Wednesday, 31 December 2008
Yesterday, despite the haziness, which confined me to the circuit, I had a magnificent day's flying, bringing my time in the Dragonfly up to 4hrs50! My first experiences on it, on Monday, had been rather hairy; Neill said, having tried it out first thing, that it was the roughest weather he'd ever flown it in...and there was I about to fly it for the first time! A bit of rotor from surrounding hangars snatched the wing at one point and really scared me . But yesterday's flying was just superb....the experience, obviously, not my handling of the aeroplane; but even that quickly improved.
I got to the point where I could line up on the runway to land, control the wing with one hand and the throttle with the other and hold my line and height all the way along the runway...not quite sure how high....about ten feet, I guess.......but smooth and controlled. Best of all, Neill was there to see it. He got some good photos...(post them here when he emails them). Later, Stewart Bond came out and was complimentary....and even Cath had the odd nice thing to say.
Luckily the latter two didn't see me land on a traffic cone! I'd gathered that at one point on Monday Stew had said I was approaching too high, so yesterday I worked on ever shallower approaches....until I rounded out too early and so low that I didn't so much come down on a cone as fly into it! It was there to mark the end of the runway.
Monday, 29 December 2008
And that is what I did today......completing 1hr 35 in it.
It is a fantastic feeling flying your first ever aeroplane for the first time (nice bit of alliteration for a lesson there).
More later, but right now I am off to The Aviator for a drink with Neill!
Friday, 26 December 2008
I had no idea that most compasses on microlights were regular, common or garden nautical compasses, or that digital compasses were not just a gadget of little real, practical use, though Jeremy says the compass on his watch is "pants" because it has to be held perfectly horizontal to work.
Paul Dewhurst (who has won international competitions in navigation) has even used a flat walking compass (the type with a bezel) and managed fine. He said there is nothing to stop me just fixing it to the keel (I could probably just use a bit of black duct tape?). Steve Wilson, who flies near me, flies an unfaired Dragonfly with a Silva kayaking compass strapped to the keel, which is another very affordable option.
Jeremy recommends a Suunto watch with vario and altimeter, but I am not sure this is necessarily going to be cheaper than a Digi Fly. On his advice I have placed a wanted ad on Paramotorists' site.
GPS systems also have altimeters and digital compasses, and one that is very affordable is the Garmin Etrex Vista, and coincidentally Paul has one he is willing to sell. Steve just emailed me to say that you can download your track and see where you went on Google Earth, which is pretty seductive stuff! He also pointed out that an ASI is not really necessary as you know, for nav calculation purposes, how fast you go in trim (with the bar neutral). So, the Etrex could be all I need, though I would like a separate compass that I can just glance at (especially as the Garmin compass uses lots of battery).
Neill (who attributes any latent genius in me to his teaching, naturally) was extremely complimentary. I was just chuffed he had seen it. He said I am now a "pilot", rather than a student. It was kind of a coming-of-age moment.
I have now done about 6 hours solo.
I have bought 3rd party insurance and next time I go to Sywell, I am going to fly MY aeroplane for the first time.
Saturday, 20 December 2008
One of my favourite pupils, a somewhat eccentric boy, suggested I bought a barn.
I have just bought an aeroplane. How on earth will I afford a barn?
He came straight back at me, "Buy a barn with a cow in it, and sell the cow"
That is one for the book.
Monday, 15 December 2008
Sunday, 14 December 2008
Here's a superb film about how to rig it.
I have said this before, but someone really must do a stop motion film of it rigging itself.....like the You Only Live Twice gadget, Little Nellie.
Saturday, 13 December 2008
Actually it won't be this weekend, and we are going to be much more sensible and do it "Officer and a Gentleman" style, in a swimming pool with divers standing by. Neill says the suits get incredibly heavy in water, so we have to have back-up in case anything goes wrong. Life jackets are inflated with CO2 at a cost of £11 a shot, so I need to get it right first time! We discussed, this morning, whether we should keep helmets on or jettison them. Some favour the latter as they are heavy and could contribute to neck impact. Neill's thinking we should keep them on for initial impact, then rethink - they may be heavy but they keep heat in. Of course nobody wants to think they will ever end up in the drink at all, but it is right to be prepared.
