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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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