April 4, 2020

Oh dear…

I’ve been having a brilliant time learning how to fly my little Eachine EG16 drone over the last few days. I’ve got to be careful, of course, not to offend my neighbours because I don’t want them to think that I’m flying over and around their homes snooping on them. The trouble is that these are not normal times and I’m limited to flying it just from my garden being unable to go elsewhere more open and less intrusive because of the strict Covid-19 lockdown that we’re subject to here in France.

As an aside before I get back to my drone flying, I received a message today fom FFPLUM, the French ULM/microlight association of which I’m a member, that’s equivalent to the BMAA in the UK (except much superior) saying that we pilots have now been granted a derogation by the DGAC here in France (equivalent to the CAA in the UK) to be allowed to go out once a month to run the engines of our aircraft for 20 minutes.

We have to carry a copy of the derogation with us plus a copy of the normal ‘attestation’ saying why we’re outside our homes and what time we left, so there are strict rules being applied nevertheless. Even so, it’ll mean that I’ll be able to ‘legally’ go out twice to run the engines of my Savannah and my Weedhopper.

But back to the drone flying. I’ve shot a video every time that I’ve flown (except when I’ve forgotten to switch it on) so now have quite a bit of footage. However, because of the pathetically slow internet that we have down here, it would be a waste of time trying to upload it to You tube because if I did, I’d probably be here until the end of the lockdown!

So what I’ve done is grab images from the videos themselves, a selection of which are shown below. It must be understood that these are NOT drone images, which would be of much higher quality (4K actually). If I’d done that I’d have had to keep stopping the video, taking a still and then starting it up again and life is just too short to keep doing that at the moment 🙂

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And finally, early this evening, a hard lesson was learned. Consider this equation…

Novice + Over Confidence = Disaster

The next three shots are a sequence that happened within a few seconds of each other. Note the proximity of the tree with yellow leaves in the next image.

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Note how much closer it is in this one!

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And this is the final frame taken from the video that was being shot at the time – a shot of my neighbour’s house taken after the drone had come to rest at the end of a branch some 10 or so metres up 🙁

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Although the video link was working on my phone at the time, I had my back to the lowering sun and couldn’t see the image on its screen. Consequently I was judging, or more correctly misjudging, the drones position compared to the tree from a short distance away by eye. Evidently it was not as far to the side of the tree as I’d estimated – not to the side at all actually.

Luckily, it wasn’t a complete disaster. I succeeded in getting it out of the tree undamaged and without a mark on it using the plastic chimney cleaning rods that have been lurking in the corner of my workshop for ages just waiting for an opportunity to spring into use. The only thing was that when I retrieved it I found that one of the little shiny metal caps that fit on the tops of the propellers had been knocked off when it originally collided with the mercifully very thin and light branch in the tree.

Unfortunately, although the drone comes with a few spares, these don’t include even one of these caps, which I think is a bit remiss of Eachine really as they must be near the top of the list of things that will get lost. So I’ve had to order a set of 4 that cost peanuts (the postage is more expensive thatn the caps) but as they’ll be coming from China, they’ll take about 3 weeks to arrive.

And, you’ve guessed it, yesterday I put my EG16 on Le Bon Coin describing it as in ‘as new’ condition, but with a little cap missing, I can’t really do that. So I’ve had to delete the ad for the time being. Not a big deal because as my new upgraded drone didn’t arrive today so will probably do so on Monday, that will then become my main focus of interest and the EG16 will just remain in its box. Pity though 😕

April 2, 2020

Like a boss!

Well, not really, but it’s amazing how much difference a day and a bit more confidence can make. Today I’ve been making a much better job of flying my new Eachine EG16 drone and getting some pretty good results. No videos in this post as quite honestly, it takes far too long uploading them to Youtube with the internet being as slow as it is down here so although I shot quite a few, I’ll save any uploads to later when I’ve got more to show for it.

Having more experience and a bit more confidence I ventured a bit higher and further today than I did yesterday. I was very disappointed to find that when I did, without going to anything like the sort of limits that the drone is supposed to be capable of its WiFi signal dropped out and the image in the app on my smartphone then hung. After that, although the video kept running, I had no idea what it was actually shooting and just had to aim it by eye from the ground.

I don’t know whether the problem was with the drone’s signal being a bit weak or my phone not being sensitive enough but it was annoying because with the problems I’m already having with getting the app started in any case, it was impossible to reestablish the connection. BTW, I’ve found that if I get my phone to ‘forget’ and ‘rediscover’ the drone’s WiFi every time, it links fine, but it’s an annoying rigmarole to have to go through.

The results were pretty good on the whole when I was flying blind, but that’s not the point, is it. On a couple of occasions also, I’m not sure what I did but somehow the videos in question were corrupted and wouldn’t play on my computer. I think it was because I’d switched the drone off when back on the ground having left the video recorder running, but I’m not sure. I just chucked one away but as an experiment, downloaded the necessary software from the internet and recovered the other one. It suffered no harm whatsoever, so that was good to know.

The last bit of news is that I’m so struck with the idea of video recording using a drone that yesterday, on day 2, I already ordered an upgrade. I’ll need better battery life than the EG16 offers as well as a better distance capability both for security and to be sure of getting the sort of shots that I have in mind in the future. But that’s all I’m going to say for now and I’ll tell more when the new, improved version arrives in a few days time 😉

April 1, 2020

My new drone – first impressions

I had a good time flying my new Eachine EG16 drone yesterday afternoon. Not too many spills (the first time I made it take off I hadn’t set it up properly and it flew round-and-round in circles and finally into a tree – without damage luckily) but quite a few thrills. I’m easily excited in my old age 🙂

I’ll do a post with more details later on but for the time being, here’s a short video that I put together from the various clips that I shot during the afternoon and gives my first impressions, which are pretty favourable.

The wind was quite strong and gusting so although the video bumps around a bit as a result, the drone did a pretty good job of keeping its position using its on-board GPS. I’m pleased with the video quality, especially given how much I paid for the kit.

I’m actually already thinking of ordering my next model as an upgrade and putting this one onto Le Bon Coin while it’s still new. I could well get more for it than I originally paid, as I had a 30€ coupon that brought the cost to me down considerably.

Boys and their toys eh… 😉

March 31, 2020

Awesome! Let’s play

Yipee! My newest toy arrived this morning, a day earlier than expected, which was nice. It’s an Eachine EG16 ‘Wing God’ drone and I can’t wait to start playing with it. And with a name like that I’m expecting it to be something a little bit special!

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And it is – as far as it goes. Although it has some amazing features, it’s by no means a ‘professional’ type drone even though it has a high quality 4K remotely controllable video camera on board. While I’ve been waiting for it to arrive, I’ve been watching a few reviewer videos about it on Youtube and although it comes highly recommended, it’s really only at the top of the ‘toy’ end of the drone range, which is much more extensive than I originally thought.

Here’s a shot of what came in the box. There were some other bits and pieces too, like a USB charging cable, a set of spare props, a set of prop guards (which I’ll try to avoid using as apparently, according to the ‘experts’, they slow the drone down and also needlessly waste energy) and a lttle screw driver.

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The basic drone only comes with a single battery which is claimed to give a flying time of 15 minutes. However, all of the Youtube reviewers say that it’s more like 10 minutes, so I ordered two extras giving me a total flying time of 30 minutes. Here’s a shot of the drone with its arms unfolded in ready-to-fly mode.