Carol de Solla Atkin, never one to walk away from a challenge herself, has been very encouraging and gave me the boost to go and ask Neill for his support; I am hoping she will accept MY challenge, convert to microlights and join us.....and I think she is keen. After all, this is an opportunity that comes round only once in a hundred years.
The photo comes from The Flying Kiwi - Richard Seaman
Thursday, 11 December 2008
Cath in her unique, electric-blue Dragonfly (with electric undercarriage) behind me in G-CFKK
Cath at Flylight has confirmed that my final payment has been received, so I now own G-CFKK
Tuesday, 2 December 2008
Here's the film that first made me aware of the Dragonfly.
and here, Ben Ashman, its designer, provides interesting commentary over some more mouth-watering footage, which also features the aeroplane flown engine-off. It has record-breaking soaring capabilities.
and just watch how tightly packed it goes in this
Hey, cool, I just realised that the actual aeroplane in the user's guide is mine!
What is particularly sexy about the design, and which becomes apparent from watching the film, is that the undercarriage retracts manually, by the pull of a coded cord activating an ingenious mechanism. This has the added advantage that the entire trike unit can be "short-packed" so that it will fit into the back of a car - with the wing carried on a roof-rack. I really think it should be featured as a gadget on the next Bond film.
The newest development is an electric retract, which I am going to fit to mine. Here is Ben Ashman's film of the system being tested out on Cath Vickers' blue Dragonfly.
Monday, 1 December 2008
I flew brilliantly, my best so far....especially my final solo circuit of three, which I felt totally on top of, despite some very rough air....
(sorry, when you feel this chuffed it is hard to be modest)
Then, Ben offered me a deal I couldn't refuse and I am buying the red Dragonfly that Judy Ledden test flew. In fact, if I can get together all the top pilots who have flown this very one recently, it will make a great shot, all of them standing under its wing: including Neill Howarth , Ben Ashman, Paul Dewhurst, Stewart Bond and Dave Price.
An absolutely fantastic day!
More about it later
Friday, 21 November 2008
Having read about flying all my adult life, I have always seen the first solo as something akin to the loss of ones virginity... a huge big deal. Maybe the pride around solo comes from a GA/light aircraft frame of mind. Most of my reading over the years has been about what lay-people call "real aeroplanes".....the type that only the well heeled can afford to fly.
I never want to lose the sense of awe at having got this far. I am lucky that there are many more firsts ahead: I have my two hours alone in the circuit, my first hours venturing alone out of the circuit, my first time alone in a Quantum and my first out-landing.
I know there isn't a limited amount of flying to be shared out. Everyone can have as much as they want (or can afford), but it irks me that some people are just doing it because it is there, rather than that they are passionate about it. People have too much money if they fly because they can or because they think it makes them sexy.
And I know people can be smiling on the inside, but what is it with pilots who go round grimacing, like it is all just too much bother. I don't think I have ever seen a GA pilot based at Sywell smile...and the blokes who fly the Harvard look like they are serving some kind of sentence. I hate pilots like that - pilots who can afford to fly some of the really great aeroplanes but don't seem to care much for it. Flying something magnificent like a Harvard is a privilege wasted on people who are not passionate about flying.
If you aren't grinning from ear to ear, you don't get it. That's one of the reasons I like Neill - he's been doing it yonks, but he still gets it in spades. He will say, "You have to be a Spitfire pilot now, no hanging about, we only have an hour of daylight left" - and we scramble, while GA pilots are no doubt wandering over to the Aviator for a bevvy. It is why I like just hanging round Flylight, even when there is no flying to be had. People there get it. I think, generally speaking, microlight people get it.....and the flexwing pilots, the more so....because flexwingers are flyers, not aeroplane drivers.
