This posting has been very difficult for me. Some events mentioned in it were the source of great sadness to me, while the parts referring to Bob Thompson, who shows himself to be an ever more awful person as time goes on (see below), I have found extremely distasteful to write about.
The sequence of events I’ve described in my previous post meant that I was faced with something of a dilemma. All of my original plans had included the assumption that MYRO would be based at Mr Thompson’s airfield at La Vergne, just to the north-east of Rouffignac where I’d landed when I’d flown down from England at Easter. However, in my mind there was now no chance of this being even a remote possibilty in the light of the latter’s recent attitude and behaviour towards me and it was clear to me that I would have to find an alternative location as soon as possible. But apparently it was not so obvious to Mr Thompson who, in an ensuing series of emails that were in his wife’s name, although it was my impression that it was actually Mr Thompson using his wife’s email address, still tried to suggest that I should stay put despite his bringing our previously cordial relationship to an end by his actions. This indicated to me just how out of touch with reality he actually was but I’d forgotten, of course, that as he’d mentioned previously, the rent for the airfield was just about to become due and his main consideration was therefore obviously merely a monetary one.
The problem I then faced was finding a new location for MYRO having only just arrived in the country and having limited local contacts who could assist me in doing so. But I needn’t have worried. Regis had recently sold his aircraft that had been based at Galinat, an airfield to the south-east of my house and only about 15 or 20 minutes away by car, and had purchased a damaged Zenair as a repair project that would take him several months to finish. I rang him some days later when this thought occurred to me and he immediately assured me that I could take his place in the meantime. This was, of course, an enormous relief to me as it meant that I could relocate MYRO as soon as it was possible to do so, thus terminating any reliance that I might have on Mr Thompson.
Not unsurprisingly, I was not inclined to discuss my plans with Mr Thompson while I was facing such uncertainty and this culminated in a curt message from him on 30th May (bearing in mind that I’d only arrived in France on the 17th) demanding that I remove MYRO from his airfield before the end of the month. He has published an edited version of our subsequent exchanges on his web site with words subsequently added that suggest that he ‘kindly’ gave me the option of continuing there for longer on payment of an amount for rent. This did not happen – it was in fact I who said as shown in the exchange that as MYRO could not be relocated in the reasonably foreseeable future (due to weather and other factors) when I was able to move it, I would be prepared to pay rent for the whole of the time it was there. Despite the weasel words that he has inserted into his published version of our exchange of messages, I was told afterwards by Regis that Mr Thompson had said that if MYRO was not removed soon he would find a way of securing it and making it unmoveable, something which I told friends and family about at the time before Mr Thompson published his doctored version. I wonder why Mr Thompson should have omitted to mention this aspect and found it necessary to edit what he’s published to give a quite different, and more favourable (to him) impression of what he actually stated at the time?
The poor weather continued into June and whenever there was a small window, I was unable to do the flight because of other commitments. Moving to a new country involves a lot of work and I was deeply involved in making all sorts of arrangements to do with my house, the services and personal matters, some of which continue even now, but eventually an opportunity arose on Wednesday 14th June. Regis wanted to accompany me as he suggested that he coud then show me the best way into Galinat which seemed like a good idea, so we left his car there and drove over to Rouffignac/La Vergne to ready MYRO for the short flight.
As to what happened next, Bob Thompson, being the distasteful person that he is, has chosen to make up and post a totally fictitious account of events on his web site in an obvious attempt to discredit me. I’ll try to keep things as brief as I can, but while doing so, I’ll now give as full an account as possible of the events that actually transpired.
We untied MYRO and pushed it backwards from its parking place out onto the runway. There had been a lot of rain in recent days, including a very large thunderstorm the day before, but although the grass was quite thick and lush, I didn’t think that it was too long to take off on. We would not be that heavy either, which would help, because although two of us would be on board, there were less than 20 litres of fuel in the tank following my last leg of the flight down from Wanafaly, and as I intended to do several taxi and power checks, there would probably be only 15 litres or less remaining when we took off. This would still be ample, though, for our flight to Galinat which would only take 10 or 15 minutes at most.
The runway sloped downwards over the whole of its length (about 200 yards) which meant that landings always had to be up-hill and take-offs down. We taxied up and down the top half of the runway and I put in a few brief take-off power checks on the up-hill stages. These could only be brief because of the limited runway length available for them but at the end, all signs were good. We could only use the top half of the runway because then I could turn round at the parking area half way down, whereas if I’d gone further down towards the end, I’d have been unable to turn round without getting out and physically man-handling the aircraft.
We finally got into position at the top of the runway and I checked the windsock to see what the wind was doing. For take off, there was a light, somewhat variable, breeze from the right rear quarter but the tailwind component was small enough to be almost negligible. This meant though, that there wouldn’t be any nose wind either to help the take off, but my experience of doing maximum weight take offs on the short winter runway at Linton together with my (very) limited experience of down-hill take offs ie my single take off from the sheep field at Ken’s after MYRO’s repair, led me to believe that the conditions were acceptable to go ahead. So I moved the throttle to full power, held MYRO on the brakes to allow the power to build up and commenced the take off roll.