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Although it’s possible to use the controller to take off and fly the drone ‘blind’, this is not how it’s done and it wouldn’t open the door to all of the delights that the little Wing God has to offer. Much like my new GoPro, there’s an app that it connects to via your smartphone which is mounted on the controller and shows you exactly what the video camera is seeing allowing you to start and stop recording exactly when you want to.

It also lets you control all of the other drone facilities that I’ll go into in detail in my next post when I get the chance to start flying it after I’ve charged all the batteries up – 8 x AA so I have two sets of controller batteries and 3 x drone batteries that each take just over 2 hours to charge from standard USB ports. I’m also using my fast phone charger that will get one up and running a bit quicker enabling me to get my hands on the drone controls sooner than would otherwise be possible.

I’ve been thinking about getting a drone for a while and now’s a good time as I can’t fly ‘properly’ in my aircraft and flying the drone is the next best thing. It can also be flown from my garden at this time of self-isolation. I’ve been admiring drone videos on Youtube for some time, especially those taken by other aircraft pilots before they take off and after they’ve landed at their destinations, so hopefully with time and practise I’ll be able to do the same. I’ll have to wait and see… but now it’s time to go off, read the fairly extensive manual that came with it and get going!

March 26, 2020

My goodness, my GoPro!

I’ve mentioned many times in lots of posts here on My Trike how I’m sick to death of being constantly let down by my cheap Chinese sportscams. These are little video cameras that are supposed to do (almost) what GoPros do and should shoot 4K or thereabouts quality videos of flights in my various aircraft when I’ve set them up either in a mount on the wing or in the cabin.

In fact what they’ve been doing almost every time just lately is just record a minute or so of video before switching themselves off which is incredibly disappointing when you’ve just done a flight and expected to have recordings of both the landing and takeoff, which you can hardly then go off and do all over again.

It became so frustrating actually that I decided some time ago that I would invest in a proper GoPro which hopefully would never let me down and initially I looked to see what was on Le Bon Coin, the French free-ads web site. Unfortunately, having found what I was looking for, I then let my guard down for the very first time and allowed myself to be scammed by a dishonest advertiser who took my money and never delivered the goods. I made it too easy for them so decided that I’d just have to bite the bullet, as it would be a waste of time and effort trying to trace them, and not to let it happen again.

I then ended up returning to the old faithful, Ebay, where buyer protection is much better and in fact found what I wanted on the UK web site where I ended up acquiring a brand new GoPro Hero Black 7 for an incredibly good price. I had to get it sent to my family in the UK who then had to forward it on to me and after nearly a week, it arrived today at about 10.45am. And already as I type this around mid-afternoon I’m blown away by it and a complete GoPro fan!

Here’s a shot of it with the cradle that it comes with mounted on a stick that I got with one of my cheap Chinese imitations.

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I’d already heard about the GoPro app so after I’d charged the new arrival up, I logged into it on my phone and switched it on. It connected immediately, no drama, no fuss, and initially I thought that it would be an interesting ‘extra’ just to play with. However, I then discovered that the app can be used to control the Go Pro and here’s a shot that I took with the GoPro aimed out of my window across my front garden and the image that was being transmitted onto my phone and sure enough, by touching the circle on the right of the screen, I could start and stop video recording.

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But that wasn’t what made my jaw drop in amazement. You could also turn the GoPro off and on again from the phone. I thought that after it was turned off, the GoPro would lose its connection, but it doesn’t. You can turn it back on again and then restart video recording, and this has amazing implications for how I want to use it.

For any flight, the take off and landing are the most interesting parts and although you want to video bits from time to time during the flight as ‘filler’ material, the beginning and end of the flight are the most important. But a battery only lasts for an hour or so, so even if you do get the take off, if you can’t turn the camera off, it would normally have gone flat long before you get to the landing. But the GoPro app gets around this problem – totally! With it it’ll be possible to record a take off, switch the camera off to save the battery, switch it on again a few times to record the en-route ‘filler’ material and on again finally to record the landing.

I’ve already ordered some extra batteries and a protective case and can’t wait to give it a go, but with this Covid-19 virus thing hanging over us, who knows when that’ll be. The only up-side is that when I do get around to using my new GoPro 7 properly for the first time, I should know it and its features inside-out, so no excuses for any cock-ups!

March 23, 2020

Er, yessss……

I want to make a towing handle for the ex-pat X-air for when I do eventually manage to get it to France. The one I had made for the Savannah has proven to be very useful and effective and even though I might only have the X-air for a few weeks or months, being able to move it around using a towing handle will be equally valuable.

I bought the steel tubing for it a few weeks ago and tried to get someone to send me the measurement across the X-air’s forks so I could go ahead, but without success, so although I can’t fabricate the complete towing handle in advance, I can make a start, albeit a small one, while I’m hanging around at home, by attaching the handle to the main bar. So that’s what I did today.

I bought a cheap mini Chinese electric welder some time ago but apart from doing a test weld on an old mower blade, I haven’t had the chance to try it on anything else. So welding the towbar’s handle would be my first real test. I started by setting up my Workmate in my workshop with a thin plate of metal on its worksurface to which I clamped the two pieces of tube that I wanted to weld after I’d cleaned and prepared them and then I got started.

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The next few shots show the final results after I’d (ahem) cleaned the welds up a bit to make them as presentable as possible.

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I learnt a few things along the way, mostly from what went wrong.

* Work in good light. I didn’t and ended up with some welds on the metal above or beside the joint and not on the joint itself. You need to see clearly where the end of the welding rod is touching the metal to be joined when you strike the arc.

* Don’t turn the current up too high. I got frustrated and did so while trying to get the arc to start and quickly burnt a hole through 2mm wall tube even with a small diameter welding rod. My little welder goes up to 200 amps. I reckon that’s enough to weld a plate on the side of a ship. 60 amps was plenty.

* When you’ve started welding don’t stop. If you do it’s hard to get a nice clean restart on the line of the weld. I might go back later and see if I can over-weld and clean up the joints I did today.

I’m afraid that the results leave a lot to be desired so I’ve still some way to go before I’ll be able to produce decent quality welds but what I’ve got will be perfectly OK for what I need and won’t look too bad with a coat of paint. It’s just a pity that I can’t do anymore without the measurement that I need as I’d have liked to see the whole job through in one go. That makes cleaning the cars the next Covid-19 job 😉

March 21, 2020

Update

We here in France have been under total Coronavirus lock-down since mid-day last Monday for a minimum of 15 days, meaning that all schools, universities, restaurants, bars, clubs and non-essential commercial activities have been closed and have ceased to trade. Only essential services have continued – pharmacies and health establishments, food shops, tobacconists, petrol stations, the post office – all other customer-facing commercial activities have been made to close except businesses with web sites are still taking orders and making deliveries.

Deliveries ‘direct to home’ continue but those services that used local ‘points de relais’, typically small shops where your packages are dropped off and you go to pick them up, have ceased to operate because the businesses operating as the ‘relais’ are shut.

The general public everywhere has been required to stay at home with the exceptions of those working in essential services or working in ‘closed’ businesses as above, who require an ‘attestation’ signed by their employer to allow them to travel there and back. Everyone else is only allowed to leave their homes to buy food and other essential items, seek medical care, take exercise in the area close to their homes, care for members of their family or look after farm animals and when they do, they must take an ‘attestation’ signed by themselves with them to show why they are away from home.

It is not quite as onerous for us here in the countryside compared to those in the towns and cities. For a start, we are in the open air in wide-open spaces and we do not live in close proximity to each other in any case. So although the restrictions have not been widely disregarded, a few people have been taking the opportunity to sneek out from time to time and deal with personal matters.

