Sunday, 31 August 2008

see revised entry regarding CAA approved exams with questions which cannot be answered correctly


Judy Leden tests Ben Ashman's Dragonfly

Here are some great shots of Judy Leden test-flying the Dragonfly at Sywell,
taken by Tony Pantelis, who I met on the day. He is a keen photographer and is setting up a website of his work. He very kindly gave me permission to use these shots in any way I wish.

Saturday, 30 August 2008

Thank you, Flylight

I just want to say a huge thankyou to everyone at
Flylight for a fantastic summer holiday,
and especially I'd like to thank my instructors - Phil, Irwin and Neill for putting in so much time with me and seeing to it that in just a month I made steady progress over 20 hours, despite a record bad month for weather.
Especially I'd like to thank Paul for arranging for Neill to teach at Flylight, as it enabled me to make the most of weekend evenings, making long days like yesterday possible.
Incidentally, I think I left a couple of shirts behind, guys. I will take them home next weekend; see you Sunday. Help yourself to the coffee etc
When I left Sywell today I rode to Sackville and spent a very pleasant afternoon with Neill, his wife, and members of the flying club there. Many thanks, everyone, for your hospitality.

Friday, 29 August 2008

Cracked it!

Neil has put in some real time with me today and it paid dividends because I have really cracked landings! We started off flying to Sackville (on a x-country Nav exercise) then did some circuits at the grass strip there. I did some half decent landings (though I was a bit disorientated by the right hand circuit; hopefully didn't let it show, because I managed to find my bearings turning onto base leg). Having stayed out rather longer than our logged estimate, the people at Flylight were getting a bit worried. We hadn't thought. We'd just been wrapped up in what we were doing.

In debriefing Neil was quite clear that he has really been cranking up his fussiness for accuracy and I have been responding positively, showing real progress each hour. I think he wanted to reassure me because I felt that I hadn't been performing as well.

After a break we went up again to do an hour or so of circuits, eventually doing ten landings of which Neil said only two were dodgy, the problem being my flaring. The best bit was Neil drumming on my shoulders with delight when I got it right...and went on and on getting it right - and my sense of elation, knowing that it hadn't been a fluke and knowing that I'd be able to repeat it. We went over time by about a half hour getting that consistency. I was really grateful for that because I needed to know that I could repeatedly demonstrate the newly acquired skill.

After another break, we did some navigation, with Neil showing me how to use the wizzy-wheel to calculate tracks taking drisft into account, how to calculate the fuel consumption, etc. Bloody nice bit of kit. I ordered one last week, so I will get it next time I am up.

Late in the afternoon, when I was tired, we did some more landings...another 8 or so and they were not as good, but again, Neil was cranking up the pressure and I was doing all the flying, with no inputs from Neil and hardly any prompts. He said he wanted me to feel what it is like being up there alone and he reassured me that I am flying tight, tidy circuits now.

I have now done 19 hours and 58 landings. I was worried about those numbers but Neil says some people don't get 20 hours in a year and then fly as many as 40 before soloing. Many fly well over a 100 landings before solo, so he says I have accomplished a huge amount, which he puts down to my commitment. He reminded me of the time we first talked, when I had told him that I was sleeping in the hangar and he had said that if I was that committed to it, he was committed to teaching me. There's no doubt about it, he has really gone the extra mile for me over and over. We didn't finish tonight until after 8pm. Good man.

A great day.

Thursday, 28 August 2008

Knowing when to call it a day

I have just done 55mins of circuits and landings and if I have learned anything it is when to call it a day, when you know you aren't making progress and are making mistakes. A bit of a discouraging lesson, to be honest, I suppose because I am ever conscious of the solo approaching rapidly and have always made progress, hour on hour towards that day. The last thing I want to do is hit a plateau before I take it round alone; by all means let's level off once I have done the big one.....just not yet.

I have two hours with Neil tomorrow, when I can go at it fresh.

One long air show

I have seen some lovely aeroplanes at Sywell this summer. And these weren't even here for the airshow. They are just part of the day to day experience of a major airfield. Some are based here and others flew in for various reasons.

