Sunday, 28 February 2010

Post Mortem -almost

Not strictly a post mortem....hopefully my plane isn't really dead....but I went back to Sutton Meadows today and unpacked my wing, which was in the wing-bag Dave Broom lent me. We'd done a very rushed pack last night and I didn't want to risk nasty creases and mildew, and wouldn't have been able to get back there for a week.

There was nobody else up there as it was a miserable day with 20mph+ winds and driving rain, and of course that meant an in-hangar rigging, which was incredibly tricky on space, but eventually I managed to get it on its wing-trolley and manoeuvred into its bay. The rigging itself was straight-forward. I am getting a bit of a dab hand at it. Camming-over at the wing-tips used to feel nigh on impossible, and I despaired of being able to tension at the keel.....but now it is just easy.

I didn't have time to start the engine, though I did give it a look-over but couldn't find anything obvious. I refitted the fuel tank and the re-charged battery, the seat bucket ....and the padding I forgot to take up yesterday.

Next week I will suss out what was wrong with the engine. It'll be nice not having to worry about weather; I will have a good reason to go whatever it is doing.

On the way back I got a puncture, most likely caused by hitting a hole in that bloody awful track from Sutton to Chatteris (as the washes have flooded the Sutton road) and ended up having to change the wheel by the roadside. There is a moral here too: make sure the spare is full of air! Mine wasn't and I had to limp it to a garage, where the unlit pump had one of those tiny windows clouded with condensation. Consequently I over-filled it. When I found a more modern pump, I found I had put 36psi in a 29psi tyre!!! That was yet another drama waiting to happen.

My first emergency landing!

Photos by Simon, using Cat's phone

I had to do an emergency landing today when my engine stopped at 600'. I hadn't climbed beyond about 900', after emerging from beneath the controlled airspace stub over Ely, because of low and ominous cloud above, and I'd descended when I experienced a lot of buffeting higher up.

It had been glorious flying around Ely and I was elated and on the home stretch, but
for a detour north to avoid rain which I could see coming toward me from the West, at that time dropping on the airfield. I hoped to skirt around it and come back to Sutton Meadows from Chatteris, but as I hit the Washes, the engine cut out and I immediately turned left to find a good field heading into wind (190 deg). I quickly found a likely candidate, did a couple of beats and turns and did a textbook power-off landing in a newly planted and boggy field.

After securing my wing I found a track and walked towards the nearest farm buildings, where I was greeted by a lovely family, about whom a lot more later. But for now, a huge thanks to Cat and Simon and Cat's mum, Linda, for being so welcoming and supportive, to Cat for guiding my rescuers, Dave Garrison and Dave Broom, to the field and for lending me her mobile, and to Simon for coming and getting completely drenched with me as we dragged the plane from the boggy field and de-rigged the wing.

You are not wrong. The seat is missing.
In the rush this morning, I forgot to pack it,
so ended up scavenging this bit of carpet underlay to make a seat

I feel bad about putting the Daves out. They were brilliant; I am enormously grateful, Chaps!

Something like this does your heart good; and frankly I needed something to do my heart good this weekend, following a very difficult week. The landing actually felt very soft indeed, but I felt my back jar as I man-handled the plane on the ground. Linda is right though, I may simply not have been aware during the landing of the impact it had on my back, as I was too pre-occupied and running on adrenaline. I expect I will feel it tomorrow. But I have no was bloody exciting....and gratifying too, as I am now an engine-failure veteran.

I "partialled" on engine failures, and they do say that what you have to be re-tested on you will do especially well later. I heard something on Radio 4 recently about some study which shows that the safest drivers (and those who are most considerate or have fewest accidents) failed their first driving test.

When the engine stopped on me I just thought, "So this is what we worked so hard at. Great, this should be interesting." And if anything, it was really rather an anti-climax. Let's hope the next one is just as anti-climactic. Yes, next time; rare though they are, they do happen. The Daves have each been rescued from fields, more than once. There are two kinds of pilot, those who have had an engine failure and those who are going to have one.

