Sunday, 31 May 2009

At the end of the weekend of the USSR (SSDR) event ending at Sywell I was delighted to see this P&M Magic Laser fly in and went to chat to the chap flying it for them, who told me that he only recently got his licence.

Last year, before I bought my Dragonfly, I corresponded with its designer in India and was seriously thinking of getting one. P&M make a particular point of emphasising that theirs is a microlight wing, not a hang glider one, which is a funny way of pitching it because I'd have thought the high lift, excellent sink-rate which Flylight are able to boast with their Aeros wing are great selling points.

I really like the business-like way the Magic Laser is put together and was especially interested in its instrument panel and the way that the pilot had assembled his own additional kit in a paragliding tummy bag strapped across his lap.


Delighted to have heard from Alex, who sent me these pictures of his Medway Half-pint, a 1986 JPX425 powered single seater which qualifies as an SSDR.

I saw similarly primitive trikes at Popham in 2008 in Shelley Smith's excellent exhibition of ancient microlights and loved them.
I'd like something like this myself. I envy Alex.


re-test set-back

My partial has been postponed from tomorrow evening, when I would have been celebrating my GST success, because my examiner has dislocated his shoulder.

I wonder if, in extremis (and I think this counts, as he will be out of action for at least three weeks), a different examiner is allowed to complete the exam? I have written to the other examiners at the school to ask.

Saturday, 30 May 2009

all change!

No sooner do I accept defeat than along comes Keith Negal and humbles me with a very generous offer:

"Now to Peter's Dragonfly. When I showed the list of aircraft airspeeds one type of aircraft stood out like a sore thumb. The comment was that, given a strong wind, the Dragonfly could take all day to cross the Channel. I pointed out that given a strong wind the Bleriots probably wouldn't clear the coast. For my part, I shall be flying a Sluka to keep the XLs company and if Peter wants to tag along I drop the revs and mush along at his sort of speed. However, in a French imposed cull we slower aircraft must accept that we are an obvious target."

Given the enthusiastic response to his advert in Microlight Flying he is negotiating an over-flow list to fly to Abbeville instead, as the Calais authorities are sticking to their guns at 100. Funnily enough, Neill suggested today that we fly down to Abbeville informally.

But as it happens, it seems that my slowness may mean I get invited to join Calais, with faster aircraft being asked to volunteer for the longer flight. Either way, I am not going to get my hopes up too much; ce qui sera sera. The more informal the better for me. What I don't want to do is now rush everything, though I will need to look into RT.

I have a grand plan for a commemoration of a great English pilot later in the year, which I will share closer to the date.

Friday, 29 May 2009

J'accepter l'inévitable et au moins maintenant je peux arrêter le meurtre de la langue française

As I am sure that the Blériot list is pretty much a fait accompli, I have decided not to entertain almost certainly false hopes and risk being disappointed again later along the line. I have written to the organiser and withdrawn my application. It may be a lame act, which will change nothing, but at least this way closes a frustrating chapter and the pressure will be off:- I can take my time getting my cross country qualifiers under my belt and getting my RT licence, which I would have had to rush, with under two months to go.

There will be other adventures.

Incidentally, as I write, and only 30 hours since I started it, my BMAA thread has had 480 hits. With that much interest and shared frustration at the lack ofinfo, the numbers who have been excluded etc, perhaps one adventure could be an alternative Blériot flight in the spirit of Kev Armstrong's comment that "such kontrol is anathema to us microlight either do it freely or are inclined to do something else."

I am with you, Kev. Suggestions anybody?

Êtes-vous avec moi, mes frères?

I have started threads on the BMAA site and on the Blériot Group one on Yahoo.

Think I may be in the process of gathering a following. The BMAA thread I started less than 24hrs ago has already had 390 viewings. And as the Blériot Group has more members than the 100 pilot limit, and as 70 on the list itself won't be able to go unless Keith Negal's negotiations are successful, I think quite a lot of people will be looking for an alternative route with me.
.... which is not mired in regulation and which is other words, a commem event in the true spirit of microlight aviation!

Êtes-vous avec moi, mes frères?

Thursday, 28 May 2009

Blériot, Non!

I am not happy. Despite having registered my interest on the official website right at the very beginning, and having declared my intentions here in December, it looks like I won't get on the list of pilots cleared for France. Neill isn't on it either. It seems that the French are limiting the numbers of British pilots who can take part.