I am not going to beat myself up if I seem "frantic", as Cath called it. Maybe I seem like an excited kid about flying, but is there any other way to be?
Thursday, 20 November 2008
In case anyone is worried, in the event of an engine failure with wheels up, the retract has a back-up battery with power sufficient to get the wheels down.
Monday, 17 November 2008
This morning I flew, for the first time in twenty days. I hope that isn't a record I break. I couldn't solo as the cloudbase was at 800' but I did get to fly some decent circuits - wearing my new suit for the first time. My height control was initially rather erratic (rusty) but improved dramatically. The inversion threw us about quite a bit for ten seconds at a time at about 200', climbing out, but above it the air was smooth. My turn-ins were accurate and my landings were good, though on one I could have gone on longer. I need to be going on my own now.
Neill is delighted to see that Ben even designed somewhere for him to keep his sandwiches.
Unfortunately, there were only two sponges available, so I was forced to admire the work and provide Neill and Steve (also a student pilot) with useful "you've missed a bit" type encouragement.
At Overstone Manor, having lunch, I was goading Neill because I had two balls and he only had one, when Ben Ashman, that hairy, four-eyed bastard dwarf grabbed my ball and popped it straight in his mouth. Everyone fell about laughing and Stew nearly had a coronary.
A day of great larks, some of which I captured on my phone (but which need editing - anyone know of a RealPlayer editor, free online?)
Tuesday, 4 November 2008
Of course that only gives you a track which is parallel to the intended track, so some people double the number of degrees (two dogs!), so that you track back towards the intended track, but this will take as long as it took to get off track, and you may then only get back on track after your destination! So some recommend tripling the result (three dotty dogs!).
A better way to get on track and to your destination is:
(Any suggestions as to how to picture the TTr/DTG memorably?)
My new suit.
Thursday, 30 October 2008
I have started a thread on my newly-induced co-ordinate neurosis on the TES teacher's forum, where I post as "crucible".
UPDATE: Well, that is a relief. It seems from talking with various teachers on the TES that Ordnance Survey maps do work in exactly the way I have used them all these years, as this explanation shows, but marine maps (and aerial charts too?) use the "world geodetic survey 1984" system, referred to as WGS84, which is the datum used for GPS. It seems I am not mad and that others share my confusion and surprise at the conceptual mismatch.
The other bit of news is that I fitted the new starter motor to my car yesterday, so now I will be able to drive to Sywell instead of bike it, which will mean arriving warm and dry...
...and it increases the likelihood that I will arrive at all!
It'll be nice not having to waterproof everything, not having to stuff saddlebags, etc and not having to get all kitted up, worry about someone blocking the drive, getting the bike out, locking the garage, opening the security gate etc etc. I'll just get up, get dressed and get in the warm car.
Maybe I will be able to lie in until 6.30 a.m. too: Luxury!
Tuesday, 28 October 2008
But, sod it, I am not editing the eulogy out, even if it makes it sound like I fancy Neill! It is in my make-up to look up to mentors. I have seen it before, like when I did my intensive bike licence course, when I took up fencing in earnest or when I learnt Tai Chi in the US....
...well, no, maybe that last one isn't a good example, as I fell in love with her and we got engaged!
I just have a healthy respect for people who know more than me about anything that interests me, the more so when they are very good at something that I want to be able to do well, and which I know from experience is hard.
Later, Neill's family was visiting Flylight and he bribed Cath (who is a merciless piss-taker) with chocolate, not to say or do anything that might embarrass him. I cellotaped a sign across my front saying "My Hero" (with a left arrow and right arrow - one of which could be covered by hand) and crept up and stood next to him in the hangar, and the whole gathering of in-laws, aunts, nieces etc cracked up.
(Maybe next time I will get chocolate too)
Saturday, 25 October 2008
I am not ready! My night in the B&B and any time grounded by the weather will be spent mugging up.
