the fuel in my jerricans that I’d purchased earlier at Abbeville. Here’s a shot that I took afterwards.

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The process had gone very smoothly and I was all set to get away in double-quick time. Until I came to start 24ZN’s engine, that is, and the battery was too flat to turn the engine over. The airfield at Dreux was deserted and I thought it unlikely that I’d be able to get any help, but I decided to look anyway. And my luck was in, because the ULM hangar door was open and I found someone who had a set of jump leads. He drove his car up to 24ZN and we got the engine started with me in the cabin. He gave me a thumbs-up and I was off and away for my next stop at Blois.

The flight from Abbeville to Dreux and the approach at Dreux were exceedingly bumpy, so much so that I was working stick and rudder the whole time to keep the aircraft on course and in trim. This was the story for practically the whole flight, all very tiring and taxing of concentration. I couldn’t even look at my charts as I was being thrown about so much, not that I needed to as I know from experience that I can rely totally on my Asus tablet and my course pre-loaded in it in MemoryMap. And the constant turbulence didn’t improve at all as I flew on towards Blois.

I had to land at Blois in order to take on fuel for the final legs of the flight so I knew that afterwards I’d have the same problem restarting the engine. The fireman at Blois works the fuel pumps and he was very helpful finding a clean funnel to use to fill my jerricans as I found that the fuel nozzle was exactly the same diameter as the necks of the jerricans. Afterwards I asked whether he could help with jump leads but he suggested that I should ask at the hangar at the other end of the parking area.

When I entered there was a small team working on an immaculate Twin Otter but when I asked if they could help me they jumped into action immediately. And they also wanted to speak English, which was nice. In the event two guys and their manager came with a jump pack that they hooked up to 24ZN’s battery and with me in the cabin, we soon got the engine started. Then as I taxied out to take off, all three of them and the fireman waved me off, probably thinking that this ageing Englishman must be totally mad to be flying in such an aircraft in such weather on such a long flight. But in any case, I was up and away again with Le Blanc my next stop.

I’d incurred yet more delay at Blois due to my battery problem and by now I was running well behind my planned schedule. The lady controller at Blois was very helpful, providing me with winds on both landing and take off in good English of her own volition. There was gliding on the field but when I asked for a left turn-out (the circuit for the runway in use was right hand) she was very accommodating when I said that I’d keep well clear of the field, and so my bumpy flight leg to Le Blanc was underway and I was resigned to being thrown around for the next 1 1/4 hours until I got there.

Le Blanc came into sight and I tried calling them up on its published frequency with no result. Its frequency is shared with another airfield whose name now escapes me somewhere up closer to Paris and although there was plenty of radio traffic from there, there was nothing from Le Blanc. That was until I called overhead the field and announced my intention to join downwind for a landing, when a voice came up warning me that there was parachuting on the field.

I replied that I’d keep a good lookout then landed and taxied to the apron, past the fuel pumps to where two guys were talking outside the main hangar. I told them of my battery problem and one of them, an elderly gentleman, said he’d sort out help and some jump leads. It turned out that he was the only help and conversation revealed that he was over 90 years old.

After I’d finished the fuel transfer from the jerries to the tanks, he drove his car out of the hangar to hook the jump leads he’d obtained to 24ZN’s battery. Unfortunately they were rather short and we ended up with the front of his car under 24ZN’s prop and the jump leads attached to the starter solenoid (+ve) and an engine earth (-ve). I insisted on being involved outside the aircraft so we had to find some chocks and after we’d got the engine running I removed the jump leads so he didn’t need to get near the moving propeller. Then he moved his car and after I’d got into 24ZN he pulled the chocks away and I was off, destination Malbec.

By now I was hours behind my planned schedule and as I needed to fly around Limoges controlled airspace in two legs each of an hour, I was beginning to worry that I might not arrive at Malbec while it was still light. But I needn’t have worried. Firstly, as it was by now early evening and the air was cooling, there was little or no turbulence to contend with, making the flight so much smoother than it had been up to the time I’d landed at Le Blanc. Also there must have been a change in the wind, because I found as I flew on that I was making up time on both of the planned flight legs.

