Wednesday, 31 December 2008

Traffic Cone Revenge

I stayed over at Sywell last night, but unfortunately the visibility was awful in the morning and didn't look set to clear away, so I left at lunchtime, having pottered around fiddling with my Dragonfly....thinking about where I am going to put my compass etc.

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

Today I flew my first aeroplane for the first time

The thing about flying the Dragonfly for the first time is that you can't be "checked out" on the type because there is no second seat; nobody can come round with you on your first circuit to make sure you are happy with the controls. You just have to listen carefully to instructions then climb in and apply all you have learnt.

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

The BMAA community

I have been spending increasing amounts of time on the British Microlight Aircraft Association (BMAA) forums, where I have been picking people's brains about instrumentation. Jeremy Harris, Steve Wilson, Paul Collins and Paul Dewhurst have been especially helpful. I like the BMAA Forums as it feels like a community and everyone is very willing to share what they know.

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).

the merits of not knowing what you don't know

I was talking on the phone to Dad today and mentioned Neill having complimented me on my rather fine side-slip turn the other day. He seemed impressed. I said that I achieved it mainly because I only vaguely know what a side-slip turn is, which made him laugh. All I know is that I wanted to get down quickly, so I made my call for Final half way down base leg and then cut the corner and dumped some height; I sort of just picked my target and then cut in towards it.

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

Red Herrings and Asset Stripping

As a teacher who would far rather talk about aeroplanes than adverbial clauses, I have been teaching my kids the art of the skilfully initiated red herring....and thus, this week, was treated to a jolly five minutes discussing with Year 4 the business of storing an aeroplane.

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

a pilot's swagger

Today I flew three hours solo!
THREE hours!....something like 25 landings, lots of them beautiful.

I love the Quantum wing and people keep telling me the Dragonfly is even better!

Apparently I now have a pilot's swagger.

A fantastic day!

Sunday, 14 December 2008

Small is Beautiful!

I have loads of photos of the Dragonfly in various states of undress, including this one, which shows Stewart Bond crouching next to a knocked-down prototype trike. Look how compact it is. It really is incredible, isn't it!

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 the You Only Live Twice gadget, Little Nellie.


Saturday, 13 December 2008

Once in a hundred years!

I have decided that, come what may, I am going to be crossing the English Channel to France on the 25th July, 100 years after Bleriot's celebrated crossing. Hundreds are due to do it and when I originally mooted the idea, Neill didn't think I'd be ready, but I am going to be doing it anyway...and Neill, seeing my renewed determination last weekend, is going to support me. He tested my resolve by saying that if I was serious, I should join him this weekend by jumping into Pitsford Reservoir, fully kitted up...and I accepted the challenge.

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
Thanks Richard

Thursday, 11 December 2008

My first aeroplane!

Looking a bit of a gumbie...but the suit matches!

Cath in her unique, electric-blue Dragonfly (with electric undercarriage) behind me in G-CFKK

here, a bald gumbie!

Cath at Flylight has confirmed that my final payment has been received, so I now own G-CFKK
I still haven't blogged last week's flying, which included Neill's demo of a power failure in which he got the GT450 all the way back to Sywell from Northampton. An extraordinary bit of flying....or so he tells me ;)

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

This is where I came in!

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.

I aim to make a short stop-motion film of it assembling "itself", as WA116, Little Nellie, was seen to do in
"You only Live Twice"

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

A Fantastic Day

Absolutely brilliant day today. This is just a brief bulletin for now, as I have to do some planning for school and ironing for the morning....

After my second solo

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)

Judy Ledden

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

if you don't grin from ear to ear, you don't "get it"

Chatting with Cath, Stew and Neill the other day it became apparent that my attitude to the solo is unusual - that while I regarded it as a massive and looming landmark, which made me increasingly anxious, for them it was something that came upon them all of a sudden without them having really given it any thought. For me, the number of hours to solo was a matter of pride and the growing anxiety about not doing my solo early, as I imagined I would, made me tense and my flying erratic.