Monday, 13 October 2008
And I WAS ready too. I was nervous and excited, sure, but not scared. I was committed and got the most enormous wave of elation as I lifted off and knew that I was completely on my own and that from here on I was dependent entirely on my own skills and judgement. As I turned onto the down-wind leg, at about 7oo' (because of low cloudbase) my legs started shaking uncontrollably and late down-wind my foot jumped on the footpedal, briefly losing me revs, which must have alarmed Neill on the ground. There was nothing I could do about my disco legs, so I just tried to relax and concentrate on the turn-in.
All along I realised I was doing all my checks out loud, which is probably not a bad habit anyway, and I am pleased that I remembered all my RT calls. I think I rounded at base rather nicely and my descent on final and my round-out were good. It was incredibly exciting. It flew on longer, predictably, and leaning forward to ensure good length on my flare, I was able to brace my legs so that the nosewheel didn't shudder as I feared it might....and the touch-down was not bad at all - Cath actually said it was good! (steps back in amazement!). I let out a cheer, then turned and taxyed back to Neill, who was waiting with camera and congratulations.
I taxyed back to the hangar on my own and as I passed the fuel pumps I saw Cath and Dave holding up placards with marks out of ten :) and they were later joined by Stew for some more photos.
The drinks were on me in the Aviator.
Thanks to Stewart, Cath, Dave and Neill for sticking around to celebrate. But of course my greatest thanks go to Neill.
Sunday, 12 October 2008
So anyway, my first slot was cancelled due to fog, which covered the airfield, but had eventually cleared in time for my second slot at 1pm, after I'd had time to drop my saddle bags at the B&B and get my key - so no need to rush there at sunset if anyone wants to pub it. I also got a pastie and tin of soup at the co-op for tonight (kitchens not open on a Sunday).
While we were fog-bound Neill briefed me on unusual attitudes and dangerous manoeuvres; Ex.15 on the syllabus. It is so serious business that he gave me a call last night and primed me to read up on it in advance. The stated Aim is "To recognise potentially dangerous conditions of flight and to recover safely from unusual attitudes."
Basically, either you get these recoveries right or you have your wings ripped off and you buy the farm. Luckily, I did well and the farm money can go towards my first aeroplane instead. I won't have to do it again until the GST revision.
I am due in circuits from 5pm until sunset. Bugger....I added another good landing this pm and now have to do 17 more. It seems such a large number to get right.
Tuesday, 7 October 2008
Might it be because I am used to leaning against the wind (gauging when it will drop me and anticipating releasing pressure) when riding my motorbike, or is it, more likely, because I feel that a bad landing in rough weather can be more easily forgiven and this takes the pressure off me...and means I fly better?
Probably the latter. So, the best way to cope with this landing business has to be to care less about it. Just enjoy flying.
Being even notionally competitive or self-critical over when you solo is a ridiculous obsession, when you think about it....not least of all because when you are doing it, you are putting yourself under pressure which is bound to affect performance.
Everyone has been at my stage....within an inch of getting it all right, over and over again. Consistency is the name of the game; the skills necessary to solo are all in place already. I have to do 20 good landings in a row. One duff one will zero my score. It is all about consistency.
Monday, 6 October 2008
I have been flying what Neill calls a mixture of "brilliance and crap" and Stew says if I can find the average, I will be doing ok. That's the crux - consistency. Pete from Sackville made it worse by saying, "30 hours and you haven't soloed?", but then I pointed out that I haven't crashed an aeroplane either - which is what he did only a few weeks ago.
My last landing....just after the wall-breaker, followed the best circuit I have ever flown and was a beautiful one, Neill reckons, but you have to remember that, like any good teacher, he wants to be able to send me off on a high. One landing earlier in the day was apparently one he'd have been proud of himself....but others have been really dodgy.
It is pretty clear I am close to solo, which explains my tension-induced erraticism. I will fly a lot better when it is out of the way.
I have another lesson in a minute.
