I managed to get a flight in today, but only just, because the weather was far from perfect. The weather was a big part of my choosing to come to France with my aircraft but as time goes on, it’s becoming more and more contrary. To the point, in fact, that recently pilots in the south-east of England, where I came from, have been reporting fine flying weather whereas down here we’ve been finding it almost impossible to get into the air.

Quite often I check the web site at Headcorn airfield HERE because it’s in the area where I used to fly and also because it has a WEB CAM (not streaming unfortunately). Today the web cam showed a bright sunny day, a little bit cooler than here, but with good vis as far as I could see and, more importantly, hardly any wind. I’ve just checked again as I type this and the web site is showing wind from 135 degrees at only 1 mph!

Compare that with the Plazac weather for today as shown in the following pic.

Today's weather

The forecast shows the wind coming from the south-east, which is almost straight down Galinat’s runway, but with quite strong gusts. I decided that there might be a window to fly later in the afternoon when the wind would be around 10 mph, but with possible gusting at up to 20 mph. I’d also decided on a late afternoon attempt because this morning, yet again, the sky was milky and the vis was atrocious, so it was a matter of ‘suck it and see’ if things improved as the temperature climbed, up to it’s forecast high of about 22 degrees Celsius. Ever since the period of wet weather that we went through that lasted a few weeks but finished a fortnight ago, we’ve been dogged by poor visibility, even with temperatures of 20 degrees C, or even higher. Last week-end we also had strong winds with gusts of 50-60 mph and since then, the forecasts have been for the windy days to continue for a while yet. Chuck in the poor vis as well and things begin to look not at all rosy 🙁

Too be fair, I do recall suffering from vis problems following a cold, wet winter during my last year in the UK, but even so, it’s so frustrating to have similar conditions follow me down here when I’d hoped that they’d be behind me more or less for good. Anyway, I already had a flight lined up, taking me out to the west to Le Bugue, Ste Alvère, Cendrieux and La Douze, returning via Rouffignac and Plazac, as shown by the following pic.

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In the end I thought that I might as well just go out to Galinat, pre-flight 56NE and take a final decision when I was ready to go, and that’s what I did. During the pre-flight I had to add a bit of water to the rad, so I’ll have to watch that in case some is being lost when the engine’s running. I also had to pump up a main wheel and I’ve always known that I should replace the existing tyres and tubes ASAP, so I need to plan to do that sooner rather than later.

And then it was ‘make-your-mind-up’ time. Wind blowing from the south-east is good for landing at Galinat, but not so good for taking off, because it’s a tail wind. Today, although the runway was firm, the grass had not been cut recently and was a bit long, so I had to take both things into account. I noticed that although there were some strongish gusts coming through, in between them there were lulls lasting for more than a minute, so having reasoned that I could wait for one of those to take off in, I decided that I’d give it a go. And things went well – all but for one thing. As I accelerated down the runway, I noticed that I had no ASI (airspeed indicator), but almost at the exact same time, I was airborne as I always use a short-field take-off technique in any case and had been holding the stick back to get the nose wheel up ASAP because of the length of the grass. Time to make a decision – to either take off and return to the airfield as soon as was practicable (it was too late to comfortably abort the take off on the down-slope of Galinat’s runway, not impossible but not really necessary under the circumstances), or to continue with my planned flight.

I decided on the latter. I didn’t have a passenger to concern me and I’m already comfortable with my knowledge of the speeds at which 56NE flies under different circumstances (climbing, level, descending) and at various engine revs. In fact, by using just engine revs and without an ASI to ‘chase’, I found that if anything, I was holding level altitudes better than before. That’s without the lift and sink that I kept bumping into as I went around my planned route, of course, but I was able to manage those quite easily using my knowledge and ‘feel’ for the aircraft, together with the VSI (vertical speed indicator) and rev counter.

The previous image shows both my planned route (dark line) and my actual track (red) which, for the most part, follows the former quite closely. Eventually it came time to set up for my approach and landing back at Galinat. I knew that I needed to be pretty careful with this because of the lack of ASI and also because of the gusting wind, but I didn’t know just how tricky it would actually be. In fact, it turned out to be the most challenging approach and landing that I’ve had to make so far at Galinat, not because of the absence of ASI but mainly because of the turbulence created by the wind rolling over the top of the hill on which the airfield is situated. But I’m glad to say that I made it down in one piece and without incident and I was pleased to see when I checked the ‘speed profile’ of my approach afterwards, that in the final stages I was almost dead on the target of 50 mph.

I also checked 56NE’s pitot tube (that generates the airspeed readout) and saw, when I looked closely inside, the remains of some kind of insect. I’d only given it a cursory inspection during my pre-flight and now I know that in future I should inspect it a little more thoroughly in order to avoid a similar experience in the future 😐