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

Film of Electric Retracts

(edit: The film of the electric retracts has been superceded - I will get a link to it and put it here soon) The electric retract I was praising to the heavens a day or so ago. is a superb electronic design by Pat Gardner and Peter Finley, which complements Ben's very elegant mechanical system. When retracted, the control panel shows a red light (as in "Stop, don't try to land" - like a red flare from the ground), but when the wheels are down you get a green light. All very logical, and logical though the manual version was, with colour coded toggles, I think that most people will be a lot happier with this system.

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

You win some, you lose some: airborne after 20 days, but I lost one of my balls!

Me sitting in Cath's newly unveiled and absolutely unique blue Dragonfly

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 has said that I can convert to the school Quantum, which kills two birds with one stone. I am likely to have something similar as my first two-seater and the machine is under-used and therefore likely to be free for me to fly while Neill is instructing someone else. I am looking forward to flying it. I flew India-Echo once before and it has a nice wing. Hopefully I can solo it next weekend -but the weather is awful these days - it is so frustrating. I have bought a 7th edn of Cosgrove and am going to concentrate on getting met and nav out of the way while I am grounded.

When I arrived this morning Ben showed me the new electronically controlled, powered retracts for the Dragonfly: superb! I want one. Realistically, though, finances being what they are, I think I will have to wait a year or two for one, second hand. In the meantime, I need to get something more within my budget and build some hours.

Neill is a true convert to the Dragonfly and above you can see him in Cath's, which will be the first production machine with automatically retracting undercarriage. Beauty!

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

The Dotty Dog Rule

Here's a way I devised to remember the 1-in-60 rule: Distance Off Track x 60, divided by Distance Gone is expressed as DOTx60 over DG, which to my mind is best remembered as dots over a dog (60 of them), giving you a dotty dog.

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?)

Suit and Nav

My new suit.

For the first time in two months I couldn't fly because of bad weather, so I spent the last couple of days studying for my Navigation exam. I rather feared triangles of velocities but actually enjoyed doing them once I understood them. I feel a lot more confident now and will take the paper next weekend. I have decided to leave the cross-country qualifiers until after my GST. Getting my licence, albeit restricted until the qualifiers have been flown, will mean that there is no chance of weather-delays invalidating my solo hours and exams.

Thursday, 30 October 2008

a teacher's grid reference crisis!

As a primary teacher I teach maths and when teaching co-ordinates, I put across the (x,y) concept by saying, "Go along the corridor and up the stairs", but am horrified to discover that, even though I aced my TA map-reading exam, I have been misreading maps all my life. Effectively, you give the y axis first! This is bound to result, one brain-fuzzed day, in me doing a Wrong-way Corrigan and flying off into the middle of Atlantic, looking for Birmingham.

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.

Suited and Booted

Great news from Cath: my flying suit has arrived. Can't wait to get it on.

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

What went wrong?

I got 86% in one exam and 100% in the other, which sounds fantastic in text messages to people for whom 86% is a First and 100% makes you a genius, but up in the Pantheon of the Gods you just get, "86%! . . . What went wrong?"

Ah well, at least I passed.

Hero Worship

I was in the office with Stew, Neill and Cath and overheard what was obviously a private conversation between Stew and Neill, so tried to be discreet and got chatting to Cath. Stew was saying how much he appreciated Neill, that they had really clicked and how much he valued his dedication....and when he covered his eyes and Cath handed him a tissue I realised the bastards were parodying my blog!

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

Exam anxiety eclipses soloing anxieties

I am off early tomorrow morning to Sywell, where (if weather allows) I will do another hour of engine failures with Neill, then do an hour or two solo in the circuit. But foremost in my mind (eclipsing even the prospect of solo flight!) is my exam on Monday on the principles of flight, airframes, engines, ancillaries and instruments! Crikey. I rather stupidly assumed that since the different areas had their own chapters, they would be in different exams.

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


Ex17a only ever appears in a logbook once, and it is now in mine, along with "Well Done!" from Neill, who ten minutes before sunset sent me solo. I can't remember exactly what he said but I remember him saying I was ready and, having initially responded a little reticently and heard him say "not good enough", realised I had to be very positive and before he could categorically declare, I insisted that I was ready, saying something ungracious but necessarily assertive like, "**** it, I'm ready, get out".