I myself did so yesterday in order to mow the runway at Malbec while the grass is dry before rain, which is forecast as from Sunday afternoon, returns and makes it impossible. Our hope is that when the restrictions are raised, we won’t be left with a runway that’s unusable because the grass will be too long and thick with weeds.

The weather was lovely while I was working and it was very disappointing not to be able to take a flight in either the Weedhopper or the Savannah. I got the Savannah’s vertical trim working again several days ago after an electrical connection had pulled off and it would have been nice to feel again how it flies now it’s been fixed. I’ve also had a new oil temperature gauge ready to be installed in its panel for some time and may well sneek out again to fit it if the restrictions are extended beyond the 15 days, which are planned to end on April 1.

Annoyingly, the potential buyer of my Weedhopper who has been waiting since the end of last year to come and see it is also as desperate to do so as I am to sell it in view of the fact that I’d like to have the space in the barn vacated by the time I eventually get to bring my ex-pat X-air over from the UK. But he’s unable to travel, of course. As for the latter, who knows when that will now be.

Flying is restricted in France and all local airfields have been closed under the government’s emergency powers affecting movement of people so it would be impossible now to make the flight south even if the weather was suitable. Usually the sky over my house is full of aircraft vapour trails in the airways that criss-cross France but with the skies as clear and blue as they currently are, I’ve noticed that there are now practically none and flightradar24.com confirms this.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I began buying in provisions ready for possible self-isolation some time ago and without ‘hoarding’, I am prepared and will be pretty comfortable for the proposed duration of the emergency measures here in France. I’ve also got a few projects to occupy myself with but what is frustrating for me and for everyone else I think, as that we’re all marking time and it’s all such a terrible waste of our lives. However, those of us who see it through to the other side will be the lucky ones because inevitably there will be many less fortunate who will not do so.

In the meantime in our area we can enjoy the silence of the countryside, broken only by the occasional tractor as a farmer goes about caring for his animals, the sound of the birdsong and the clean, fresh air. Idyllic under normal circumstances, but these, of course, are not normal circumstances and we all look forward to the time when we can live our lives again in total freedom unencumbered by the restrictions that have been forced upon us. And that day cannot come soon enough.

March 15, 2020

Dilemma resolved and today’s job

As often happens, the dilemma with which I was faced was resolved for me rather than by me. The deciding factor was that anti-Coronavirus measures in both France and the UK are being racheted up to levels whereby undertaking a trip between France and the UK just isn’t worth it at the moment. The hassle involved is just too great, not to mention the risk of doing so also. The infection curve here in France is ahead of that in the UK and the clamp-down on public free movement was becoming more stringent and the advice being given out, especially for older people, more severe. There is a strong possibility that France will close its borders adding further complications, so I had already made my mind up not to travel yesterday when I decided to go to Brico Depot on the outskirts of Périgueux to get what I needed for the job that I had planned for today.

And lucky that I did, because out of the blue after I’d done so there was a government decree closing all retail outlets not essential to normal human life, so only supermarkets, food shops, pharmacies, tobacconists and petrol stations are excluded and will continue trading. As from midnight last night, restaurants, cafés, discotheques and all other types of commerce are now closed until the government issues a new decree, so presumably that will also include Brico Depot. The economic cost and disruption to the country will be well-nigh catastrophic.

The purpose of my visit to Brico Depot was to buy sand and gravel and cement to make tie-downs. They’ll be necessary if, as and when I do get my ex-pat X-air to Malbec, it has to be parked outside because I still have my Weedhopper with my Savannah in the barn. The X-air does have outdoor covers, of course, but if it has to be left outside on the parking area next to Philippe’s hangar where I left my old French X-air for a time, there is the possibilty that strong winds can come zooming in from the south-west to which it would be fully exposed. Remember, shortly after the hangars were built, the wind actually whipped the roof right off Philippe’s hangar and now both hangars have large straps going right over them as a precaution to prevent it happening again.

On the way back from Brico Depot I dropped in to Malbec and did the owners a favour by taking 3 old tyres from a heap that is stacked against one side of the barn in which I have my aircraft. I already had a tyre that the Spanish firm that supplied my replacement Kia engine placed the engine on in the back of the C-Max, so I wanted to end up with 4 new tie-downs that I’ll initially be able to use for the X-Air and eventually for tying down the wings of the Savannah and the X-air in the barn once the Weedhopper has gone. At the moment I’m using rings that were screwed into the concrete floor but there aren’t enough of them and they’re not in the right places either, so my new tie-downs will be very welcome additions.

I bought 6 x 35kg bags of sand and gravel mix and 2 x 35kg bags of cement, the total weight of which almost pole-axed my poor little trailer. But all was well and I arrived home safely and I was thinking that I’d have enough material left over to repair the floor of my ‘new’ garden store in which I keep my ride-on mower and various other items. This is collapsing on one side due to the bad batch of cement that I used when I laid it but after making my tie-downs, although I had a bag of cement left over, I was only left with one bag of sand and gravel which I doubt will be enough.

But that’s for another time. Here’s a shot of the new tie-downs taken after I’d finished the job, cleaned up and even managed to patch a small area of my wood store floor with left-over mortar that’s started cracking up a bit, mainly I think because I was at one time cutting hard oak logs on it with my hefty old axe.

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The work was pretty back-breaking as I had to mix the cement in buckets, having decided that it wasn’t worthwhile getting my concrete mixer out. In fact, afterwards I think it would have been worth it, because I used much more concrete than I thought I would. But never mind, the job’s now done. I bought the four ties with eyes from the UK and made up some little anchors for them out of left-over scrap metal to make sure that they can’t pull out, so I’m looking forward to seeing how the tie-downs come out once the concrete has cured. My guess is that even if it’s ‘hard’ tomorrow, that’ll take a week or even more, but the way the Coronavirus problem is panning out, it looks as though time will not be a problem.

March 12, 2020

Horns of a dilemma

I was surprised when I checked the Windy web site yesterday to find that it looks as though there might be an extended period of quiet weather next week that could be ideal for flying my ex-pat X-air over from the UK. Winds could be very light over the whole of France while although they are forecast to be brisker in the south of England and the Channel (to the point of being above acceptable limits from time to time), there could be a couple of windows during the week to do the Channel crossing.

So in normal times I’d be booking my ferry and heading across to the UK. But these are not normal times, are they. Although France as a whole is on the by now well-known upward Coronavirus trajectory of infections, I think that we in the south-west are in a relatively favourable area being sheltered by the fact that there is no ‘big’ industry here aside from farming and at this time of year not many people are entering and leaving. That will change if the usual summer influx of tourists begins in a few weeks time but it remains to be seen if that will happen this year.

I was at Périgueux hospital on Tuesday where the general attitude was laid-back to say the least and where, incidentally, I was given the excellent news that as I’m now over 2 years since the end of chemo and in complete remission, the chance of my being re-affected is negligible. People were making good use of the provided hand sanitizers but my oncologist greeted me, as she did all the others before me, with a smile and a hand-shake just as usual.

So my impression is that if I returned to the UK to pick up the X-air, I’d be leaving an area of relative safety and entering a much more dangerous one where, my family have told me, there have been reports of a number of local Coronavirus infections. I’ve made a decision of what my strategy will be here in France as I regard myself as a member of an ‘at-risk’ group. I’ve built up stocks of food and other essentials, not to a siege level admittedly, but to one that will enable me to avoid leaving home as much as I usually do and going to the shops and other ‘high-risk’ places where there will be groups of people, some of whom may be infected.