I snapped lots of them with my phone, which does a pretty good job, as you can see.

Here is a small sample.

My favourite from the King's Cup air race, the Cow

Pitts Special

Tiger Moth


Fokker Triplane replica

another Harvard

Miles Messenger
(When I was a student I polished the canopy on one of these belonging
to a Jim Buckingham, near Bristol)

Chipmunk (one for you, Dad)


I got a "lovely"


The day started well with an hour in the circuit, initially doing gliding approaches, then powered ones, which I quickly realised I didn't really know; thought I'd done them but perhaps not. Phil prompted me on height control so I made a particular point of maintaining 1,000'. Phil got me doing the downwind calls and I promptly rattled out the downwind checks and remembered to check the dead side for aircraft cutting in. In short, all the ingredients are coming together and Phil used the feared SOLO word as we walked across to the hangar to update the tech-log. I don't dare mention it. I just said, "So, it is all coming together" and he said, "Yes, it is coming together very nicely".

Oh, and I got a "that was a lovely landing".

Tuesday, 26 August 2008

Riding and Flying

I started the day at about 5am and was on the road by 6 for an exhilarating ride to Sywell, a distance that can take two and a half to as much as three hours in the car (though I will tend to stop at services).

Even stopping, I managed to cover the distance in one hour and three quarters, which started the day well. Then had a terrific flight with Irwin who, with prompts, got me doing some pretty decent RT calls in the circuit....and some decent circuits with fewer and fewer prompts....and 7 fairly respectable landings. I am getting good at judging the approach. You place the number at the end of the runway against a reference point at the front of the aircraft, in my case a point on the upright tube, and when you can see that it is not rising or falling you know that you are going to land on that very spot. If it drops you are too high, and if it rises, you are too low and need to add power. As you round-out and enter the hold-off you look further down the runway to get a better perspective for judging your height (Irwin says I should write books!).

Right, I am giving up the computer now because Becca is off her lunch. More later.

the Tinworm Diet

Thanks to being sick for two weeks, I have lost a stone.

Let me say that again, I have lost a stone! That's 6.35kg, putting me under the 80kg pilot weight.


Monday, 25 August 2008


A night with stomach cramps led me to abandon my tent and head off to Northampton A&E which was really bugger-all help. I didn't get to see a doc, just talk to one on an internal phone (a number which, if I had known it, I could have rung from Sywell, as it happens) and was told that I had gastroentiritis and that really there was nothing they could do for me. The Doc said I should starve myself for about 24hrs and take regular doses of paracetamol, which is what I have done, as well as checking myself into a hotel for a night disturbed by chavvy cretins revving shouting and honking through the night in the carpark - so that I invoked the Premier Inn's "undisturbed sleep or your money back" policy.

I realise now that the sickness I had over a week ago, when I came home, hadn't left me and that the puking during my flight briefing at the start of this week was all part of that too. I have been nauseous all week and should have realised that that and the loose stools indicated a need to starve myself until the bug was pooed out (as my medical ignorance presumes happens). I needed to deal with this earlier, but of course when you are flying (or hoping to), you don't dare do anything that will ground yourself. I just kept swallowing hard ...and because I was concentrating hard in the air, I suppose I didn't notice any discomfort.

I have popped home for a day to bring my stuff back, so that I can return on the motorbike; just as well, because the starter motor conked out at Cambridge services, so that once the RAC got me started, I knew I had to get home without stopping the engine, or I'd need another push start.

It doesn't rain, but it bloody......

Friday, 22 August 2008

All change

Last night, ringing a friend back home, I felt pretty depressed. My summer holiday is running out quickly and I feel that when I am not flying, which is most of the time (flown three hours in the last two weeks) I am achieving far too little (and you can't study ALL the time). Meanwhile, back home lots isn't getting done that could fitting the leafsprings to the 101, mounting the axles, etc. Ask anyone and they will tell you that I always like to feel I am achieving something in my spare time.

So, I was depressed. The weather, as everyone in the UK knows, has been awful, seemingly for ever....and every day is a round of expectation, disappointment, waiting, disappointment, waiting, waiting, waiting. I told my friend that if the weather didn't change by the weekend, I was going to cancel next week's bookings and go home and get on with stuff which is not weather dependent. I was willing to risk the weather improving while I was away; I'd be philosophical about it.