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

Farm money saved

The day started badly, a one hundred mile ride through dark and fog, which is fine in a car with demisters and wipers, but on a bike it means condensation inside your visor and inside your specs too....and you can't get to either too easily at 70mph. One option is to hold your breath; not a good option.

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

I am a phenomenon!

Neill says he's never known a student as odd as me: I fly better when it is rough than when it is smooth. My landings with cross-winds are better than in still air. He has asked other instructors if they have ever come across a phenomenon like me: I am great when it is hard and crap when it is easy.

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.


I managed to get myself really wound up yesterday because I have been doing myself no favours by comparing notes with others over soloing...and that exchange with Pete the Plane Crasher made it worse. However, I was encouraged to learn later that he actually soloed quite a long time after 30 hours, and Neill says I will be a lot safer once I do. That was very encouraging, as was the fact that Neill hadn't soloed by now either, and he is now a superb pilot. It is meaningless to compare notes because we all learn at our own rates.....and look how far I have come in only about 8 weeks.

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

Brilliance and crap!

Today I reached breaking-point in the air. As we climbed out of 210 and turned right into the cross-wind leg......I swore quite fluently and said "I am never going to get this", having flown yet another awful landing. Apparently, that put a smile on Neill's face. It is like hitting "the wall" on a marathon. That moment of crisis is the sign that you are breaking through it. Presumably it gets easier from here?

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

Waterproof on the inside

Today I discovered that my boots are only waterproof on the inside. They hold water very well. I squelched into the hangar and poured gallons out of my boots into a bucket. My suit stood up well but my tank bag let in water. Damn.

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

Neill's Grand Day Out

Cath (tug pilot) just sent me this link to a bloody funny Ben Ashman film of Neill (right) being taken hang-gliding by Stewart.
Dubbing by Ben Ashman

Make sure you have sound on.

Enjoy! :)


Thursday, 2 October 2008

"The best days of your life" - says Neill

Neill told me last weekend that he was pretty sure I'd be finished before January, the way we are progressing at the moment. He says he envies me these days of training, because just as people say that our schooldays are the best days of our lives, learning to fly - going through that huge learning process - is a rite of passage, flying-wise. He urged me not to wish it away, but to enjoy it. I'll miss it when it has gone, he says. And I know he is right.

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

I flew a Chipmunk!

(above) Dad in the 1950s

Yesterday I flew a de Havilland Chipmunk, the type Dad flew with Bristol University Air Squadron in the late 1950s. It is a type I have always wanted to ride in, let alone pilot!

I darted around Flylight, desperate to find anyone who could lend me twenty quid, then saw my instructor landing and approached him as he taxyed in and switched off. Neill was very kind and reached for his wallet even before I explained that a young woman was taking me up in her Chipmunk. He has been banging on about it ever since, to anyone who will listen; using his bloody money to help me go swanning off with a woman! He was far more interested in the woman angle than the Chipmunk one.

"Here I am slogging my guts out to make you a half decent pilot, and all you will remember about this weekend will be Carol de Solla Atkin", he ranted. And he is not altogether wrong ;)

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.

Before take off, Carol gave me a very professional pre-flight patter, which made me ask if she was actually an instructor. Until then I had only been aware that she was a member of a syndicate that owned the aeroplane. She had simply said that she'd be delighted to take me up. I'd thought I was getting a "jolly", never imagining that I'd get my hands on the controls. It turned out that she has just qualified and that I was to be, in effect, her first student. Heck of a privilege!

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.

This was a fantastic experience on so many levels. For one thing there is the link to my Dad, but apart from anything else it is probably as close as I will get to flying in a Spitfire.

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

Anxious tinkering

I have been tinkering with my bike this afternoon, rigging up some hooks for my saddle bags, getting ready for the early morning 100+ miles to Sywell. I'll be up just after 5 and on the road just after 6, and if the weather holds, as promised, it should be a swift and comfortable ride. I haven't been late, even on a wet day, so I am not worried about timing, but I am a bit anxious about how I will fare after 12 days out of the cockpit. That's the longest gap I have ever had, and it isn't like my flying was my best last time.