Acceleration from the standing start was very brisk as expected and although I’d hoped to be airborne by about half way down the runway, we were not, but had attained an airspeed of 40 mph. The take off speed is 45 mph and as acceleration had been good up to this point, I elected to continue as I thought it reasonable to expect that on the down-slope, we would attain that speed well before the end of the runway. You can imagine my shock and surprise therefore, when MYRO then stopped accelerating and failed to accelerate hardly any further, despite there being no drop in engine revs. In a situation like this, things then happen very quickly on a short downhill runway at 40 mph. My decision point, which had assumed as it usually does, that there would be some kind of identifiable problem in the early stages of the take off run with either the take off itself, or the aircraft, was by now behind us and there remained the big decision – What To Do?
It’s very easy for observers with hindsight, most of whom have never found themselves in such a position, and probably never will, to comment about what I should or should not have done in this situation, and several already have done so. To them I will simply say the following. Life is a series of judgement calls, some of which we get right and others we either get not so right, or maybe get just plain wrong. If we’re lucky, we scrape through the latter and after expressing how lucky we were at the time to get away with it, then learn from our experience and move on. Alternatively, if we are not so lucky, we get bitten, which some might suggest was what happened on this occasion.
There was long grass on either side of the runway but I had no idea or experience of what our chances would have been to turn into it and be brought to a halt in the distance that remained. There was also long grass after the end of the runway but the ground then fell away very steeply into a thick wood, and I had visions of trying to stop and still hurtling down the slope straight into the trees at who knows what speed and with who knows what consequences. So I decided to take the weight off the nose wheel, gain as much more speed as I could in the distance available and continue with the take off. I knew from MYRO’s test flight in January that the clean stall speed at maximum weight was about 35 mph and although conditions were now quite a lot different, I thought that as we only had to climb 10-20 feet to clear the trees, we’d be able to get away with it so long as when we cleared them, I could then push the nose down to build up airspeed and eventually climb away. And as the wood was on the down-side of a fairly steep hill, I thought that this was a reasonable expectation.
MYRO’s tyre marks showed that we left the ground at the very end of the runway when we had achieved an airspeed of only around 42 or 43 mph, compared to the usual take off speed of 45 mph. The usual procedure then is to hold the nose down to achieve an airspeed of 50 mph before climbing away. However, there was no chance of doing that as I had to keep the nose slightly raised in order to clear the tree line. We succeeded in that, by which time the airspeed had dropped back to 40mph, and if I had then been able to lower MYRO’s nose in order to gain more airspeed as I’d hoped, we still might have got away with it. However, on reaching the tree line, I was dismayed to see that despite the ground then falling away quite rapidly, the trees beyond were all at, or above, the height of the ones we had just cleared. This was not something that I had expected and I had no choice therefore but to continue holding MYRO above the tree level at full throttle with the hope that sufficient airspeed would build up. MYRO has a clean stall speed at maximum weight of around 35 mph but at around 39 mph or so, the right wing dropped and we were headed for disaster. A few moments later MYRO descended in the stall into the tree canopy where we came to rest, something like 10 metres above the ground.
Thankfully at that height above the ground, MYRO was wedged in the branches and neither Regis nor I had suffered a scratch. There are many stories of aircraft crashing into trees and the occupants not walking away afterwards but apart from the fact that we were uncomfortably tilted over to the right, it was a simple matter for me to switch the mags and master switch off and turn the fuel cock off. It then left us with the problem of vacating the aircraft as quickly and safely as possible, which was not an easy feat being as we were 10 metres above the ground, and at that point there was more of a danger that we’d be injured doing that than from the events of the previous few minutes. We were still both tightly strapped in and Regis had to open his door, which was on the lower side, before getting out onto the wing struts and finding a way down. Then I had to go out after him and do the same.
Regis found a way across the struts and within a few minutes was out and perched on one of the two trees that was supporting the right wing. I had to reluctantly leave my headsets and GPS behind in the aircraft and follow him and a few minutes later I was also perched on the other tree. We were both very relieved, of course, because we didn’t know how firmly MYRO was wedged in the trees and if it had tumbled while either of us was transitioning along the wing struts, a fall from that height could have had serious consequences. But fortunately, there we were safely hanging onto our respective trees with nothing left for us to make the descent down to ground level. I succeeded first because my tree was almost vertical with very few side shoots and branches but the tree Regis had chosen was leaning more and had more forks for him to contend with. But within a few minutes we were both safely down, sadly leaving MYRO suspended above us in the tree-top.