Another driving factor is my gut which has been crappy, due to a lousy diet (living out of a microwave and eating out)...and I don't think I recovered fully from the bug I had at home. I get little sleep, to be honest, sleeping in the hangar or tent and I am desperate for the comforts of home.

This morning, all changed, following a night of rain crashing down on the hangar roof. The sun was out, the sky clearing and almost no wind.


Neill and I went on a fantastic flight, with about 15mins spent catching up (I'd got rusty), then we did some advanced turns, engine failures etc and, best of all a landing-out at Pitsford, a small grass strip. Most wonderful of all about this was that I flew the approach and the landing myself, with only verbal prompts.



It is the most fantastic location: a lake for sailing, an airstrip, a beautiful farm house and massive barns fit for conversion or hangarage. Glorious. The family which owns it is very sympathetic to microlights and very welcoming. Landing fees are voluntary and go towards the Air Ambulance. I regret not having had my wallet with me.

Neill and I took each other's pictures with G-CEGJ with the reservoir in the background, then I took us off back to Sywell, where I did a half decent landing. On the way back we kept a Harvard in sight as it was doing aerobatics...and Neil took some photos for his scrapbook.

That took care of the flying. Cath took care of the comforts of life by suggesting a B&B and I decided to splash out and book four nights in a row next week. It is a luxury I can't afford for a whole month, but under the circumstances......

When I told Neill I was abandoning the hangar for a B&B he said I had crashed in his estimation.....he'd thought I was hardcore! ;)

Thursday, 21 August 2008

Multiple choice questions with all options wrong!

(This entry revised following discussions with an examiner, whose opinions I respect. )

I originally protested here about there being a multiple choice question in one exam paper which did not have a correct option to choose; whatever you put would not be correct because air law had changed, while the exam paper had not been updated. The question was worth 5% of the paper in which 70% is a pass. It seemed to me that any student who got 65% would have a very legitimate cause for complaint if he had been unable to get the passmark, whatever he put for that question.

An examiner who read the posting took my point but says that while the CAA is always months behind in approving BMAA draft questions (modified to take into account new laws), and while there is always the potential for students to have difficulties in exams as a result, he has never known a student to fail an exam as a direct consequence of such a conflict. He would go in to bat on behalf of any such student if such an occasion arose.

None the less, the problem exists. Exams do contain questions which are out of date and which require a student to be as aware of past law as they are of current law and will worry over a question for too long and then worry about their other answers. The students' problems are compounded by text books being out of date (even, I am told, some instructors apparently being out of date)...and it just seems to me that as it takes months and even sometimes years for laws to change, it ought to be possible for the CAA to anticipate an exam change and to approve questions which take account of these changes before candidates sit the papers, especially when it ought to be possible for exams to be taken online, avoiding the need to mail-out to all flying schools every time there is a change.

It can't be reasonable to expect students of a subject which is new to them to know law which is not very readily available to them and to take exams where it is impossible to get the answer right, except by pure fluke, especially when a re-take will cost them £25.

I cannot be the only student who has seen this as an issue. Students really must not be expected to carry the can for a system that cannot keep pace with change.

I was asked by one examiner to take account of the fact that raising this point online might panic other students, but is that really my responsibility? If the potential exists for students to be worried by this issue, surely it highlights the need for action to be taken?

Wednesday, 20 August 2008

Ready for Air Law exam

I reckon I am ready for my Air Law exam. I found a site which gives mock tests, marks them and then tells you what the right answer was....and I have been practising (if you refresh the page you get a different combination of questions. I saw a lot of repeats, so presumably it doesn't give all possible questions?)

I just got 100% in one test, so that has boosted my confidence. I just need to double check exemptions for Flight Levels.

I will do a quick revision tonight (Phil recommends doing this drunk, hehe) and then ask an examiner to set my paper in the morning.

A "wasted" hour saves my sanity

If I hadn't got up in the air for an hour with Phil this morning, I'd have slit my wrists.