Sunday, 5 October 2008
It was a miserable ride in torrential rain, the whole bloody hundred odd miles. And my horn kept going off, so either the toggle switch is loose or I think my new battery may be shorting. Don't really understand these things. Mind you, it was terrific having it fire up instantly for a change.
Neill said, "If he comes in this, he really is committed", so I suppose I must be. We spent the morning doing ground school, as the rain continued lashing down. It has stopped now and is gusting, but if I am to fly later I really must try and get my head down now. Been up since 5; it is now 2pm. Knackered already.
Saturday, 4 October 2008
Thursday, 2 October 2008
It isn't just about me. It is very much a two man effort, and I really don't think that I could be doing this with a better bloke. I don't know why it is, but we totally click. What impresses me is that he said that because I am dedicated, he'd be dedicated to me...and so it has proved. Neill is no 9-5 instructor. He is there with me until the sun sets. We squeeze every ounce of flying out of a day.
He is a hell of a nice chap. He is obviously a fine pilot, as I saw from the back seat (went along for a met check) on Monday when he landed the Quik in what was the beginnings of "severe weather", yet he is self-deprecating with it. I respect the way he speaks admiringly of other pilots.
The training is going very well indeed and the end is now not so terribly far off, and Neill is right, I must not wish it away because these have been an absolutely fantastic couple of months and I know I will miss them when they are over.
Monday, 29 September 2008
Flying the Chipmunk changed my view of 3-axis altogether - you will remember how bored I was in a Eurostar. Carol would tell you that I was all over the place ("nose too high", "level the wings", "more power, more power", etc), but the fact is that I was actually flying the thing for twenty minutes...and I was delighted to see how easily transferable my skills are....and indeed that I had no problem with the reversing of the controls; it was instinctive (or maybe I have just been doing it all my life in my imagination? - reading, -war films etc). I understood the instruments, the principles of flight, the trim, etc, etc.
Carol took over at one point to show me some pretty dramatic turns where we pulled 2G! It is a terrifically stable and forgiving aeroplane and, honestly, I think it is easier than a few flight sims I have tried. I do think that one day I will have to do a GA conversion, or at very least that I will have to do 3-axis on microlights and get something quirky - not yer bog-standard Cessna-wannabe, like the SkyRanger.
So, I now have 20 minutes of logged tailwheel experience in a late forties airforce trainer. When she sent me to get my logbook, as she paid for fuel and prepped for take-off with another Chipmunk heading home with her, I am sure I must have looked like an excited schoolboy.
Thank you so much, Carol.
Sadly, Carol's research showed that Dad never could have sat in this particular Chipmunk. It served with numerous University squadrons, but never Bristol's.
Saturday, 27 September 2008
I have booked into the B&B. They are giving me an en-suite for the price of a standard single, so I shall have a good night after an exhausting day of landings, or whatever Neill has in store for me.
Fingers crossed for a great couple of days. I hope I haven't forgotten much!
Friday, 19 September 2008
Paul got his out and we compared them. He says that he amazed some other pilots by racing to do calculations. He had completed his calculations before the others had even finished in-putting numbers into their pocket calculators....and the great thing is that a whizzywheel never runs out of batteries.
Tuesday, 16 September 2008
It felt absolutely fantastic to achieve that level of control.
On my final landing Neill said I had done a "fabulous flare", and naturally I was elated. I went into the club-room and repeated it to Cath, who said, "yeah, that's what Neill told me".
"Really, he told you it was a fabulous?"
"Well, he said it was good . . ." then with a grin, ". . . I don't know if he actually said it was fabulous."
I am learning to always wait for the other shoe to drop with Cath's compliments. She later said that I should write more, I am really good at fiction!
Well, it was a great flare, but my flying had been pretty awful. But for that "fabulous" I'd be pretty depressed really. Neill told me he was just along for the ride - He would say nothing. If I was going to kill us, he wasn't going to stop me.
So I did the checks, take-offs, circuits, RT and landings in silence. I was really tense, however much I tried not to be. My power control was erratic, I gained too much height and lost it by flying too slowly, my banking was far too tight etc etc.