If I go to the UK, not only will I be going to a ‘higher-risk’ area, but while there I’ll also unavoidably expose myself to exactly the risks that I am trying to avoid here in France. Simple things will do it, like buying fuel, getting any spare parts or other items that I might need and so on. So I’m wondering if I should make the trip next week.

A secondary factor is that the possible ‘window’ if it does materialise is earlier in the year than I’d both anticipated and allowed for, although it could equally be argued that if I miss it and the Coronavirus situation gets materially worse, who knows when I might get another chance to bring the X-air over?

It’s something that I’ve only got a day or two to ponder over as if I do decide to go, I’d need to book a ferry for Sunday. This is a tricky one as quite a lot more could be at stake than just an aircraft. Much, much more 😳

Late addition I’ve just read that Mr Macron has shut down all schools in France and is considering closing the borders. I think that if there’s any chance of that happening, preventing me from bringing the X-air in and forcing me to remain in the UK, I should definitely stay where I now am and see how things play out over the coming days, or more likely, weeks.

March 4, 2020

Weather – again

Should that be ‘still’ rather than ‘again’? I’ve just checked the weather for the Canterbury area in the south of England, where Clipgate Farm is located. More very wet and windy days to come on top of what they’ve been getting followed by a couple of days of just high wind and then even more wet and windy days to follow for the whole of next week.

Here in France we’ve had non-stop rain for the whole week so far and this morning is the first time I’ve looked out to see that it isn’t raining, so some improvement there. However, the ground is saturated and I doubt that Malbec will be useable for some time, probably a week or more if it stays dry, which it isn’t forecast to do for something like another week.

So it looks as though March could turn out to be a washout – literally – on both sides of the Channel. It’s impossible to even think about getting 24ZN, my ex-pat Xair, out of the hangar it’s in at Clipgate to fly it across to France and who knows when that might be possible given how the weather’s behaving. And on top of that, there’s the chaos and disruption being caused by the Coronavirus – will the airports that I’ll need to land at along the way be open or closed?

So despite my complaints about the visibility at the time, it was lucky that I did my flight in 28AAD, my Weedhopper, when I did a week or so ago as there would be little prospect of repeating it in the near future. ULM Evasion at Ste-Foy-la-Grande have their first event of the year, a Paella fly-in, scheduled for March 29. It would be a shame if it has to be cancelled because of the weather so we’re hoping for their sake that things will pick up by then. But who knows…

February 24, 2020

Just my luck

Like I said in my last post, we’ve been going through a spell of lovely weather that’s been perfect for flying and with signs that it’s coming to an end from tomorrow, with drizzle and cooler temperatures being forecast for the next few days, I’d banked on getting away for a flight in my Weedhopper today.

I’d had a route worked out for a while but it had been impossible to use Malbec up to now because it was still too soft after the winter rains. In fact it was really still a bit soft today, but I knew that if I didn’t get my first flight of the year in, the runway could well get soaked and would need to be left for who knows how long to dry out all over again. We’ve played that game a few times…

So after the bright sunshine of the last week or so, what did we wake up to today? Yup, you’ve got it, fog! To be honest, I didn’t think that a flight would be on at all but it did begin to clear as from late morning. So I watched and waited and decided to give it a go from mid-afternoon. Here’s the route I’d made up.

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After taking off from Malbec, I wanted to head north-west towards Fleurac and then north to take a look at some local features that interested me. Then I wanted to head south-east via my house and Thonac for a landing at Galinat, whose long grass runway I checked the other day and found usable.

From Galinat I wanted to fly to land at Condat on its long hard runway returning via Thonac for another practice landing at Galinat from where I’d head off south to Sarlat. Then I’d head north-west via the magnificent Chateau Beynac and St Cyprien for a return to Malbec.

Well, I completed my route alright but in awful conditions with the most foul vis as a result of a filthy little low-level inversion. If it hadn’t been my last chance to fly for I don’t know how long, I’d not have bothered to be honest.

I set up one of my little Chinese sportcam camcorders on the Weedhopper’s right wing which yet again let me down and switched itself off even before I’d taken off, so once again I got no record of my flight. Those things really are junk and I’m more or less resigned to having to get myself a GoPro if I’m going to continue videoing flights, which I do want to do.

At Condat I bumped into Roland, the airfield owner, and as we always end up chatting with me always having to refuse a beer, I lost a bit of time and had to leave in a bit of a hurry. I completed my second landing at Galinat but took off again straight away without turning my engine off.

By this time the afternoon was wearing on and the vis was actually getting more filthy. I wasn’t surprised to find that there was no other traffic at Sarlat so I just did a touch-and-go and headed off north-west to return to Malbec and cut the corner a bit to save a bit of time.

At that time of the afternoon, it’s usually easy to spot Malbec from quite a way away, but not today in the filthy haze that was increasing by the minute. But eventually there it was and I had a nice landing, a bit long on purpose to clear the softish landing area at the foot of the runway and taxied right up out through the runway entrance, that I’d left open, and onto the area outside the barn.

So although I was glad that I’d taken the opportunity to fly, I can’t say that I’d enjoyed the flight that much. But what really surprised me today was that I’d calculated my route on the basis of an airspeed of 85 kmh, which is good for a 503 powered Weedhopper and which the leg times showed that I achieved.

But for a total flying time of 1 hour 45 minutes, I’d only used 20 litres of fuel, giving a consumption of only 11.5 litres/hour. That was totally unexpected as I’d been anticipating a figure of around 14-15 litres/hour, so that was truly my highlight of the day. Amazing!

February 22, 2020

Just in case

We’re in the middle of a superb spell of weather with temperatures of around 15-16° Celsius coupled with flat calm or very light winds. But we know that things can, and will, change and that there will still be quite a few chilly days and nights before we really turn the corner and needn’t worry about heating our houses.

So with the latter in mind, I reserved some more fuel for my wood-burner ‘just in case’ before I left for Egypt and after waiting for a couple of days of drizzle to clear, I picked it up the other day. I will probably only need a bit under one stère (cubic metre) to see me through, but I decided to get two in to make sure that I’m well covered. It’ll always be there for next winter anyway.

It was just over a single trailer-load and here’s the first lot outside my wood store before I began to unload it and split it.

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Here’s a shot after I’d split and stacked the first trailer-load and put the remainder into a small stack for me to split later. My new splitter is fantastic and has increased my productivity enormously. This quantity would have taken me all day to deal with using my old, small splitter but with my new one I was all done and dusted in three hours or so. Fantastic!

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The weather, of course, is perfect for flying. Only one problem though. I took the two shots below at Malbec this morning showing my two aircraft in the barn.

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And that, sadly, is where they’ll be staying. I walked the whole length of Malbec’s runway and it’s still too soft to use, especially in its middle section and its landing zone. I’ve got a great first-flight-of-the-year already programmed involving a landing on Galinat’s long grass runway, which yesterday I found to be perfectly fine to use, and landings also on the hard runways at Condat and Sarlat.

But for now it’ll have to wait. The weather will stay fine before, possibly, a bit more drizzle on Tuesday, so with a bit of luck Monday, which should be perfect, might be the day. Now it’s just a matter of waiting and seeing 😉

February 19, 2020

Xair towbar

ULMs with nosewheel steering are all fairly difficult to manoeuvre on the ground, with any real precision anyway, and towbars that clamp to the nosewheels and that allow you to steer them while pushing or pulling are very handy things to have. I designed and had one made locally for my Savannah and it makes handling of the aircraft on the ground exceptionally easy, especially when doing it by myself.