Jeeez....I worked out, as I was lying on my deflated mattress at 6.45 this morning, trying to block out the noise of a power tool on the runway construction site, that I had only flown one hour in the last 12 days.....and the waste of time before and since that hour just killed me. I always like to be making progress, whatever I do in life, but here, beyond learning Air Law etc, I have no real purpose; so much so that when Ben asked me to dog-sit I practically fell at his feet with gratitude.


Thank goodness Phil felt the sky was flyable this morning and we got up and did 4 or 5 circuits, one of which he flew himself to judge whether my difficulties were due to rustiness or bumpy air. I hated being a passenger, but I took the points from the demo and flew a much better, smoother and more precise circuit, followed by an unassisted landing.

There I was feeling like I am progressing towards solo, however, and then I met and had lunch with two pilots who each did well over 40 hours before they soloed! Oh God, let me be better than that! One of them did well over a hundred landings! I have now done only 12! Maybe I am not in such a hurry to get Air Law out of the way after all?

Phil said he felt that it was too rough for me really to progress and he doesn't want me wasting air time, getting frustrated. But to be honest, that waste of air time saved my sanity. I now have 11 hours total and about 10 days of the summer holiday left.

Surely I can get some more hours in in that time?

Tuesday, 19 August 2008

de Havillands at Sywell

A few days ago a flight of deHavillands landed at Sywell, re-fuelled, then taxyed over to The Aviator, where their passengers de-planed (horrible word) and carried their luggage across the grass to the hotel; that's really travelling in style.

I didn't see G-ECAN land. The first I saw of her was when she was refuelling. Phil and I speculated that she was a Dragon Rapide but were both doubtful because of her square windows and squared-off wing tips. I later talked to the owner of that and a gorgeous, red aeroplane and it turned out to be a DH84 Dragon. The red beauty was a Dragonfly, one of only two, and the only one in the Northern Hemisphere.

I suggested that Ben get his Dragonfly, also red, out on the grass under its deHavilland namesake for a photo opportunity not to be missed...but he hesitated too long and soon the DH90 was surrounded by other models: Tiger Moths, a Hornet Moth and others.

One of the privileges of being a student at the flying school is being able to walk on the field when other plane-spotters have to stand, green with envy, behind the security fence. I wandered over to the deHavillands, where I got chatting to Geoff Collins - a photographer and enthusiast who had come in on the DH89 and was in the process of cleaning her. He very kindly let me climb up into the cabin and squeeze between the seats (people were small in the '30s!), up the aisle to the one-seat cockpit.

I was particularly interested in some of the more pedestrian details, like the segmented sliding windows...neat design. Amusing to see a Garmin GPS mounted alongside the 1930s dials and controls.

Fixed wing

Weather is crap: cloudbase 1400' QNH and very bumpy - wind speed 18 knots on the ground. I just went up with Phil to do a met check in a Eurostar, which is fixed wing. An entirely different flying experience. The inputs are tiny. I think you could get bored very quickly. When you fly a flexwing, you are really flying because you are flying the wing. Flying a fixed wing is just like sitting in a car...and the closest common analogy would be the difference between driving a Metro and riding a motorbike.

We were cruising at 80 and it felt like nothing special...just like a car.....but do 80 on a bike and you are really feel the force. Sure, I'd like a fixed wing group A licence because of the potential to fly classics and warbirds if I win the lottery(and I want to do the 3-axis conversion because there ARE some 3 axis microlights I'd like to the Viera), but really I don't want to be an aeroplane driver.....

.....I want to fly

Monday, 18 August 2008


I'd meant to recount my progress here but haven't really done that recently. I have now done ten hours and am doing circuits, with occasional bits of local flying to do advanced turns, engine failure stuff etc.

If only the weather would settle I could really get on with my landings, which I haven't been able to do for over a week now. I have done 8, the last of which, Neil assures me, I did with no physical help at all. I have a real sense that the breakthrough is only an hour away, that I will really click with it; to be fair, I have only done an hour of them.....but that breakthrough really feels tantalisingly close.

