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!

Monday, 1 September 2008

Aerial shots from our cockpit

Neill just sent me some pics of our flight to Pitsford. See the updated account here