In fact, with a towbar it’s best to do it by yourself because although they have the best of intentions, helpers tend to push and/or pull at just the wrong moment and there’s more chance of bashing into things then than if you’re doing it alone. I’ve got the marks on my Savannah’s main wheel spat to prove it 😉

When pushing or pulling both the Weedhopper and the Xair, because their nosewheels tend to castor very freely, it’s difficult to aim them exactly where you want them to go so they could also benefit from towbars. However, I’ve now readvertised the Weedhopper for sale and hope to be selling it soon, so that’s not now a priority as I can live with the problem for a few more weeks. But when I eventually get the Xair down to Malbec, it will be very handy to have a towbar for it, just because of it’s size alone.

Here’s the design of my Savannah towbar that I had fabricated locally.

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Here’s how it looks when in use.

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It has worked beautifully and I’m very pleased with it. I particularly like that when it’s attached to the Savannah’s nosewheel, there’s no chance that it can slip off, whether it’s being used to push or pull or the aircraft. This means that there’s no possibilty of causing any kind of damage. I also like how because it’s attached using horizontal pins, the bar can be raised and lowered or rested on the ground if necessary as in the above picture without needing to detach it.

I’ve therefore decided to make a towbar of similar design for the Xair, this time doing it myself as I now have a small arc welder rather than putting it out to a local fabricator. I’ve already purchased the materials (that’s what the DPD driver delivered the other day) and have worked out the basis of the design, although I can’t go ahead and start work on it yet as I don’t know what the exact dimensions are.

Here’s a picture I’ve mocked up showing what I have in mind.

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It basically employs exactly the same principle as my Savannah towbar, except with the Savannah there were two bolts that I could use (by using longer ones) to attach the tow point that the towbar attaches to on the nosewheel assembly. There are no such bolts on the Xair, so what I’ve decided to do is make up two small triangular pieces of stainless steel with holes in to take the pins on the towbar, that I will bolt to each side of the Xair’s nosewheel forks after drilling them.

I think it’ll work fine and won’t in any way compromise the forks for normal use (take offs and landings) but if anyone can think of a better way, I’ll be grateful of course, to hear of any other suggestions before I get cracking on the construction.

February 17, 2020

You’ve gotta larf…

I had an amusing incident today – for me anyway, but maybe not for the other party. I seem to be getting a lot of deliveries nowadays that use DPD as the courier company and maybe because of that, problems with drivers being unable to find my house have been few and far between. But not today.

DPD operate a system where you pre-arrange a delivery time with them – today it was any time between 1000am and 0130pm – and it seems to work pretty well. Normally if the driver doesn’t already know where my house is (there are no house numbers in the countryside and even our road doesn’t have a name, although that’s scheduled to change sometime this year), when they get to the general area and are close by, they just phone for directions and arrive within minutes.

But it seems that today’s driver decided to take it into his own hands and search for the house which is not a good idea. It seems that he drove up and down the road two or three times (I saw him twice from my front window without knowing who he was as he was driving a hired vehicle) before doing the sensible thing and giving me a call. As a result when he did call he was in a highly agitated state, to say the least.

I tried to find out exactly where he was so I could give him precise directions but he seemed more concerned with shouting down the phone at me and almost seemed to be accusing me of hiding my house from him (it’s on the main road) to make his job more difficult and I cut him off a few times just to get some relief from his tirade. In the end I told him that if he’d shut up for a minute I’d explain how even a monkey could find my house from where I think he said he was and sure enough he drove past yet again before reversing back into my driveway.

I thought that that would be the end of it and blasted him with one of my sunniest smiles to melt the ice, but I could tell from his face that that wasn’t going to do the trick. And as he was grumbling on and I couldn’t understand a word he was saying anyway, I just took my parcel from him and went off back down the driveway laughing.

I hope that he’d got over it by the time he arrived at the next customer 😕

February 16, 2020

Then there were two

The same again today – another pleasant, sunny day, a little bit more windy than yesterday (but nothing like the 70-80 mph winds that are battering the UK at the moment), so time to pull the Savannah out and give it a thorough clean like I did to the Weedhopper yesterday. Took 2-3 hours again but well worth the time and effort as I’m pretty sure it’s probably now the cleanest it’s ever been since I’ve owned it.

Here are a few shots of the both of them standing outside the barn when I’d finished.

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I emailed the prospective buyer of the Weedhopper with the photographs that I took of it yesterday and I’m now waiting in the hope of getting a positive reply. In the meantime I can get cracking on the jobs that I need to do on the Savannah while also seeing if I can at last get a bit of flying in for the start of the year. The latter might be pushing it a bit because we’re expecting lower temperatures and a bit of drizzle for the next couple of days but Thursday looks to be a possibilty. I’ll have to wait and see.

February 15, 2020

That’s my girl!

It took about three hours but the effort was well worth it and at the end, my little Weedhopper was spick and span and all ready to go.

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It was sunny and bright while I was cleaning her up but it clouded over before I could take the pictures to record my handiwork but I’m super-pleased with how she came up. It’s hard to believe that this is a 20 year-old aircraft as it doesn’t look it either inside or out. The shots over the wings show how its covers are still in excellent condition for its age – much better than good ole MYRO’s were.

So it’ll be the turn of the Savannah tomorrow and with a bit of luck from the condition of the runway today, I might even be able to get the first flight of the year in, in the Weedhopper because when I’ve confirmed that everything to do with it is fine (I’m sure it will be) I want to contact the prospective purchaser ASAP. I might even shoot a little video to send to him – I’ll have to wait and see how things turn out.

February 14, 2020

Time to get started

We’re not yet out of the woods weather-wise by any means but we haven’t been subjected to the monstrous storms that northern Europe has had to face and there’s now definitely a whiff of spring in the air. Indeed, although I didn’t see them myself, Sophie and Wim reported yesterday that they’d seen flocks of ‘grues’, storks, heading northwards over their house on their regular spring migration from Spain and north Africa, and that’s a sure sign that winter proper is over.

We’ve had a few drizzly days lately that have deterred me from wanting to do much outdoors, but today and for the next two days at least, we can expect a spell of dry, sunny weather which will provide an excellent opportunity to get started on the things that I need to do. And the first of those is to get my Savannah and Weedhopper out of the barn where they’ve stayed over the winter and get them thoroughly cleaned up and ready for the new season.

This is especially important for the Weedhopper which I need to get ready for potential sale as soon as the weather is good enough for it to be viewed and taken for test flights so although I didn’t intend to start work on it today, this afternoon I took it out of the back of the barn where it’s been behind the Savannah and swapped the aircraft around so I can make an early start on it tomorrow with bucket and mop.

Here’s a shot of the Savannah moved from its original position with its tail forward in the front of the barn to the back. It’s much dirtier than it appears in the picture being coverd in dust, rodent droppings and bird poo.

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And here are some shots of the Weedhopper.

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It doesn’t look too bad from its right hand side but the shot taken of its nose from the left shows how messy it actually is. It also needs to have a layer of grime removed from its interior. That won’t be difficult, though, as it will only need a wipe over with a wet cloth as it’s just dusty and not oily.

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And finally some shots of both aircraft back in the barn. They fit in together quite nicely so long as they are carefully pushed up tightly together.