As a result I arrived at Malbec shortly before 9.00 pm local time while there was still plenty of daylight. With the airfield in sight, I couldn’t wait to get down and sneeked through the narrow corridor between it and Fleurac, pulled a tight turn onto a short final and dropped down for a perfect short field landing. I tried to move 24ZN off the field but was unable to do so due to the slope so decided to leave it in the mowed area at the top of the runway. It was just a pleasure to get out at last knowing that I wouldn’t have to climb back into the cabin because after so long on a barely cushioned Xair seat my backside was aching.

My good friend Victor had previously kindly offered to give me a lift home and he was soon there after I gave him a call. We shifted a couple of the concrete tie-downs that I made a few weeks ago to secure 24ZN overnight but there wasn’t enough time to sort out its outdoor covers. That didn’t matter though, because we knew that the night was going to be calm and clear. And what a relief it was to load my stuff into the back of Victor’s car and finally head off home after a flight that had taken 11 1/2 hours, but only after I’d enjoyed a beer and a meal that Madeleine kindly served up for me.

Finally, here are some shots of 24ZN in its new home, taken today actually.

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I think that it looks pretty good after the flight it’s just made, and all I did was clean its screen with a few squirts of Plexus polycarbonate cleaner. Its battery is now being charged and I’ll obviously need to look into the reason why it wasn’t being charged during the flight. I’m 99% certain that it’s yet another problem with that ruddy multi-connector – in this case one of the yellow power leads emerging from the stator isn’t making a connection. I was unable to check that at Clipgate and unfortunately it went the wrong way for me. If my guess is correct, it won’t take long to put it right.

In my next post I’ll talk about how things worked out time and fuel-wise against my plans and projections. Just one last thing though. I’ve decided that this is definitely the last long flight that I’ll do in a slow ULM. Am I getting to old for it? Maybe…

July 7, 2020

Job done!

my Ex-pat Xair is now safely tied-down in her new home at Malbec. Today’s flight from Clipgate Farm to the Dordogne was one of, if not the most horrendous long-distance flight that I’ve ever done. But I’ll tell more tomorrow. Now I just want to take a shower and fall into bed where I’ll probably sleep for a week.

July 6, 2020

On your marks!

I’ve just downed my last microwave dinner (Chinese style sweet and sour chicken and egg fried rice) which was OK actually. The best of all the Asda supermarkets microwave dinners – I know, as I’ve tried them all. The evening outside is lovely. The howling wind that we’ve had to live with, non-stop day after day for nearly two weeks has dropped to practically nothing and I’ve had to open the caravan windows and doors as I type this as it’s so hot inside.

I wish the wind had dropped earlier this afternoon when I took 24ZN for its final air test. I’d been unable to do so before, after doing the work on its ignition stator, and although I’d done a ground run, which indicated that all was back to normal, I dearly wanted to check things out in the air. After all, with a Channel crossing planned only a few minutes after I take off from Clipgate, you can’t be too careful.

The forecast said that the wind wouldn’t drop until the early hours so when it dropped sufficiently this afternoon for me to take off, I took the opportunity. Ideally I’d have preferred not to have flown because it was still pretty breezy and bumpy at altitude and although I did 25 minutes and got back down safely in the teeth of a rather nasty gusting 80 degree crosswind that was rolling over the trees, I found that the work I’d done had been successful.

There was one thing though. Previously London Information had checked 24ZN’s old 25 kHz radio as ‘readabilty 5’ after I’d fiddled with the volume and squelch and the signal I heard in my headphones was pretty good. Now, although I could hear stations adequately, but not well, I was being dogged by a loud buzzing that rose and fell with the Xair’s engine.

This is invariably a sign of a simple ignition problem eg a bad HT lead, and indeed I’d checked them previously and found that one pulled easily out of its Ducati ignition unit and had an inner that looked burnt. This is a sign of arcing and although I’d intended to replace all the plug leads when I got to France, I thought that it would be better to do that particular one now.

