I said good-bye yesterday to my much-loved little French AX3 Weedhopper. I put it up for sale towards the end of last year and the young guy who finally took it over had been waiting since then, initially for the weather to improve and latterly for the Covid-19 travel restrictions to ease. In the end he wanted to come down from Belgium where he and his young family live, last week-end but it wasn’t possible because I was then still in the UK getting ready to bring my ex-pat Xair over to France. Fortunately or plans finally all came together yesterday.
Things started with a minor hic-cup because he flew into Périgueux with friends in a light aircraft and wanted me to take the Weedhopper in there for him to see and try out. Unfortunately I’d inadvertently left the radio kit for it in my car back in England and when I phoned to see if they’d give me permission to go into Bassillac non-radio, the bureaucrat in the office made all sorts of exploding noises over the phone, as bureaucrats do when asked to make decisions about such matters, and told me that they have far too much traffic at week-ends for such a thing to occur. In fact my buyer and Victor, who went to pick him up, said that there was no traffic, no ATC service and everywhere was locked up, as I’d found at most of the destinations that I’d stopped at earlier in the week with the Xair.
But in any case, I’d already decided that the best alternative was for me to fly the Weed into Condat, where there’s a very long, hard, up-sloping runway (so helpful for both landings and take offs) and for Victor to bring him there to see and fly the aircraft with me. And that’s what we did. Here are what will almost certainly be the last shots that will ever be taken of the lovely little aircraft at Malbec after I’d pulled it out of the barn and was getting ready to take off for Condat.
I got to Condat quite a way ahead of the agreed time so I knew that everything would run smoothly, which meant that I then had to wait in the sun. Here’s the aircraft parked in the beautiful sunshine at Condat, probably for the last time.
I’d arrived at 11.45 am after a 20 minute flight. It was already becoming quite bumpy by then due to the heat of the day increasing and creating bubbles of lift and while I waited I knew that it would be getting gradually more severe. The young prospective buyer arrived quite some time after the time we’d agreed and while I’d been waiting I’d decided that conditions would be far too tricky for someone not accustomed to them and that although he could walk around and inspect the aircraft as much as he wanted to, to his heart’s content, there was no way that we would be taking it for a flight until things had begun to cool down. And that would be at the end of the afternoon, or even early evening, as the temperature was then already climbing into the mid-30s Celsius.
Victor suggested that the best way to use the time would be to get away and see if we could find somewhere for lunch and although time was getting on, we thought that we might as well give it a try as more amd more tourists are flooding into the area by the day and we’d be bound to find somewhere open. This proved to be a much-loved watering-hole on the bank of the river at St Léon sur Vézère where we were served up with a sumptuous Caesar Salad complete with foie gras, walnuts, gisiers and goat’s cheese. Delicious!
But when we’d finished and said our good-byes, it was still too early (and hot) to go flying, so we took our friend on a lttle tour of the area for him to take a few photographs of some notable places and landmarks while we waited. But eventually we got back to Condat and it was time to take to the air. And for the most part, our young friend did a very competent job. That was until we came to the landing.
I’d sat without taking the controls since after the inital climb-out just giving bits of advice, hints and tips as we flew and he did very well considering he had no experience of the Weedhopper or of any other aircraft like it. We ended up on final a bit too high and fast but it didn’t matter because we had tons if runway ahead of us and at my instigation he confidently stuck the nose down and closed the throttle.
Then we came to the flare and it all began to go pear-shaped as we started by flaring too high and then panicked a little bit and began to balloon back up again. This is a sure-fire recipe for a stall so I grabbed the stick, stuck the nose down and we landed, with a little bit of a bump but not much. Afterwards I asked him how he’d thought he’d done and I could tell from the expression on his face that he wasn’t very happy. He said that he thought that he’d failed miserably on the landing but I said that actually what had happened was quite normal for a pilot coming to the Weedhopper for the first time and that he’d done pretty well.
But then we came to the moment of truth. He had arranged to fly the Weedhopper to Montpezat further south in the Lot-et-Garonne where he was to receive some qualified instruction on it and have an engineer give it a once-over and now he wasn’t confident that he had the necessary experience to do so. I admired him for making such a decision and voicing his doubts, because I didn’t think that he had either. He said that he definitely wanted to still go ahead with the purchase so the question now became how to get both him and the Weedhopper safely down to Montpezat and to that there was only one answer. I’d have to fly the Weed there and he’d have to drive my car so I could get back again afterwards.
I hadn’t made any preparations, of course, but he had the flight loaded into his tablet in Sky Demon. I made him modify it to a dead straight line as it looked from the kinks and bends in it that he was going via every small town and village along the route, but once that had been done, I took off at around 18.55 pm with plenty of time to get to Montpezat in the by-now beautiful evening flying conditions while Victor whipped our friend away to pick up my car.
So there I was setting off on yet another cross-country flight less than a week after the last one. However, it only took 1 hour and 10 minutes and was a total pleasure compared to my last flight in the Xair. I landed at a Montpazat that was bathed in the early evening sunlight but which was all locked up and almost, but not quite, entirely empty of human life. Here are the final shots that I took of the gorgeous little aircraft parked in the same place that I’ve parked all of my aircraft at one time or another, except my ex-pat Xair which will probably end up there at some time in the future, in front of the airfield control tower and main buildings.
It was some time before the Weed’s buyer also arrived during which I met the instructor who would be taking him for instruction the following day and who came wandering out to look at the aircraft and have a chat. Shortly afterwards the deal was done and 28AAD became his. I then left for the best part of two hour’s drive back to Plazac satisfied that the little Weedhopper had gone to a good home. I’ve since heard today that its new owner is very pleased and is enjoying flying it and that the engineer has given it a big thumbs up too.
I have wished him ‘Bons vols’ in return and just hope that the instructor does a good job and gets him totally prepared for his long flight back home without any incident. I think he will make sure that he is as he seems very sensible and responsible 😉