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I’m hoping to be able to get both aircraft cleaned up tomorrow but I doubt that I’ll be able to fly either this weekend as I checked today and Malbec, which was quite firm when I returned from Egypt, is now too soft and soggy again. Patrick had flown in in his autogire today, which can be seen in some of the Weedhopper shots, and I noticed that it had created some quite deep wheel ruts, so regular use of the runway is unfortunately out for the moment.

But I’ll be happy to see the Savannah and the Weedhopper both cleaned up and ready to go. I’ll put them back in the barn with the Savannah to the rear for now while I contact the Weed’s potential buyer from last year. Hopefully he’ll still be interested and we’ll be able to start moving things along 😉

February 12, 2020

I’m back!

From my dose of winter sun in Hurghada, that is. And feeling much the better for it too. In fact I’ve been back for almost a week now but I’ve been sorting things out, doing things like cleaning the house, you know, all those tedious things that you know will be waiting for you when you get back from any holiday.

I’ve also been sorting out all the pictures that I wanted to post here on My Trike. It’s taken a little bit longer than usual because although I took quite a few stills, mostly I shot video on the little 4K sports cams that I use for recording flights in my aircraft. This means that I’ve had to lift screen shots off them and then crop and edit them in order to get the format and the best level of quality that I could.

Except for the shots taken in very low light, on the whole the quality of the shots that I’ve lifted from video have not turned out too badly. The trouble is, though, when you shoot with a still camera you usually only take one or two shots of a scene and leave it at that. When you shoot video, however, it’s easy to end up with so many more because each clip can produce several nice stills, and that’s exactly what’s happened.

I’ll be putting together a video in due course but don’t know if I’ll be uploading it or not. This post only contains still images, but be warned, there are over 60 of them which if you last right through to the end will take several minutes of your life to get through that you’ll never get back again! I could have put them into a picture gallery, but who looks at picture galleries? Anyway, here goes…

BORDEAUX – GENEVA

The past two times that I’ve travelled to Hurghada I’ve flown from Toulouse which is a bit of a drag to get to from where I live and also the flight times have been less than convenient, either late in the evening or first thing in the morning. I’ve also had to stop over and change airlines which have meant overnight layovers at Istanbul (not too bad) and last year at Charleroi (a nightmare – less said the better). It has also meant having to take account of each airline’s baggage rules, which resulted in my being restricted to a tiny 10kg case last year because of flying Tui for the leg from Charleroi to Hurghada.

This year I was delighted to enjoy the luxury of all my flights being with easyJet out and back from Bordeaux via Geneva with the bonus that easyJet offer, along with BA, the most generous cabin baggage allowance of all the short-haul airlines (15kg case of max dimensions 56 x 45 x 25 cm). And as my outgoing flight was scheduled for 9.30pm with just a 9 hour overnight layover at Geneva, a civilised enough place surely, what could possibly go wrong?

OK, Friday 24 January, my departure day, was a ‘jour de grève’ (strike day) in France in which air traffic controllers were, of course, involved, but I’d been monitoring Bordeaux arrivals and departures from time to time during the day and everything seemed to be flowing smoothly enough. So when I left home with plenty of time for the drive to the airport I was feeling pretty relaxed and looking forward to starting my journey to the sun.

It was dark by the time I got to Mérignac and I was gobsmacked by the amount of traffic entering the airport – two solid lanes that were only slowly inching forwards. I wasn’t worried though, as I’d allowed myself plenty of time and merely had to find parking area P4 where I’d prepaid for a parking spot (1900 hrs 24 January to 2200 hrs 5 February, 51€). Simple enough, you might think, except for one problem. There were no signposts.

I had seen a map showing the location of P4 but it was impossible to rationalise that with one’s position in this solid column of traffic. And it seemed that I was not the only one affected by this. As we came up to the first parking area, I and something like a dozen or so other vehicles turned into its entrance. Ah… this was parking P1/2, so we all had to turn round and re-enter the traffic stream.

But that was just the start. The traffic was only one-way, towards the passenger drop-off area, a pay-to-enter zone towards which we were all moving. Clearly airport management had realised the problem although they’d done nothing to deal with it eg like putting up signposts. Instead they’d gone for the more pragmatic solution of leaving the drop-off zone entrance and exit barriers open so all of the unfortunate souls like me could just drive straight through.

The problem is compounded because Mérignac airport is currently just one huge building site. OK, it’ll probably be lovely when it’s all finished (2022, 2023, later?) but presumably the unfortunate passengers will be subjected to this kind of treatment until that happens. But that still left me with the problem of finding P4 and with the possible nightmare scenario of missing it, ending back in the traffic stream and having to go around again, it didn’t bear thinking about.

I managed to ask a ‘security’ man the way but didn’t get directions that I could easily understand so just followed them the best that I could. This was tricky. Every now and again I kept seeing the odd sign to ‘Parking…’ but as none was luminous and just appeared as dark blobs, it made it hard to tell which way to go in the dark and especially with several vehicles right on my rear bumper. I thought that I saw one saying P4 so dragged the wheel to the right and went off up a rough track which brought me to a mini roundabout and… yes… a sign saying P4!!

I eventually did find my way in and here’s a shot that I took while waiting for the free shuttle bus to the terminal.

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easyJet fly from terminal Billi, which is ‘low cost’ in every imaginable way, from the airlines that use it to its construction. I don’t know if it’s a permanent structure but it looks as though it wasn’t intended to be, either inside or out. Here are a couple of shots showing passenger security clearance and the beginning of the passenger waiting area.

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It was immediately obvious from the mass of people in the area that departure delays had been accumulating since I’d last checked during the afternoon. In fact, nothing was moving and all of the (few) flights on the board were shown as being delayed. My flight to Geneva was the last one on the list.

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So I did what everyone else had done, which was take my time having a pee and then join the massive queue for some kind of refreshment.

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Slowly but surely the flights above mine on the list were called and got away, much to the delight of two guys I spoke to who were heading off to Bristol and seemed quite happy to wait as long as it took all the while they could keep knocking back their Heinekens. And at last my flight was also called and we all surged for the gate in the hope of at last leaving Billi behind us.

But there was still no relief. A large group of passengers were arguing about being asked to cough up a surcharge for some reason or other, but instead of the young easyJet agent taking them all to one side to deal with their problem and allow the rest of us to pass through unheeded, we all had to stand there and wait while the arguments went backwards and forwards. I’m afraid that customer service isn’t a French forte. Surely it couldn’t get any worse?

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I’m afraid so. It turned out that because of the delay to which our flight had been subjected, we wouldn’t be able to fly into Geneva, which closes at midnight (along with the rest of Switzerland, I think). We were told that we could only fly as far as Lyon from where we’d be taken to Geneva for our onward connections by bus. Here’s a shot that I took of us all at Lyon waiting in the freezing cold foyer to board the double-decker bus that had been laid on by easyJet.

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And here are some shots of the journey, crossing the frontier into Switzerland and our arrival at Geneva in the early hours of 25 January.

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Geneva has a splendid, modern airport terminal. And scrupulously clean too in the Swiss way, which was lucky because there is no passenger seating to speak of and I and many other hardy souls ended up stretched out on the floor trying to catch a couple of winks while waiting for our flights several hours after we’d arrived. How thoughtful of the airport authorities to have thought of such a thing – surely nothing to do with the fact that employing a drove of cleaners who you need anyway is much, much cheaper than providing inconvenient things like chairs for passengers to sit on.