So when I popped out to get a drop more fuel, of which more in a moment, to top up my jerrican after topping up the tanks when I’d landed, I also picked up some HT lead from a motorbike store which is just down the road on the way to Dover. And I’m delighted to say that it has 99% cured the problem, which is a relief as I’ll have to used the radio when I’m approaching the airfields in France where I’ll be landing.

And finally, the fuel angle. I was a bit worried while 24ZN was suffering from its stator problem because of the rate at which it was using fuel. 7 or 8 litres in the 20 minutes that it took to get back to Clipgate after running out the other day, or something like 20-24 litres/hour, would not only have thrown my fuel calculations for the flight into disarray, it would have meant a complete re-think as they were based on the much more usual 582 Xair figure of 15 litres/hour.

I’m glad to say that after my 25 minute afternoon check flight, despite being somewhat battered by the wind with revs and altitude rising and falling all the time, it only needed 7 litres to top the jerrican back up again, which compares perfectly to the 15 litres/hour figure that I’ve assumed.

So now I’ve got to load the two jerricans and as much else as I can this evening into the Xair, mount a couple of video recorders as I want to record the flight out of Clipgate to Calais, check that my phone and the GPS I’ll be using for navigation are charged up and see about turning in early for a good night’s sleep, because tomorrow at around 7.00am it’ll be get set and go in quick succession and the Xair’s flight to its new home will have begun. Can’t wait 😉

July 5, 2020

Still waiting

This is exceptional weather. Not for November maybe, but certainly for July, in what should be mid-summer. The exceptionally strong south-westerly wind has been blowing relentlessly for many days now, for what seems like forever actually, although it can only be something like a week or so. It just seems like forever when your life is centred on a caravan, albeit on an airfield, and your horizons are limited to a few hundred yards because it’s not only windy outside but also pouring with rain, as it has been for much of the last couple of days.

Fortunately though, I’ve been treated to some pretty good company here at Clipgate, thanks to Brian and Paddy who have been working on their Jodel, Ron who has been providing them with moral support, Mike who has been working on his Thruster that he acquired in circumstances similar to my Xair and which is turning out to be a gem, Gary who has been fettling his Jodel and Mike who is busily and assiduously restoring what will ultimately be a magnificent and unique Ford Cortina Mk II.

Interestingly, Mike and I were told that Paddy has had a three-quarter extension since last Christmas and it was lucky he did do, because it saved his knuckles… Mike and I looked at each other and burst out laughing, but it turned out that Paddy was referring to an item from a socket set that he’d borrowed and hadn’t had a chance to return to the lender 🙂

My role has been mainly to keep the mugs of tea coming but in doing so, my efforts have been well-rewarded in terms of the camaraderie and banter that have come my way as a result. Great stuff, the best of what light aviation has to offer and what being a member of the light aviation community in the UK is all about.

Having said that the weather over the past few days has been, quite frankly, appalling it still looks as though my window allowing me to depart this coming Tuesday is still a good probability. As of this morning, the forecast winds are not quite as favourable as they were previously with some headwind elements in the northerly sector from Canterbury as far is Dreux in northern France, but nothing to trouble or upset my planning calculations. So I’m still hoping to get away at around something like 7.00 am local time and although I’m not quite desperate as yet, I would like to think that I will be back home in France some time in the near future.

July 3, 2020

Looking ahead?

Looking out of the caravan window I see a sunny blue sky interspersed with stratus cloud which would make for a great flying day, except for one thing. The ruddy wind is still buffeting and gusting making it highly inadvisable to take off in a microlight, or ULM, like 24ZN, let alone consider undertaking a flight such as the Channel crossing.

The reason is pretty clear – it’s our old enemy, the Jetstream, which is playing its usual destructive games through being far farther south than it ought to be at this time of the year, almost covering the whole of the UK, as the following image of its status this morning shows.

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And the forecast is for the winds to strengthen yet again over the coming week-end making flights in light aircraft, in the south of the UK at least, virtually impossible and we can see why from the forecast for how the Jetstream will be lying across the country on Sunday, as shown below.

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However, things are forecast to improve dramatically by Tuesday when I hope to be setting off on my flight to France in 24ZN with favourable winds the whole way down to the Dordogne. Here’s what the Jetstream is forecast to be looking like then.