I do not know how the approved list (organised by Keith Negal over here) is decided but I have now registered in three different places and can't help feeling that it helps to already be in the loop...and clearly, as a newbie, I am not. I see that the usual famous names all managed to be included.

I have written to the organiser, who implies that my low cruise speed may be a factor, but as there were foot launches and Doodlebugs (powered hang gliders) on the crossing in recent years, I wouldn't be the slowest, unless they have been excluded this time, which when you consider that Bleriot was in the first microlight, seems out of the spirit of the occasion.

I am desperately disappointed.

Looks like I will have to just go the following week, when everything has quietened down.

Tuesday, 26 May 2009

Partial Pass

I got a partial pass, which means that I passed the test on everything except for an element that the examiner wants to see again before he can sign me off conclusively. Neill called this "Fantastic News" and others have congratulated me on it too, so quite clearly, among fellow pilots that is regarded as a good thing. The examiner did say that the word fail did not come into it anywhere and actually he was terrifically complimentary, so I am pleased.

What I partialled on was "engine failures". I did one safe one and a very dodgy one, where I drifted too close in to the field while losing height, so that I would have landed too fast and long into the field, but where I wouldn't have had quite enough momentum to get over the end hedge into the next field. Disappointing.

My examiner is a discreet man, so I know he won't want me to name him, but I do have to say that he is really friendly and reassuring with you in the air, so that you don't feel constantly stressed. In point of fact, amazingly, I actually enjoyed the test; I suppose because I knew at each stage that I had handled each exercise correctly. I'd been worried about losing height on my 15degree banked look-out (HSELL check), though he says he does it at 30deg, which would get it over more quickly and where the wing is less likely to dip. So that is one for the future.

My high energy banking was a little abrupt; he says he rolls the wing in just as steadily as he does a 15 or a 30. My stalls and unusuals were fine - phew. My fast and slow level flight was fine, though I was using the trim setter, where previously I had been told that it was of negligible use, as it is more a load control on the Quantum, so that added to the workload. Another addition to workload was that I wasn't allowed to opt for the examiner to take the RT calls, as Neill had thought I could.

All in all, a very positive experience, I thought, with my examiner, who is a stickler for detail and who I therefore feared having, being hugely supportive. He even came in on his day off because he knew that the weather was not looking good for my test the following day. Also, Phil, my instructor at the start of all this, gave me some pre-test instruction (as Neill was unable to be there) on soft and short field landings and take-offs, which I very much appreciated because I was rusty on them...and it gave me a chance to chill out, as I haven't flown for a fortnight and this worried me. Thanks Phil.

If the weather improves, I hope to be able to do my brushing-up tomorrow or, failing that, Thursday....with the chance of doing the partial this weekend or next
. The sooner the better.

Fingers crossed.

Monday, 18 May 2009

Thinking outside the box again

The whole point with Dragonflying is that it should be simple and recapture some of the pioneer feel, so with that in mind I have been trying to assemble instrumentation for my Dragonfly without spending £200 plus on a Brauniger, Digifly (plus the speed probe at £70) or similar by thinking outside the box....thinking what pioneers would use.

They'd look to hang gliding, parachuting, camping, rock-climbing etc for equipment ideas...and after all, such areas of endeavour influenced Ben Ashman when he designed the Dragonfly: it doesn't have instruments, it uses lots of velcro for fixing, has a heavy duty carabiner for the back-up head gear, uses webbing straps, cycling pegs, rucksack snap-fasteners, etc.

So, yesterday I won an auction for a very small but practical altimeter, a Swiss made Thommen 15,000' with 3,000' on the first rotation, read easily, which is really all I would have needed, if there hadn't been inner scales. I am pretty sure from emailing the seller that it will adjust for QFE from QNH because after admitting that he didn't know how it works, he said:

The only knob is the outer casing (which could be turned while wearing gloves). This rotates the front "glass" which has a red line on, and the outer dial that shows the 0, 500, 1000, 1500, 2000, 2500 measurements (the red line points to the zero) ... this provides a reference point to the inner black pointer of the guage which will alter based on height/pressure.

That sounds just the job, doesn't it! I got it for £36, which together with a second hand stopwatch and the hang gliding ASI means that I have most of what I need, with a saving of a couple of hundred pounds, which can be spent on my radio.

If anyone is aware of a Microavionics headset, Icom A20 or A22 and a good interface, please let me know. Canny cheapskate has a little money waiting.