While wandering around killing time I did come across something like half a dozen seats outside the police and crew areas, but nothing like the amount of seating needed given the volume of passengers. So Geneva turned out to be yet another nightmare airport for a layover. But eventually my flight was called and I at last joined the queue at the departure gate for my flight to Hurghada, but what an effort!

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GENEVA – HURGHADA

The easyJet flight to Hurghada was fine. Having bought a breakfast for myself before departing Geneva partly because it gave me a chance to sit on a proper chair at last, I didn’t bother buying anything to eat or drink on the flight. I didn’t have ‘Easy Boarding’ or whatever easyJet call their priority service but there was plenty of space for my baggage and I was comfortably esconced in a window seat that gave me good views behind the Airbus’s starboard wing.

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The desert views as we descended for our approach into Hurghada were spectacular.

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Our approach into Hurghada airport was from the south and eventually we turned left for final to land over the beaches, hotels and other buildings along the coastal fringe to the south of the town – there’s nothing inland apart from desert. My hotel is a few kilometres to the north of Hurghada town so was not visible.

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We were transferred to the arrivals terminal by bus at which point it began to become a bit chaotic. Before passing through immigration you have to buy a visa costing $25 from one of the banks on air-side, otherwise you are turned back as I found when I came the first time. The problem is that there are only two of them and as several flights had arrived bringing passengers from various parts of Europe speaking several different languages, the queues and the delay were considerable.

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However, I eventually got through, found a taxi outside the terminal (the taxi driver found me by grabbing my case out of my hand) and after negotiating the fare to my hotel (50€ demanded, 20€ offered, 30€ demanded, 20€ agreed, although I also gave him a 5€ tip after he’d complained as all the taxi drivers do of having umpteen mouths to feed and working 26 hours a day to do so…) I eventually arrived for the third time at my hotel.

HURGHADA

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My hotel experience was, as usual, very enjoyable. After the first day, that is. I told them that this was my third visit but even so, they tried to pull one over this old dog by giving me what must be the very worst room in the hotel. It was on the ground floor in the back corner with no proper balcony therefore, where no sun could reach so was very dark and gloomy as a result. It was also in incredibly poor condition. It had a low table but no chair in which to sit at it (they suggested bringing in one of the outdoor chairs, one of which was broken) and the in-room safe was also broken and not working.

So I promptly told them what they could do with the room and demanded another, which I got the next day. This turned out to be one of the newest rooms in the hotel (a level has been added onto what was the old top floor and it was one of those) and certainly the best one that I’ve been in on the three occasions that I’ve stayed in the hotel. Nevertheless, because of previous guest abuse, I still had to remount the wardrobe doors on their runners and repair the chairs on the balcony, but that was little, if any, inconvenience.

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Below is the view from the end of my floor overlooking the hotel’s outdoors showing the view to the right (south).

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And below is the view from the same position showing the view to the left (north). I think that this hotel is one of the very best in this part of Hurghada, if not the best.

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A few shots of the general reception area which also contains a bar and a few small shops. The coloured glasses contain free cold drinks for guests to take and drink as they are passing through.

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And now shots taken in the hotel’s gardens showing the pools and other facilities, which are superb. Gardeners, cleaners and other staff are working constantly to keep everything pristine and it shows.

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The ‘menagerie’ which was there the last two times that I visited has now gone, and not before time I think. It doesn’t do to keep a large pelican in a small wire cage or a stork that stands all day in its tiny enclosure on one leg with its head dipped into a filthy trough. Now it’s been replaced by more pools for adults and children.

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The hotel has given careful consideration to the possible clash of cultures. The main swimming pools can be used by anyone meaning that there are scantilly dressed European ladies there and also arab ladies in burkhinis. However, the pool where I go to lie in the sun and read the books that I take with me is designated ‘Only for Bikini’ which means that arab ladies are discreetly turned away and only Europeans use it.

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Next to the pool is a refreshment stand dispensing free hot and cold drinks (the hotel is ‘All Inclusive’) during normal hours and everyone is given a free towel every day using a ‘towel card’ that they receive on arrival.

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As last year, the hotel offers two restaurants, the main one for any guest on the floor above the reception area – Level 1 means different things depending on which lift you use 🙂 – and another one called Bon Apetit designated as ‘Only for Europeans’ at ground level in the back corner adjoining the horrible room that I was originally allocated.

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Having experienced the pandemonium that always seems to reign in the main restaurant, I always used the Bon Apetit, an experience that I always enjoyed despite thinking that the food on offer hasn’t been quite up to the standard on the last two occasions that I found when I first visited the hotel.

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Any final comments about the hotel? Yes, just one. Regrettably some arabs (a lot) like to spit and they do it almost anywhere, including in the corners of the hotel lifts and the area facing the doors while they are waiting for a lift to arrive.

I mentioned to the General Manager who I bumped into one day in the Bon Apetit that the lifts were filthy and he had them cleaned within the hour. But not including the shiny metal walls that remained covered in spatters, of what one can only imagine. It seems that they can turn a blind eye to certain aspects of cleanliness that we Europeans regard as important, and although I still thoroughly recommend the hotel, I would suggest that parents keep control of babies and young children accordingly in such public areas.

And so it eventually became time to leave and I found myself in the hotel foyer on 5 February bidding farewell to Jean and Pete, an English couple from Kent in England and living not far from where I used to, and waiting for a taxi that I’d booked through the same chap in the hotel as last year, to take me to the airport for, once again, 20€.

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The helpful young driver carried my case out for me and on this occasion I enjoyed the privilege of being carried in a fairly modern Kia with seat belts!

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HURGHADA – GENEVA

I disembarked at the airport thinking that it looked a bit different this time and my taxi drove off. It was only when I went to enter the terminal that I found I was at the wrong one – this was Terminal 2 and I wanted Terminal 1, although my e-ticket didn’t show this. The worst thing was that it was not possible to walk between them – I had to get another taxi which wasn’t difficult of course, because yet again there was a bevy of waiting drivers ready to bite my hand off. But it still cost me another 10€ 🙁

Compared to the outbound flight, everything was fairly relaxed at Hurghada. Save for easyJet’s awful ‘Rapid Boarding’ option. Ryanair have a similar system and have got it right by having two clearly designated queues. easyJet just have one and think that calling for priority boarding passengers is enough. It isn’t because nobody listens and many don’t speak the language anyway.

As a result everyone joins the boarding queue and at least half are then turned away to start another ‘queue’ to one side. Then when all of the priority boarders have been processed, all of the passengers who have just been standing around ignore this second queue and just make a dash for the gate, causing mayhem. It’s something easyJet needs to deal with – for goodness sake, it wouldn’t take much just to put up signs at the gate showing who is entitled to board and when.

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And so onward to Geneva, this time in an aisle seat so no views of Venice and Italy for me, and eventually, after a short layover, finally back to Bordeaux where the whole thing started 11 days before.

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It was a marvellous break which I thoroughly enjoyed, especially the people whose company I enjoyed in the hotel and that of the French gentleman who was next to me with whom I chatted the whole way from Geneva to Bordeaux. I was worried about the possibility of my C-Max not starting after standing out in the cold for this period of time as I suspect that it’s battery is getting towards its last legs, but no worries in the end on that score.

So now what? Well, as the prospective Belgian purchaser of my Weedhopper has been back in touch, I need to get that out of the barn, give it a good clean and get it ready for sale. The next priority will be to get my ex-pat Xair, 24ZN, over to France from the UK. Before I can do that, I’ve got a scan coming up in early March but hopefully I’ll be free to do it after that.