Sunday, 21 February 2010

Steve is right, I need a hobby; something productive to do when it is not flyable. So I am going back to my badly neglected Austin 101 restoration. Seeing the cab emerge from under a clutter of tools, when I tidied the workshop this afternoon, tugged at my J-Type heart strings. It has been at least 18 months since I did anything on her, and it it ate years of time before that (I have had to teach myself everything as I have gone along - mechanics, metalwork, welding, etc), but I have started, so I'll finish.

And when the weather is good, I will drop everything and go flying.



The report was made 4 minutes ago, at 14:49 UTC
Wind 7 mph from west/northwest
Temperature 4°C
Humidity 93%
Pressure 990 hPa
Visibility greater than 10 km
Overcast at a height of 1400 ft
light rain

taken from allmetsat

I really must try to trust my own judgements. I said things would improve. That rain is getting lighter, viz is improving, wind is dropping and the TAFs for Birmingham and for Cambridge look great...

....and I am at home.


Saturday, 20 February 2010

"You really should keep it simple and watch the BBC weather, both local and national. I had planned to fly today several days ago and it was lovely, absolutely freezing, but lovely. As far as I could see tomorrow was always a non-starter."

Damn you, Wilson!


Rather than put life on hold, Lizzie and I went to the seaside and browsed in a second hand bookshop, where I bought several flying books. Meanwhile, Lakenheath is showing cloud at 3,500', wind 6mph and 10km visibility.


It seems that Saturday decided to swap its weather with Sunday!


Friday, 19 February 2010

storage compartment on Dragonfly

One thing the Dragonfly lacks is storage space. I liked Steve Wilson's compartment but it only works if you don't have retracting wheels. (That said, I still have it in mind to have something similar below the fuel tank in the dead space between the side panels).

My Dragonfly does not have a parachute, so I thought I would pull out the bubblewrap occupying its space at the top of the seat and the foot of the monopole and create a stowing area...large enough for a fuel filter, spare oil, a toolroll, logbook, lunch, marsbars, wallet etc.

The cubby hole will also solve another problem presented by not having a chute, which is that as the bag is not rigid, the velro which holds it to the head restraint panel does not line up very well and the bag tends to sag.

What I made today solves all these problems. Weight is added (800g) but that is a fraction of the weight of a chute and it adds lots of functionality.
I used very thin steel sheet and it is held together with duct tape.
There is some finishing off to do, but it is essentially done.

Here you can see my flying journal sitting in the compartment
...and there is loads more space.

Now that the bag is rigid, closing it will be a lot easier than it has been too.

One other job I did today is just visible in the pic above. There is a small panel which is secured at the top of the head restraint panel, just in front of the monopole. Mine has been slightly too long, so that it hasn't quite fitted, and has tended to jut forward by about 2mm. So today I filed it down and refitted it.

I am thoroughly pleased with today's progress and am looking forward to seeing how well it works in practice.

An obsession with the weather

Watching the weather could become an obsession for me. Every day when I am not otherwise engaged, I am watching the skies, reading various online weather sites and mentally calculating the time it will take to get on the road, get fuel, get to the airfield and rig......will I be there to get up in the slot between fog blowing away and the next snow downpour...?

My greatest fear is that I will learn too late that it has been flyable; that Steve will email to say he had a great flight today.....and I will kick myself for not having read the signs right, and for having missed my chance to get into the air, even if only for a single circuit.

The quality of available info is variable, as I suggested yesterday. Metcheck, Dave Broom admitted yesterday, embarrasses his website, but it appeals for being easy to read. AllMetSat is in plain English too but is better because it appears to be based on Met office TAFs and Metars and has the facility for changing the units; if you enjoy codebreaking you can read TAFs in their original gobbledegook, of course (as I was taught to do at flying school). For wind you cannot beat the Wind Observation Map but don't trust their visibility forecasts; yesterday I stood in fog musing that they had given 20k! But the site Lizzie recommends is the good old BBC and I have to say that my forecasts using all the above have never beaten her confident readings of what is going to happen.