It means that soloing is an ever increasing possibility.....not quite imminent, but all the same, it looms on the horizon....and before I can do it I need to have passed my Air Law, so I am studying hard while the weather is bad. So, bad weather isn't really bad. It provides an opportunity for a concerted effort on the less interesting part of learning to fly.

Sunday, 17 August 2008

One PC down, two to go!

Dave in Engineering's computer crashed at the end of last week and I am sure he secretly believes I had something to do with it, though he has been gracious about it. I have an alibi, but it doesn't help. It is tough having to just live with a suspicion like that, but honestly, I had nothing at all to do with it.

It does have a further unfortunate consequence, however, which is that I have less easy access to the blog and that has stopped the flow....along with wind stopping play anyway.

Lots is going on here and when I get the chance I will get some of it up here.

Piss and Puke

I'm told that in the bar of The Aviator the other night everyone was talking about the student pilot who had been seen puking outside the Pilots' Mess. What amused all the pilots present, who understand a chap getting sick doing advanced turns or stalling, or whatever, was that this student pilot hadn't even been up yet.

I'd had a week of pooing out both ends and nausea and thought I was on the mend, then drove back up here feeling constipated and bloated, wolfed a few raisins down and went into my briefing on advanced turns. I felt queezy throughout the briefing...and had to rush out and only just got over grass before hurling.

Ben bumped into Neil when he went to get me some water and when Neil said what had happened, said, "I hope you are still charging him for the hour". We put it down as ground school.

I wouldn't have imagined that anyone could top that, but king of one-up-man-ship, Stew, pissed himself in the school's Alatus glider demonstrator. I managed to put my most sympathetic "do you have PE kit at school?" face, assuming he'd be deeply embarrassed, but he seems rather proud of himself. Apparently he has done it before, so presumably he is going for some sort of record?

Monday, 11 August 2008

School holiday lurgy coincides with un-flyable weather

A visit home, brought forward to coincide with un-flyable weather, and I have school-holiday lurgy, which normally comes on earlier in the holiday but has presumably been kept at bay by the concentration of effort on learning to fly; just as it is kept at bay by the concentration of effort on teaching.

Nobody wants to be ill, but I'd just as soon it was now rather than when I go back to Sywell, where I don't really have anywhere I can crawl into a hole and where I'd rather be fit to fly, naturally.

This was largely on Neil's advice. He has been teaching me how to read TAFs and showed me how dodgy the weather looked for the next few days. I had intended coming home Thursday, but by then the weather was forecast to settle down. I am glad I came away on short notice, but I did feel incredibly tired on the way home, slept for three hours when I got here, visited a friend briefly and then slept a further 12 hours, punctuated by periods on the loo and lying, blurry-headed, on the bathroom floor!

Friday, 8 August 2008

Helicopter - a first

Today I went up in a helicopter!

Two friends of Ben's, Simon and Martin, were going out for a meal with him and ringing around to find somewhere they could arrive by helicopter. They have a business selling them!

When I heard that, of course I leapt to attention and made a complete fool of myself, offering to be ballast, do odd-jobs etc....They have heard all that sort of nonsense before, of course, and laughed, good-naturedly.

Shortly afterwards, quite incredibly, Rebecca (receptionist and herself a microlight pilot) dropped the phone and hurtled across the runway...and I realised that someone had offered her a ride...and I was frankly green with envy. Then as I was putting my log-book away I saw Martin in the hangar. He said that Ben had offered him a microlight ride, so there would be a spare seat on the helicopter if I was interested.

Was I! I hurtled off across the airfield, shouting my thanks, Ben yelling behind me to be careful as Simon was about to start up, and as I got near the helicopter it was in fact starting up and I knew I had missed my chance. I hung back and when Rebecca looked out I waved back.

Then the rotor slowed, Irwin climbed out, carried something to a neighbouring helicopter, stowed the object beneath it and I realised that he had just created a spare seat and that I was to be invited to fly! WOW!

He briefed me on how to approach and then I crouched low (probably idiotically low because Rebecca certainly seemed amused), and climbed in the back, Irwin close behind me.