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You can see from the arrows on the isobars how the wind is expected to swing around creating the tailwind components that are forecast for that day and I hope that this will be so in reality. Here’s the picture as given by another independent forecast on windy.com, the web site to which I turn for my longer en-route forecasts.

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To my untrained eye, the changes in the Jetstream that are forecast over the next few days look to be only slight and quite subtle and it’s a surprise to me that they could result in such a large change in the surface wind. However, I’m placing my trust in the meteorologists who have been running and refining their computer models over a great deal of time and are by now pretty confident in the forecasts that they produce. In any case, I have no option other than to go along with them, but it still doesn’t stop me from crossing my fingers in the meantime 😉

July 1, 2020

Chateau Clipgate

I arrived here at Clipgate Farm on the evening of Sunday 21 June having travelled for 13½ hours and I was glad just to have anywhere to lay my head that night. It had been agreed that I’d doss down for a couple of nights in the airfield Control caravan after which I’d be happily flying off to France, but it hasn’t worked out that way of course.

I’m still here after 10 days or so and it looks as though I’ll be remaining here for a few days more but although I’m still in the caravan, I’m not complaining too much. When I arrived, going into the caravan was a bit like going on the Ghost Train at the fairground where you travel through a darkened tunnel and what feels like cobwebs keep brushing your face. The thing was in the caravan, these were real!

If I’m honest, although it was suffering from having been unused during the Covid lockdown, I don’t think that it had been cleaned, like most airfield caravans and huts, for quite a while (years?) prior. I didn’t fancy the prospect of having to put my shoes on to go for a pee during the night so shortly after I arrived, when I knew I was going to be staying for longer than expected, I decided that having nothing better to do, I’d give the whole caravan a clean right through.

And I’m glad I did, because since then I’ve been more than comfortable as it has a fridge and a microwave, both of which needed a good old clean-up before they could be used mind, plus I can get 4G internet on my phone, albeit a bit sporadically occasionally as we’re in the countryside, so I can get a good internet connection most of the time on both it and my laptop.

Here are some shots that I took of my abode this morning and as you can see from them, I’m not suffering too much by being here.

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We’ve had a lovely day today – blue skies with scudding cloud but too windy to think about flying. I couldn’t initially anyway as after completing the installation of 24ZN’s new stator I still had some connections to make, including its dreaded multi-connector. So the first job this morning was to nip into Halfords at Canterbury to pick up yet more tools and bits and pieces, all of which I have back home in France, but which were essential to get the job completed. Then I was able to complete the stator installation.

All went smoothly. I had to remake the magneto earth connections twice in the multi-connector before I could get the engine to shut off after ground running it but in doing so I effected a very good repair of the multi-connector itself which I was very happy with. The ground run showed that I now have mag drops that are spot on and full take off revs so taken all round, I’ve now got the engine to be as good as it can possibly be for the Channel crossing and the flight down through France.

In fact, having now overhauled both the fuel and ignition systems, which I was going to do after I’d arrived home in France anyway, the Xair’s engine is better than it has ever been even since before its previous owner sold it all those years ago to the friend from whom I acquired it.

Here are some shots that I took today after I’d finished, cleared up and given 24ZN a bit of a polish. I’m pleased with how it’s come up and think that it looks very tidy now that everything is neat and cable-tied.

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So 24ZN is as ready as it’ll ever be, and much more so than previously, for my flight over to France. The question is when will that be? A day or so ago, it looked as though Friday might be an option but I didn’t like it much as much of the flight would have been into a headwind. Now it looks as though it won’t be on anyway due to unacceptably high winds in the far north of France, so I’m looking a bit further into the future.

At the moment, Tuesday and Wednesday of next week look as though they could be ‘golden days’ with light to moderate tail winds the whole way which would save me over an hour’s flying time compared to Friday. So now it’s just a matter of waiting and seeing how things turn out. I’ve been here before – several times – and this time I hope that the weather gods do play ball and I am able to get away at last with a fair wind on my tail 😉