We made our way back to my parked car and naturally discussed what had happened. Strangely enough, neither of us was particularly shaken by our experience and there was no immediate explanation for it. MYRO had left clear tyre marks that showed it had used the absolute full length of the runway and there was no obvious reason why it had stopped accelerating while still rolling downhill, for the last half of it. Weight was not a problem and I also do not think that the wind was a major factor or that there was a fault with the engine, as the maximum take off revs were achieved at the start of the take off roll and although my eyes were then more on the ASI, I noticed no significant reduction in them. I think that there was a clue to a possible cause when we made our way out of the wood. The ground under our feet was very wet in marked contrast to what we had seen on the runway above. This indicated to me that after the very heavy recent rains, the water in the ground was probably draining down from the top of the slope towards the bottom. I had only visually checked the top half of the runway and despite all of the recent rain, it was firm and dry enough with the grass not too long. However, the ground in this area is rocky and non-absorbent and I believe that the water may have been draining downwards from the top of the runway towards the bottom making the lower half of it softer than the top. This I believe could possibly have created a lot of drag on MYRO’s main wheels, which are very small (and which were increased in diameter as a result when the AX3 was developed to become the AX2000), explaining why MYRO after achieving a speed of 40 mph in the top half, then failed to accelerate further. It also explains why MYRO should have left such distinct tyre marks on the lower half of the runway which it hadn’t on the upper.
It is easy to say after an event such as this that you should have done such-and-such a thing differently, but hindsight is a wonderful thing. A very experienced pilot friend suggested that I might have considered doing a couple of solo take offs before doing so with a passenger, and of course he was right. I also spoke to Rosie, my old instructor about what happened, and she reminded me of something which she had repeatedly told me on many occasions. When you intend to take off on a runway that you are not familiar with, you must walk the whole length of the runway before doing so. We are all human, are not perfect and make mistakes from time to time. On this occasion, it appears that this simple oversight on my part may have had disastrous consequences, but I can only be thankful that we lived to walk away from it and tell the tale.
So what happened next? Well, just to be spiteful and in an attempt to cause as much inconvenience and harm to me as he could, Thompson took and published pictures of the aftermath of the accident without my permission on one of the microlight forums of which we are both members, as an ‘entry’ unbelievably in a photographic competition! He claimed that they were taken in a ‘public’ place, which of course they were not, where anyone could have done the same and that ‘many residents of the village had been up to view the accident’. This, of course, was typical Thompson nonsense and rhetoric. His airfield is not called a ‘Piste Privee’ for nothing. It’s private, on private land that the general public have no access to, but he has no qualms about ‘bending’ the truth in order to justify his actions. He was made to remove them of course, but not before, as he had intended, they were seen by several people, which I would have preferred to have avoided until the many issues involved in the accident had been resolved in an orderly way. They now have been, of which more on another occasion.
Subsequently Terry Viner, a member of the BMAA Council and a man who evidently has brains in his boots, to my amazement took it upon himself to reproduce them and stir things up even more on the BMAA forum and once again after several members had expressed their disgust that in their experience, no accident involving an aircraft had ever been treated in such a way before, they and the thread that they were in were also removed from there by John Moore.
Because of the, in my view, prurient and intrusive actions of Thompson and Viner I will not now be reproducing any photographs of my own of either the aftermath of the accident or MYRO itself as these deluded people will only see this as somehow validating and even excusing their own activities.
It has been a while now since the accident, but amazingly Thompson still persists in his deluded attempts to cause me harm. He is evidently so motivated by bitterness and spite that he even recently went to the lengths of trying to smear me on a flight simulator forum of which I have been a long-standing member over many years, but he was given short shrift and kicked off there by the members who are mainly of mature years and can spot a trouble-maker like Bob Thompson from a mile off.
I am actually saddened by the way the Bob Thompson side of things turned out as he and his, in my opinion, long-suffering wife were of considerable assistance when I was originally deliberating about making a move to France. However, he is the only unsightly blot on an otherwise beautiful landscape and I am not sorry to have made the move here. And I will also not allow this setback to stop me achieving my dream of flying here in the Dordogne in my retirement – I just regard it as having been put back a little bit.
That concludes the story of what were for me the saddest series of events and as far as I am concerned it also now concludes the Bob Thompson saga. Under the circumstances, however, I feel that it had to be told but I do not feel that either I or My Trike have been enhanced in the doing. I intend never to mention his name again in any future posts and hope that I will not have to, as he has caused more than enough upset and disruption which has led in part to my not posting for far too many weeks. I now fully intend to get back to talking about my new life and my new friends here and the joys of microlighting in the Dordogne in my retirement.
By way of a final comment, some time ago while I was still thinking about making the move to France, the subject of ‘what Bob Thompson does with his time’ came up in conversation. ‘I help people’ was the reply which I have to confess I found a bit stomach-turning at the time. If how he has helped me is anything to go by, trust me, this man is no Mother Teresa. Bob Thompson helps people the way that Sweeney Todd cuts hair.