I will write more later. Right now I should be asleep. After the helicopter ride I flew the second of my hours with my new instructor (for evenings), Neil. A really great bloke who got me doing some good landings. More about this later too.

Incidentally, when the helicopter landed Irwin asked Simon some technical question and he replied, "I don't know. I don't know how to fly these things. I am the navigator" :)

Pink Thing in a Thong

Almost everyone here flies - well, that's everyone, as far as I can tell, apart from Irene, who cleans the offices etc on the site. She runs her own cleaning company, Cannon Cleaning. And quite apart from being a lovely person anyway, and charming company, she was an absolute cracker when she got that cleaner's tabard off for the photo. She was wearing a T-shirt Ben gave her: Pink Thing in a Thong.

Someone has to get her up in the air.

Thursday, 7 August 2008

final, not finals

Another superb day, though you wouldn't have known it was going to be at the start, when my first flight was a single circuit in ominous skies. Phil and I were pretty sure that the afternoon flight would be off.

However, the afternoon was dry and sunny, with little wind, so I did touch and go's (not sure how to pluralise go. Dad?) landings. Phil was very complimentary. My downwind checks definitely improved, my turns became tidier but I did land long a few times and climbed out with little room to spare, which meant hurtling towards (and undoubtedly putting the wind up) the workmen building the new runway!

I improved my anticipation on the turn on to the short final. Phil was very strict on the term, it's final, not finals. That reminded me of Douglas Bader's instructor saying, "Never, never call it a plane, Bader, it is an aeroplane".

It has always been aeroplane for me and now I will always, always call it a final leg!

Wednesday, 6 August 2008

Stalling with Irwin

I flew with Irwin for the first time today, and I do have to say I was rather nervous flying with someone new and particularly as he is not only an instructor but also an examiner; and more than that an instructor of new instructors! Irwin was going to be an intimidatingly hard man to impress.

But I have to say that he put me completely at my ease and is really an enormously likeable guy. I had an exhilerating hour and ten minutes of stalling, preceded by a very long and detailed briefing-cum-ground school on lift. He wanted to give me something meaty to really get my teeth into, when I chew it all over in my head. I appreciated the time Irwin put in with me today. He is very conscious of the amount of time I have been grounded and of how determined I am, so he really went out of his way to see to it that I flew, when Phil was unable to take me up, as he has strained his shoulder.

Irwin was enormously encouraging, saying that for the few hours I have flown I have good habits, good airmanship and sound mastery of the wing, ....or something like that :)

One new for me today was that he got me to talk to the tower! So, my RT training has begun. And now I am to start circuits. Progress!

The end of a brilliant day.

Cloud 9 with Judy Leden

A completely superb day of flying was made even better by the arrival in the hangar of someone I felt I knew but couldn't put my finger on. Once I realised where I knew her from - Leonardo's Dream Machines, where she test flew a fantastic realisation of da Vinci's renaissance invention of a proto-hang-glider, I was star-struck. I hate celebrity and all it stands for, but this is different because here we have someone who has earned her fame through being Women's World Hang-glider champion and having set some remarkable records.

What pleased me most of all about her visit was the fact that she was to fly the Dragonfly - with a view to writing a test report for a flying journal (didn't catch its name - must ask Ben). Rather cheekily, I got my cameraphone out and got quite close when Ben was briefing her on its set-up and controls, and Judy handed me her camera and asked me to get some shots for her during the test. I hope the ones on her camera came out better than the fuzzy things I got.

Interestingly, she described, in almost exactly the same terms Cath used, the difficulty in losing height when coming in to land. She said that it just skimmed over the surface as if it didn't want to stop flying. She described it as "hysterical", which I gather is a good thing. The engine is apparently very smooth and quiet and the handling seemed to please her and she confirmed that I will have a lot of fun with it. Flying wheels-up was noticeably different and the engine-off re-start was faultless. Can't wait to fly mine!

Nobody who knows me will be surprised to hear that I really liked Mrs Leden ;) She made my day by having her photo taken with me sitting in the Dragonfly.

Sunward I've Climbed - albeit not through cloud because that would be naughty!