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

True Virgins Make Dull Companions

I have a new toy, which Neill has been showing me how to use when doing all kinds of navigational calculations. He swears by it, as does Paul Dewhurst, the CFI, who also happens to have just retained his World Champion status in the internationals in Poland, where accurate navigation is paramount. Surprisingly, though, the others who were around at Flylight when Neill showed me how the "whizzywheel" works, were baffled by it.

The whizzywheel, as I have always called them (though this may be a competitor's tradename) is a circular slide-rule which can be used to calculate airspeeds, fuel consumption, wind drift, true altitude, density altitude etc. It has a wind triangle computer on the back. Initially it looks complicated, but Neill advised me not to try to memorise the functions but just decide what I want to work out, then follow the clear instructions in the handbook. It speeds up calculating a lot and if you have to make a lot of calculations using the same variables, you don't have to do a series of separate calculations; instead you just read off a series of outcomes dependent on the third variable.....and even that sounds like I am over-complicating things. Being able to use it is encouraging when you consider that at school I only ever managed to use my slide-rule as a retractable dagger!

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.

True Virgins Make Dull Companions (or Tele Vision Makes Dull Children) is the mnemonic for calculating your compass bearing, taken from your Track, Variation (+/- Xdegrees) =Magnetic, +/- the Deviation, =Compass. Sounds hard but in practice it is incredibly simple.

Dreading meteorology though.

Tuesday, 16 September 2008

control at 20'

I got a real buzz from flying along the the airfield on 05 keeping 20' off the ground, just gently adding power to stop her sinking, but not so much that we climbed...and all the time making snappy adjustments to keep us on the centre-line. Having porpoised along a runway at 40' a week ago, this was fantastic progress....and SO smooth. It feels an enormous achievement. I did it several times, only powering out near the end of the runway.

It felt absolutely fantastic to achieve that level of control.

Fabulous flare

The WARNING sign in the cockpit, incidentally, says, "This aircraft may contain nuts".
It was produced by Flylight themselves.

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

Ground solo ;)

After landing for about the fourth time this evening I taxyed up alongside Cath, as she was pulling in a tow rope, so that Neill could quickly check with her about gliding launches, and she nodded to me, smiled and shouted, "Good landing . . .". I smiled and then, " . . .the rest were crap!". Neill laughed, "she says it like it is".

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.

"Was that beautiful landing yours?"

I had a blissful 35 minutes airborne this morning. It would have been longer but the ground over base leg was getting pretty thermic and as I had done 3 really good landings, we decided to leave it on a high.

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 if he imagined that Neill had taken over.

That felt great.

Saturday, 13 September 2008

Wearing my instructor out

Neill paid me the dubious compliment of saying that unlike any other student he had ever taught to fly, I had completely worn him out. He stuck his hand out and smiled warmly. We had flown for four hours!

What a terrific day Monday was. After a Sunday when a waterlogged airfield had kept us grounded and studying navigation using a whizzywheel, which I got pretty quick at operating, Neill said that he would have a chat with Jeff in the tower and, notwithstanding the NOTAM, get a dispensation for microlights (as we are generally too light to do too much damage to the grass). He came down from that with his poker face on and I commiserated with him; it's all right, it was worth a try.

Then he cracked a smile. He had pulled it off. We just couldn't do touch and go's, so would have to fly off to a different field for that. We flew a navigational exercise in the morning, which included a circuit of an ex-USAAF base, then went on and landed at Neill's field, Sackville.

We repeated the exercise in the afternoon and I got much better at keeping my bearing, identifying way-points and generally not getting lost. We did a bunch of landings and an exercise in keeping airborne near the ground.....what the RAF called beating up a field.

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

A Radio Control flexwing!

You have to watch this YouTube film of a French RC model of a flexwing, not least of all for the cute close-up on the model pilot doing his pre-take-off checks (two mins in...worth skipping to)! Brilliant!

Build your own sub-115kg aeroplane using ladders

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.

I have been corresponding with a very interesting chap who has been researching Flying Flea construction for two years and intends to build one with the fuselage of an HM14 and the wing of a Pouchel. The Pouchel you may have heard about; it's the one made out of ladders! And if you watch this slideshow you will see why this development of the same is so interesting. It looks incredibly simple to build.

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 It is fascinating!