I’ve also said that I’d like to give my pal Roger a hand to trailer two Shadow microlights down from Abbeville to the Corrèze and if possible, help him bring his main Shadow over from Ireland, so I’ll have to see how things play out. But all in all, busy times around the corner. So no change there, then… 😉

January 18, 2020

My ex-pat X-air

This is my least favourite time of the year, but I’ve said that before – lots of times. Cold, bad weather (except for a few bright days recently) and no flying for weeks, although Malbec has just become flyable again having now dried out enough to taxy and land on. Mind you, that’s earlier than in many previous years, so perhaps I should really feel more pleased than I do.

As I’ve been stuck indoors for so long, I passed the time making the video shown below, which summarises the story of 24ZN, my ex-pat X-air, from the very beginning up to the present time.

It all became very frustrating while I was in the UK in the run-up to Christmas. On the few occasions when there was a suitable weather window and I would have been able to get away, unforeseen things went wrong that prevented me from doing so. Eventually the point arrived when the days were just too short to do the flight and in any case, strong, gusting winds that would have made the flght potentially dangerous at the best of times, were battering northern and mid-France.

So 24ZN ended up in the new hangar at Clipgate Farm near Canterbury in Kent, only a few minutes flying time from Dover and the Channel and where my microlight flying began and I was signed off with my UK licence after spending most of my training time in G-MYRO. So in one respect, the wheel turned full-circle.

I’m off soon for a few days in the sun in Egypt, as I’ve done in the last couple of years and I’ve then got an important appointment in Périgueux in the first week of March. Hopefully soon after that I’ll be back in the UK again to put a couple of hours on 24ZN before then embarking on the Channel crossing and the flight down through France to her new home in the Dordogne.

And don’t tell anyone, but I’ve also been re-contacted by a potential purchaser of my Weedhopper who was thwarted when the weather turned bad before Christmas, so who knows, maybe things will start happening all at once 😉

December 31, 2019

Old year, new year…

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

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

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

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

December 21, 2019

Shortest day

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

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

December 16, 2019

You gotta love the French

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

December 12, 2019

Gotta new laptop

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

December 7, 2019

Done and dusted

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

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

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

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

December 3, 2019

Enough’s enough

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

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

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

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

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

December 2, 2019

Read the NOTAMs!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

December 1, 2019

Looking good?

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

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

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

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

November 28, 2019

Can’t be too hasty

When I typed my last post I thought that by now I’d at least have a ferry booked to return to France or might even have already left by now. Instead I’m still here in Kent and there are two reasons for this. Firstly, we’ve had some diabolical rain and wind over the last day or so and I couldn’t leave 24ZN parked outside in the open where it has been for anything up to three months without being able to check on it while it was being battered by the weather.

Secondly, the weather forecasts have been indicating the possibility of a lull in the bad weather for a few days next week and after waiting so long for such an opportunity I couldn’t pass it up even though I’ve been caught out so many times in just the same way over recent weeks.

A final clincher was that I’ve been promised that if I do have to leave the aircraft parked outside at Clipgate it can be moved in the next day or so to a more sheltered spot and when that happens, I want to be there to make sure that it is done carefully and safely. Remember, when the time comes I’ll be taking off and embarking on a Channel crossing within a few minutes and I don’t want the aircraft to have incurred any damage beforehand that I don’t know about.

So I drove over there this afternoon and I was very pleased to find that in the absence of wind and rain, 24ZN looked perfectly OK and showed no signs of having been affected at all by the recent weather. Here are some shots that I took which show what I mean.

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There’s also a possibility that if I don’t get away next week (my goodness, after waiting so long I think that I at least deserve to), as 24ZN will be there for around 3 months and won’t be flown in all of that time, there might be enough space for it in a corner of Clipgate’s new hangar. If so, that would suit me very well so now it’s just a matter of keeping an eye on the weather and seeing how things work out.

November 26, 2019

Decision made

Albeit reluctantly. I’ve decided that it won’t be possible to fly 24ZN over to its new home in France this side of the new year. Although there may be a weather window next week, another wave of rain has lashed most of England including the south-east with more to come over the next few days and even if the weather improves enough to make the flight possible, the ground will be far too waterlogged to take off.

I went over to Clipgate this afternoon and was extremely dismayed by what I found. 24ZN is tied down in a position that’s fairly sheltered from the northerly winds that we’d usually expect at this time of the year. However, it’s very exposed to winds from the south-west and that’s what it was being buffeted with, together with sheets of rain.

And because I’d tied it down with its nose into the wind, its covers were billowing up in the wind, the force of which had lifted its nose so it was standing on just its main wheels with its tail skid touching the ground. This hadn’t caused any damage and wouldn’t do so but it was still not a desirable state of affairs.

Tomorrow I shall see if anything can be done to find a more a sheltered location as when I’ve returned to France, I won’t be able to pop into Clipgate as I would normally like to do to make sure that everything’s OK – the aircraft will have to remain in a safe condition until I can get back. However, in the meantime I turned it round and roped its covers down in order to reduce the billowing so they won’t be ripped by the wind. I also found a heavy truck wheel that I tied its nose wheel down with that is not shown in the following pics that I shot.

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I don’t like roping the covers down because several years ago I came across an AX3 to which the same had been done and the buffeting winds had caused the ropes to abrade its wing covers causing quite severe damage. However, unless I can find a more sheltered spot tomorrow, I don’t think that I have a great deal of choice.

November 24, 2019

Time to make a decision?

I’m looking ahead at the longer range weather forecast and I not seeing anything to encourage me. As a consequence I’m coming to the conclusion that I’m probably asking for the impossible – or at least a very rare event – namely two consecutive days of weather suitable for a long, non-stop flight from the south of England, across the Channel and down practically the whole length of France, at a time of year when the days are becoming progressively shorter and the weather increasingly unstable.

If so, there can only be one logical conclusion. It’s possibly time to think about throwing in my hand, at least for this year. I’ve been waiting for a weather opportunity since late September and yes, I’ve missed a couple, but here I am with December looming and I’m effectively no closer now than I was six or eight weeks ago. And in addition, there are things I need to address and deal with back home in Plazac.

So should I be thinking about packing my car up and heading back south? I think it’s something that I need to seriously consider. 24ZN is now outside but is secure and covered and sealed as far as possible against the weather. Nothing more can be done as far as that is concerned but it’s irrelevant anyway as it’ll have to stay where it is if I’m just going to be sitting waiting for an opportunity to fly it out which is unlikely to materialise.

My mind is almost made up. It looks as though I’ll need to make arrangements to head off back to France with the idea of returning to the UK again, probably around February when the weather has improved and there are likely to be more opportunities to do the flight. It’s a tough one, but I’ll post what I eventually decide.

In the meantime I thought I’d upload a very short video of my take off in 24ZN on my way to Headcorn a few days ago after it reopened after the visit by the air ambulance.

The video is very short because the recorder switched off for what I think is a weird reason. At exactly the same time, as far as I can estimate, as the recorder did so, 24ZN’s engine faltered. I thought that I was about to be on the receiving end of an EFATO but to my relief it picked up again. It was only afterwards that I found that the camcorder seems to have switched off at the same moment.

Quite close to the take off location there is a microwave tower of the type that I believe is used as part of our national defence network. These towers sport what look similar to satellite dishes that transmit highly focused microwave beams around the country and I wonder if the faltering in the electronics of both 24ZN’s engine and the video recorder was caused by flying through such a beam. I guess I’ll never know for sure.