I am absolutely buzzing! I just flew an hour in a Quantum (as the GT was getting its 50 hour service), REALLY FLYING! Climbing turns, descending turns....and I was reminded up there of the JG Magee poem that I have occasionally read in assembly:

High Flight

Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I've climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds, — and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of — wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov'ring there,
I've chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air. . . .

Up, up the long, delirious burning blue
I've topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace
Where never lark, or ever eagle flew —
And, while with silent, lifting mind I've trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.

John Gillespie Magee

Probably sounds a bit pompous putting that one here, but this morning I had a foretaste of that and I know that once I have my Dragonfly and can fly alone it is going to feel just like that.

Tuesday, 5 August 2008

You only Live Twice

Bond, Stewart Bond (no, seriously, that's his name!)
examines the knocked-down Dragonfly

You know the scene where James Bond's latest gadget, WA116 - Little Nellie - is delivered and then is seen effectively assembling itself in stop-motion? Well, it struck me that Ben and Co. could do that with the Dragonfly for YouTube and publicity.

I did suggest that at Popham it would be good to display one Dragonfly dismantled. I think Ben is inclined to overlook the value that will be placed on the aeroplane's amazing portability; he designed it for the job, but this is an aspect that can get overlooked, it seemed to me. He took the idea on board: Three dragonflies were taken: one red, one yellow and a prototype in its own luggage. Look how small it packs down! It really would fit in the back of my Metro! The wing will have to stick out 3' either end of my car, but there ya go.

flex wing or bust

I am pretty much determined now on continuing on flex wing, even though it is more of a fair weather aeroplane type than a 3-axis/fixed wing....and even though I have had another day of terrible weather. I'll get there in the end. I'd just hoped that if I dedicated a month to this I'd make more progress than this (and I have to admit that I am missing home, friends, etc...and could be getting on with the van restoration if I was there).

Rebecca tested me on my Air Law and I got about 90% right, which would be a pass, easily, but I haven't done all of it yet and won't need it until just before I solo, so I have a bit of time to work on it....along with the other areas of study.

The weather looked hopeful this morning. I was woken at 6am by a club member getting his trike out. Around 8 Ben was very hopeful I'd fly all three of my slots, but by 9 the visibility was very poor and the cloud base below 250'. Phil said he'd take me up later, just to show me what low visibility like this would really mean....but there was insufficient visibility all day, even for this; at best the cloud base got to about 700' and the tower grounded us.

So, I went down to the Engineering department and Dave set me to work to remove battery, carbs, fuel (using a "wank" pump, which I couldn't get going; Dave seemed to have the action down to a tee though), water system and propeller. Most of it went ok, though I feared I had knackered one of the carbs, when I reseated one of the pistons badly. Had images of having to work for them to pay for the repair! But it was ok. It was great to get my hands dirty and to be in "men and their tools" mode.

Work, sleep....and getting the T-shirt

I was in the office when Ben was clearing out resources after Popham and he gave me a staff T-shirt, "Well, you helped at Popham".

Made my day!


It could have been made for me. I don't get a heck of a lot of sleep. A runway and taxi-way are being constructed and the gravel lorries start trundling past my tent and the main hangar at around 6a.m. . Cath has recommended a spot at the far side of the airfield which has a small lake - a quiet spot, though I still need to make the Air Traffic Control tower aware. This is not for my camp, as such, but a place where I can catch some shut-eye in the day.

Yesterday I put in a solid few hours on Air Law, which kept me active and awake, and maybe that is as much the problem. Maybe I am blobbed out because I am slowing down from work...and under-active?

So, I talked to the engineer, Dave ( who I helped putting a canopy on an aeroplane last week) and said if he ever needed an apprentice, etc....and he says he'd be glad of my help. I like him; he's a really good bloke and we've had some interesting chats. He's into Morgan-style sports cars and knows motorbikes, as well as being a passionate pilot.

So, if the weather grounds me today I am putting rough clobber on and dismantling an aeroplane (airframe and engine).