I prefer it when it is unequivocally unflyable. What I cannot stand is a day like today, when it is touch and go; when there might possibly be a lull, when 8-14mph winds might be closer to 8, when the cloud base may be just above a 1000' and after all, all I need for a circuit is 700'; when the morning snow might be over and when a one hour+ drive now might well be worth the effort, but then again might equally be a waste of an afternoon and just a chance for me to look even more of a pillock to Dave et al at Sutton Meadows.

Lizzie says Sunday looks hopeful.

Thursday, 18 February 2010

A lark in the fog

Trusting Metcheck for your weather forecasts is like searching under a streetlamp for something you lost at night somewhere along the road, because that is where there is most light. Metcheck is rubbish, but so easy to understand! Reading the TAFs and Metars can be tricky....but at least there is a decent chance of not finding yourself up at an airfield, hoping to fly, waiting for the fog to clear.

The BBC forecast very poor visibility. But Metcheck said I'd be able to see 20 kilometres! Lizzie says that my problem is that I cannot be objective when reading the weather; I choose the forecast which gives the greatest hope of flying. I am going to have to stop doing that.

My absurd optimism put me at the airfield this morning, unable to see the windsock from the carpark. But, forever hopeful that the fog would blow away, I set about doing various maintenance jobs, including mounting the recharged battery, fitting the prop and then making sure the engine would start, which it did easily. Phew.

All this was achieved with my new maintenance old wooden screws box fits nicely in the galvanised tray on top of my caddy box lid, and in it I have put locking wire, washers, pliers etc.

Securing the battery contacts in place was done with locking pliers I acquired while at Sywell 18 months ago:- I rescued an old metal trunk from a skip after someone at the airfield had been having a clearout, ground the lock off and found it had loads of old kit in it, including the locking pliers, some spanners, a Flylight triangles of velocities board which had been cut in half but is fine (Ben explained how to use it when I did my Nav) and some other bits and pieces - quite a haul!

The reality of the weather situation was starting to sink in so, for a lark, and as there was nobody around to disapprove, I did something I have wanted to try for ages (though one day I want to do it on concrete). I drove my Dragonfly trike around without the wing on...and I filmed it using a camera boom made from a wing batten I found at the back of the hangar.

makeshift camera boom

Watch the film below.


or view it on YouTube
(poor definition but larger format)


Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Engine oil

None of the motorcycling outlets close to me have the oil that Bailey recommend for my Dragonfly engine, Castrol R4, as Castrol apparently did some deal with BMW, so that retailers can no longer get it. I thought I had been rather clever when research online turned up a 4 litre bottle of the stuff at RG Racing, but have since learned that they are out of stock and won't be able to get any more.

They say that the Castrol tech team recommend Power 1 10/40. I emailed Bruce at Bailey Aviation because I was worried that I couldn't find any 5W. They said, "
you should be able to get the Castrol Power 1 Racing 4T oil, its still their current oil. 10W/40 is fine and we are actually trialling some 10W/60 oil also at present made by Putoline. The important part is that it must be fully synthetic".

So, I have ordered 4 litres of that, at the same price of £47 (incl postage) from Rob Willshire at RG Racing.

The spec sheet says:

Power 1 Racing 4T 10W-40 is fully synthetic 4-stroke engine oil for modern high performance sports bikes that increases engine acceleration and power right up to max rpm. Its Race Derived Technology based on Castrol's racing history and testing experience ensures maximum engine performance, without sacrificing engine
durability, thus giving a significant benefit over other types of engine oils.

Power 1 Racing 4T 10W-40's formula employs the very latest Trizone Technology™ for 4-stroke motorcycles, so as to give optimum protection of the engine, clutch and gears even under the most arduous riding conditions including sustained operation at high rpm.

Power 1 Racing 4T 10W-40 is suitable for all modern high performance motorcycle engines where API and or JASO specifications are recommended.