Saturday, 16 May 2009

My front room is my hangar

I think I must be just about the only pilot in the world who has his aeroplane in his front room!

Paul Dewhurst asked if I sit in it watching TV?

Actually, the front room has always been a bit of a box-room. You just ask girlfriends to close their eyes walking through it. I keep my bike and cycle-trailer in there and use the room to dry-store parts for my van restoration. In the past I have used it as a dry place to tinker with motorbikes, so it really is the perfect place to store the trike - made possible by having that retracting undercarriage, so that it will go through the door.

I don't watch TV sitting in it, but I will admit to sitting in it daydreaming of flight.


Wasmer airspeed indicator

I opted to buy one of Vince Hallam's surplus airspeed indicators and am glad I did. I collected the package from the Sorting Office this morning and tried it out with my arm stuck out the car window as I drove home.

You can see that it is an analogue system (no batteries to run out). Essentially it is a Newtonmeter with a cup, not unlike a milk powder scoop, on the end of its lever....that's what I will use as a substitute if this one blows off! There is a strong clip for fixing it to an upright to the pilot's right (on the A-Frame). And a safety lanyard is also provided. I might possibly remove the clip where it bolts to the unit and make a more stable clamping system, possibly using velcro, if this isn't as solid as it looks.

It flicked around a bit, but then it will have encountered loads of turbulence from the car and I wouldn't expect it to affected by my trike anything like as much. I have only glanced at the dial and haven't yet glanced back at my odometer, but so far I am very pleased with my purchase, which was posted to me in a plastic food jar, which struck me as ingenious; I think I shall keep it in there for safety's sake.

Vince says if I stuck it out his kitchen door right now it would read 30! At Sywell it is around 20, which is why I am not flying now.

Can't wait to try it out on the Dragonfly.

Monday, 11 May 2009

Spitfire over Sywell

Yesterday's highlight for me was a low-level flypast of a MkVb Spitfire, AB919 of the BBMF, over Sywell. I was standing by the tower singing the praises of microlighting to some visitors to Flylight, when I heard the distinctive growl of a Spitfire, hurried forward to get in front of the control tower and saw it then levelling out and heading straight towards me at about a hundred feet, parallel with runway 23.... and saw it roar past, banked over so that we could see the upper surface in glorious detail.

Having just taken off on 05 and into a right hand circuit, Neill had the thrill of talking to the RAF pilot on the radio to confirm his position over Sywell (as he was then the only other aircraft in the circuit)and heard the pilot confirm that he would be passing at below circuit height "in one minute"; Neill then saw his flypast from above.

These images were taken from the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight website without permission. I will make a donation, I promise. Please support the BBMF.

Friday, 8 May 2009

Sabres, Vampires and Meteors...but best of all, hang-gliders

I have just got off the phone with Vince Hallam, who I contacted through the BMAA forum, where I had enquired about using hand-held anemometers as cheap airspeed indicators. He very kindly rang me back and we talked for quite some while (about SSDRs, his Escapade Kid, etc) before he casually told me he had flown de Havilland Rapides! That naturally led into talking about the hundred plus types he flew when he was in the RAF, including Meteors, Vampires, Sabres and, after the RAF, Bristol Britannias, when he worked at BAC (Filton) and later with BOAC.

I asked which out of all his aeroplanes had given him the best experiences and he said his 15 years as a hang-gliding instructor. He did say that he'd liked Meteors and that turning the engines off in a Vulcan at 60,000' had been an exhilerating experience, but still we came back to the thrills of maybe Neill is right, maybe I do have to try that.

Neill says that when he first flew my Dragonfly (which after all is a powered hang-glider wing in the true sense) he felt, "THIS is what it was always supposed to be like" when he had first set out to learn to fly microlights....but listening to him raving about flying tandem hang-glider with Stewart, I get the impression that pure hang-gliding comes pretty damn close.

I told Vince how hard it is to dump height in a Dragonfly. I said that I roll the wings from side to side, doing an s-shaped approach and he said that I could also try breaking the airflow by rapidly pitching the wing up and down, which I will experiment with.

I hope to stay in touch with Vince. He is a fascinating chap.


I now have a test date, though I am not saying when ;)

Sometime in the next month I am due to take my flying test.

I was going to say, "Gulp" here, but actually I am quite excited. I have flown with the examiner before and he gave me a few good tips and put me at my ease, so I think it should go ok. He has told me the downloadable docs from the BMAA that I need to be familiar with for the ground oral.