Monday, 4 August 2008

a Fixed Wing or Trike dilemma


It was suggested to me today that if I had opted to do fixed rather than flex wing, I'd have flown many of the hours which have been cancelled because of wind. That really got me thinking. I am here for a month (and am 4 days into that) and if I am to use the time well, might I be better off learning fixed wing then converting my licence to flexwing with extra hours later, or continuing with flexwing and taking the rough with the smooth?

I talked to Irwin, who asked what I wanted to get out of it in the long run. I said that their school had inspired me to want to be able to fly both types, as all of the staff here do. Irwin said I will make much greater progress on fixed wing - and that perhaps the only thing hampering that will be an availability of aircraft.

If I do fixed wing and build hours with that I will need to join a fixed wing syndicate and probably fly out of here on weekends (probably coming up on the bike) until I can afford to do the conversion. How much will this eat into the aeroplane budget and will I have to get a second hand machine rather than the Dragonfly?

So, I have a dilemma: flex or fixed first?

Baked Beans, Air Law and RT

I am getting used to a diet of baked beans and Air Law, as the wind has been gusty the last few days. I flew yesterday, doing an exercise on low flying and incipient stalls; finally achieving a recovery with no loss of height, which chuffed me to bits! But my second hour was lost to weather, as were both of today's.

On Saturday I drove down to Popham for the show, which I do have to say was disappointing; nobody's fault, but the weather was awful for the first half of the day and there weren't nearly as many exhibitors as I expected...and nothing particularly thrilling flying. Sadly, I missed the Dragonfly and Viera flights, as they went up on the Sunday, the latter rather abortively, though even that would have been good to see. I believe in this aeroplane, even if it needs tweaking.

Cath and Ben flew the Dragonflies back to Sywell in about an hour and fifty minutes, which, when you consider that it is a 90 mile flight and other manufacturers dismiss it as merely a powered hang-glider, is pretty impressive - and inspires confidence! I just asked Cath about it and it only just occurred to her that it had been that long even, as the ride had been very comfortable; she says that long in a Eurostar would be murder on the back.

I am really settling-in now. While everyone was at Popham, and after my one hour flying, I did laundry, hanging my wet smalls on the flying wires of various aircraft in the hangar to dry. I created a little niche in the back of the hangar, where I am well out of the way. Someone had left a shop's clothes rack there, so I am using it to hang up my shirts, and I have boxes of books and other bits and pieces tidied away and my bedding hangs on the wing-rack.

I had been sleeping in a tent outside (with the inconvenience of having to take it down before eight every morning, as my site is an active airfield), but the last couple of nights, following a searing pain in my back at Popham, nobody seems to have minded me sleeping in the hangar on a folded carpet...rather than suffering sans-mattress in a tent. It meant that this morning I lay in until 7.40. Luxury!

Irwin, an experienced instructor and RT examiner is arranging an intensive two day course in RT for a small group of people for the end of August and has invited me to come on it. That is fantastic news because RT can take ages otherwise. I shall be able to leave here with an RT rating; though I am resigned to taking several months more (minimum) to get my flying licence.

While I am on the ground I am studying hard and keeping out from under people's feet. I think I'd been getting a bit of a nuisance hanging round - like a plane spotter - when people were trying to get on with work, so it is good to be hard at something...rather than just waiting for the wind to drop....which brings me back to the baked beans. I had them for breakfast this morning, after pre-flighting the aeroplane before Irwin, my instructor today, arrived.

Sunday, 3 August 2008

Disclaimer - Reader Beware!

Remember how I warned that this blog should be read as an account of a student's progress and not as a manual? Well, here's a classic example of why I needed to say that. I got the explanation of the trim adjustment wrong, to the embarrassment of my instructor, Phil. Let's be clear about this, Phil knows his stuff and explains himself clearly. So when there are any glaring errors in my explanations it is just because I have misunderstood something or not yet ironed out the creases. I am on a steep learning curve here, processing loads of new stuff, so there are bound to be lots of glitches along the way.

In explaining trim I referred to the camber of the wing altering. That had been my impression having watched the spar bend, but that was not correct. I am not sure I can quite explain what it does do; I am hesitant to put what I think it does anyway.

So, Reader Beware - this is not a manual. Any errors are mine and mine alone.