Qualified for Bronze

According to Colin Mackinnon, an instructor contributing to a BMAA discussion thread I started, having an NPPL(M) automatically qualifies a pilot for the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale Bronze Colibri, without further tests being necessary, from which I infer that as some other participating countries do not have licences, this is a nod to the quality of training that British pilots receive.

I am rather chuffed. I shall have to get Flylight to sign my application form (I think that is necessary?) and send it off with the required fiver.

Now for the silver, though I will need to rack up the hours (100, incl 200 flights).

Kit Caddy

Call me Mr Anal, but I like to have all my kit well prepared and easy to get to....I like things in their own boxes, I like to know where everything is....

...not bad traits in a safe pilot, surely?

Now that I am hangaring my aircraft, getting ready can mean a constant back-and-forth shuttle between hangar and car...

...which is why I have adapted my cycle trailer to act as a caddy, so that I can take all my kit to the hangar in one go. This morning I made dividers so that charts and instruments are separated from helmet, bar mitts, gloves and headphones, which in turn are separated from flying suit. It all fits rather well.

The snug lid has a galvanised tray fixed to it to allow me to work on the trike without losing washers, etc. And the tray is useful for carrying a toolbox (iconic American lunch box I bought at a yard sale donkeys' years ago and for which I have never had a use) and 5 litre fuel container. I need to make a means to secure my propeller case to the lid too. I have made a quick release for the two part trailer arm, allowing it to be put in the boot easily.

All in all, a very satisfying result.

Saturday, 13 February 2010

Dream Classic - ready to fly - £4,000

God, if I could afford it, I would snap this one up. Stuart Ball is asking less for it than you would pay for an un-built one.....and like anything you care to attempt, building one of these is bound to take ages and be fraught with difficulties and delays - as the Grass Strip Aviation people's Eindecker shows. I saw that one half way through the project at Popham two years ago and it has only just been finished.....and they are the experts!

I promised Stuart I would put his aeroplane, which I have always felt looks pretty much like a Demoiselle (the bamboo one flown by the womanising Frenchman in Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines) on my blog, but having delayed a week or two it may have gone already. Stuart is going to use the proceeds of the sale (£4,
000) to build a Pouchel, which regular readers will know is
a fascination of mine....original Pouchels were made with aluminium ladders!

Stuart has done a beautiful job on his Dream Classic...and I know of no others of the same design which are actually ready to fly in the UK.
If you are interested in Stuart's, you can contact him on the address he provided in his BMAA advert: or phone him on 01283 760303 .

Update (as of 18th Feb)
If it hasn't been sold by then, Grass Strip Aviation are due to be exhibiting and possibly flying Stuart's Dream Classic at Popham this summer. Also, Stuart reports that his Pouchel is now part built and he needs more space now to continue the project.

Colibri - a measurable challenge

The Bronze Colibri

(Colibri is French for hummingbird)

I have found a challenge to work towards: the Bronze Colibri, which I read about this month in Microlight Flying in an article by Keith Negal (the guy who organised Bleriot on this side of La Manche, and who touchingly offered to fly slowly to see me safely across).

Reading it, I remembered that Neill Howarth showed me his before I knew what one was. He has a gold one; no surprises there!

This is just like the Cubs all over again (I don't think I got past my Bronze Arrow). Badges are won by performing flying tasks, accurately.The most interesting is the engine-off landing, though these days it can be done at idle. But Paul Dewhurst says it is sacrilege to fly the Dragonfly with engine-on more than 50% of the time so, what the hell, I will do some engine cutting practice and do it as was originally intended.

Requirements for Bronze Colibri badge:

a) 20 hours solo on Microlight or Paramotor aircraft including at least 50 flights.
b) 3 precision landings within 10 m of the centre of a given spot.
c) 1 precision landing within 20 m of the centre of a given spot from a height of 300 m (1000 ft) AGL with the throttle fully closed. Demonstration of correct go-around (overshoot) procedure.
d) Two cross country flights of distance dM* x 1 over a triangular course, one with an outlanding at a designated point along the route.