I took notice of criticism and my own observations and finally got in a circuit where I flew a perfect height/speed, ...only to land poorly. Utterly frustrating.
Later I discussed progress with Neill. Why was I not landing better, when I thought I cracked landing ages ago? He said that you could think of student landings as being in three bands: beginners, intermediates and advanced...and then with his hand he said I was "here" - somewhere around 8/10 advanced. At the start of each band you land safely and feel good. You are complimented on it...and everyone walks away safely. He said you could send a pilot solo at that stage and that if that was all you needed, you could solo at 6 hours, as some schools do. But Neill said that his aim is to make me as good a pilot as he is.
We are fine tuning, he says. Solo needs to be a positive experience. It isn't enough just to have done it and got down alive. Neill says he is putting everything else in place to see to it that once I am solo, it is just a short burst away from completing the training, navigational exercises included. Unlike other schools where you can do endless circuits and they can unburden you of hundreds of pounds while you make little apparent progress, we are doing engine failures, nav exercises etc...building up all the skills, while improving the landings.
Neill says that I am now able to fly all the aspects well, but it is just a matter of bringing it all together and making it fluid.
Fluidity and finesse were what I lacked last night, effing fabulous flare or no effing fabulous flare.
Sunday, 14 September 2008
I don't know what it is but I just couldnt get the flare right. I suppose I just fear stalling the wing too early. It's frustrating after the morning's successes to have been tense this evening. Perhaps I can put it down to my 5 a.m. start. I'll get a good night's sleep and hopefully I will do better tomorrow.
On a more positive note, we did engine failures and I got it safely into numerous fields (only powering out at the last minute, once we knew we'd get in ok). We did one brief set at low level getting into several fields in quick succession. Very exciting.
Also, a first: a ground solo, if there is such a thing. Neill jumped out near runway 23 and let me taxy the aircraft back to the hangar alone.
I have now done 24:55, which means I have completed my initial course, or will do 5 mins after the next brakes-off. Not bad in a month and a half, especially considering the weather we've had.
Those landings! Wow, I really think I may have cracked it. I rounded out just right and waited, and waited....and the GT450 tends to fly for ever...but I flared, pushing the bar all the way out at just the right moment, three times in a row. It was smooth - no ballooning, bounces or anything.
As I walked across the grass to the hangar, a chap pre-flighting his aeroplane asked, "was that beautiful landing yours?". He looked at me, then at Neill...as if he imagined that Neill had taken over.
That felt great.
Saturday, 13 September 2008
It is incredible and something I'd like to do more of - getting really accurate in balancing power over attitude. "You're losing height, more power, more power"....."now, hold her off, hold her off!" Fantastic! I had a go at keeping her at 40' right along the field, and trust me, that is bloody close to the ground. It may seem a long way up when you are looking up, but when you are sinking fast, calling for rapid reactions, things can go horribly wrong if you don't get it right at 40'.
I am finding that I land more accurately if I lean forward. Neill gave me the option to call it a day several times, but I kept pushing on, trying to perfect it. I did 13 landings, all of them safe, some of them really good, but none of them as good as I'd like....but Neill, who is really turning the screw, racking up the learning curve, expecting more and more from me, seems to think I am making progress.
I have now flown 23:20.
Thursday, 11 September 2008
The GA graphic above came from a Google search and can be found on this interesting forum, which has lots of amazing Pouchel variants, like the ones below and at the top.
My correspondent (I haven't asked him yet if I can use his name on here) sent me a Word document which shows actual ladders being used in the construction of the wing and the fuselage (I got this general arrangement photo via Google). He is confident that a sub-115kg aircraft will be possible using this structure...and I am incredibly intrigued. What the document he sent shows is that the ribs, which are foam, are constructed around the wing ladder. Brilliant!
Have a look at the videos, bottom right of the blog. And have a look at Pouchel.com. It is fascinating!