* dM is the distance the aircraft can fly in nil wind in one hour at the manufacturer’s published cruise speed. Evidence of dM must be provided as part of the application for a Colibri award.


Sunday, 7 February 2010

Fog Swap

Dave Broom got in some flying and landed before the fog dropped in on the field, as did the pilot of a Gemini; another pilot, however, was less lucky. As Lizzie and I arrived at Sutton Meadows Saturday morning and watched the fog come in over the fields, we could hear the growl of an aeroplane above. Dave joined us looking up and then we heard it turn away, never having shown itself.

I later heard that the lost pilot was Baz, a student of Dave's I met three weeks ago, who is building solo hours in his own Blade. Realising he couldn't see the airfield, though he knew he was directly over it, he calmly called for help and Dave vectored him to Mitchell's Farm. He turned on to the heading and flew a course in almost zero visibility until he picked out a road and followed it to the strip he had been given. It was a remarkable bit of level-headed flying, in my opinion, especially for a student.

Baz told me all about it when he got back to Sutton in the afternoon, though how he had made it back (without his aircraft) did not become clear until the evening, at the club dinner, when I was delighted to find myself sitting next to William and Sarah Furness; William had been the stranded Gemini pilot I'd met in the morning. He had made it home in his own car......driven to him at Sutton by Baz!

The Furnesses (William's dad), it turns out, own Mitchell's Farm. Last night Will's and Baz's aeroplanes spent the night at each other's airfields, in each other's hangar berths.

Monday, 1 February 2010

The ship of the Fens

In the end none of the ground maintenance got done; it was just too cold this morning to contemplate. But when I saw the sun and realised that next weekend could be too windy, wet or even snowy to fly, I realised that I couldn't fail to get up today. So, rather late, I got going to Sutton Meadows, where I met Al, an ex-RAF aerial photographer who is about to start learning to fly - and he kept me company as we waited for Dave Broom to land and take up his new student.

I fitted G-CFKK with her red panels then pulled the trike out and found to my en
ormous gratification that the wing trolley pulling hook that I welded up when I got home last weekend worked a treat. I was able to pull the trolley out while steadying the wing...and was able to pull it easily over the gravel in the hangar, which may well mean that patio slabs are unnecessary. I may just use some well anchored wooden planks, prepped at home.

I took off on runway 28, this time without a camera, and flew a circuit and a touch-and-go before leaving the circuit for a bimble across to Witchford, up the ditches and then back down to the airfield. Total flight, 40mins, but even that is worth the drive each way. It is just pure pleasure.

Next week is the club's annual dinner and Lizzie and I have booked into a hotel within staggering distance of the venue so that we can both drink. Hopefully we will spend the day flying. She has a lesson booked and I plan
to fly to Ely.

As I come around the corner, approaching Ely from the south (when driving up on the A142), I am always staggered by the beauty of the cathedral and you can quite imagine the impact it must have had on people in the 12th century and for hundreds of years afterwards, when it was the awe-inspiring skyscraper of its time. It is a magnificent sight, bathed in sunlight. It will be good to see it from the air (sadly not as close as in the photo below), but Lizzie and I have decided that if it is unflyable, we will spend the day exploring it on the ground.

Ely Cathedral is known locally as "The ship of the Fens"
as it "towers above the surrounding flat and watery landscape" (to quote Wikipedia)

I had hoped to fly over the cathedral but its top is at 290ft amsl so, to overfly any part of Ely, I'd need to fly at a minimum of 1290ft amsl (because of the 1000' rule). The Mildenhall panhandle starts at 1033ft amsl, so I would be in controlled airspace. Thanks to Steve Wilson for keeping me out of the brown stuff with this one. He has suggested an alternative, which is to fly down the river beneath the pan-handle and keeping clear of any congested areas, which would mean being able to fly lower, provide I stay 500' clear of structures and 600m clear, horizontally. This will still afford a magnificent view of Ely and its cathedral from the east. Early enough and it will be bathed in sunlight....and that approach may even be better than what I originally had in mind.