Saturday, 17 April 2010

Clean wing

While Lizzie flew today I cleaned my wing, which still had mud from the field where I ditched weeks ago, using Dave Garrison's pressure washer.

While getting the wing out I shot the breeze with Dave Broom, himself a Dragonfly dealer, who confirmed that what I'd be looking to get for my Dragonfly would be very tempting for a potential owner, given what Flylight now charge for a new one. So that bodes very well indeed.

But in the meantime, before doing anything drastic, I am going to enjoy my first summer season as a fully fledged microlight pilot, flying my own Dragonfly. That'll give me time to think what I really want to do, to take stock and to start to build the helicopter fund.



Yesterday I flew an R22 helicopter and I am now a convert.

It was only to have been an experience, a reward to myself for having passed my RT exams, but now I am trying to think through my finances and think of what I can that I can go for my helicopter licence next!
After the summer I think I will sell the Dragonfly and buy a cheap second hand trike at about two grand, and put the rest into the helicopter fund, so if anyone is interested in a Dragonfly (along with all my ground handling kit) you might want to get in touch.

Here are some rather poor shots with the R22 taken with my phone.

I wish I could have filmed the flight, but my hands were far too busy. Mike, the instructor, put his hands out in front so that I could see that I was the one flying the thing. My left was on the collective, my right on the cyclic and my feet on the pedals controlling the rear rotor for yaw. I took off and with help got the thing to hover, move forward, climb and descend and fly along following a ditch, perhaps a hundred feet below. Absolutely fantastic!

When Mike took over he showed me a dramatic trick where we hovered and "floated" around a tree, the top only just missed by the rotor. Then he demonstrated an autorotation for a quick but safe emergency landing and then took us towards a line of trees. We hovered there and he reassured me that he knew they were there, then we flew at them, climbed, nose up, and then harnessed the effects of rotor torque to turn on a sixpence, then swoop back down to the field.....which he did several times. Afterwards, Mike showed the full effect of torque by taking pressure off both pedals so that we spun on the spot.

I am hooked!

a Tiger Moth veteran

the swagger of a Tiger Moth veteran

Egged on by my former instructor and now flying guru, Neill, I handed over a king's ransom to Classic Wings at Duxford (on a day out at the Imperial War Museum) and took a Tiger Moth for a spin. But Neill knows what I mean when I say that, while it was absolutely fantastic, it was not as good as flying. Only a flex-wing pilot can really know what I mean by that.

I flew from the front seat and was handed all the controls and did several turns abeam Cambridge. I am practically ab initio when it comes to three axis, so losing my virginity in a Tiger Moth (in the Chipmunk I had the stick but not the rudder) seems very appropriate and means that I have joined all those down the years who started their training in an Air Force trainer. Many Spitfire pilots started this way, and of course Duxford was the first station to have Spitfires, so I feel curiously connected to all that.

It was a wonderful experience (soon to be published on YouTube, once the DVD arrives) and the instructor, Stuart Luck has given me his number and said that we must arrange for me to fly down to him so that he can sign my logbook entry.

Have a look at this slideshow, photos by Neill Howarth

Once we had landed and as I took off my Irvin jacket, I heard the ground ops guys saying they were about to take off in the Dragon Rapide, but only had four seats occupied, so I offered that if we got a sizeable discount, we'd fill two more. I won't say what I paid, that wouldn't be fair to them, but it did mean that we flew at near 1930s prices. Have a look at this slideshow - photos, again, by Neill - and be sure to spot the Tiger Moth and a Catalina flying boat on the ground.

Dad tells me that his first flight in anything, circa 1953, when he was in Wellington College (Berkshire) CCF, was a Dragon Rapide. I am waiting for him to send me a scan of a photo of him flying a primary glider. Always fancied trying that, ever since I was at Clifton and saw boys flying one at Beggar's Bush. Dad can't remember, but I am pretty sure I saw them laying out sacking to reduce the impact of the skid on the grass...perhaps even to reduce friction?

slideshow test

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

Today I took the controls of a yellow 1943 Tiger Moth and afterwards flew with my former instructor, Neill Howarth, in a 1930s de Havilland Dragon Rapide. I will do a proper write-up once Neill has sent me what promise to be some really superb photos.

A fabulous day.



I have converted my Ikea foot-stool (used for reaching upper part of wing and top of roof-rack etc) into a tool-box....with room for everything, including my filter-funnel.

Incidentally, the grittiness on the steps is sand,
which I mixed in with the paint to give a grippy surface.

Old canvas used for the hinges and velcro used for the latch.


Sunday, 11 April 2010

This may be the solution to my rigging problems; it worked for me in the past at Rougham. It is how Ben Ashman originally intended the wing to be rigged - before the panels were designed, necessitating a means of rigging without removing them. It is how earlier trikes were always rigged, with the two split tubes originally being seat stays and therefore wider apart. I like the method because it is more stable.

But it does mean that putting panels on afterwards is a hassle. Steve Wilson will laugh at this bit because he has been saying all along that the panels are a waste of effort. But I am thinking beyond this, because it seems to me that a seat could be made to articulate to accommodate the break and fold....and the panels could be made to clip to some kind of framework near the seat. The rear side panels might need to be re-shaped at the back to accommodate any parts of the engine moving this bit of redesign could mean making two new sides of my own design, accommodating a hull inspection hole/ storage compartment like Steve's.

Saturday, 10 April 2010

Elise saves the day

Image found on Google

This afternoon's sea-breezes blowing in at over 10mph combined with thermic activity in the field made rigging an abortive affair because the wind kept shifting and no sooner had I bolted my monopole than the nose of the wing moved a few inches on the grass, twisting the coupling alarmingly; the flying structure isn't affected...only the bracket for holding the de-rigged monopole, but that sort of thing is still worrying. The irony of the Dragonfly being great in thermals is that it doesn't like to be rigged in them.

So, while others, including hang gliders, enjoyed today's conditions, I wasn't able to. On the advice of Charlie, an experienced hang glider pilot with an interesting rigid wing, I fitted the keel tube and sat the wing nose-up with back to the wind and waited anxiously for the wind to drop sufficiently for putting it away.

On such days I dream of owning something a little less expensive (in case something awful happens to it) and a little more solidly built, to enable me to rig it in blowy conditions. Tomorrow I am going to Sackville to be assessed by Neill in a 3-axis, to try to estimate how long a conversion will take. I do envy the guys who were able to park their fixed-winged aircraft and wander nonchalantly away from them today.

I felt pretty low as I put my wing away, helped by a chap with an enviably cheap but robust Gemini, and needed something to redeem the day. It came in the form of an Elise, a French-made SSDR trike, flown by John Buchanan, whose sons also flew-in, in an XL and a Quantum. They have their own field, which is on the chart, called Willingham, SW of Sutton Meadows. When I saw the Elise approaching, I thought it was Bernie Hewing's Demoiselle, as it was similarly basic in appearance.

John got his machine second hand from someone who had intended to be an importer. Like mine the Elise has a Discus wing but it has a very different trike. It has similar rigging to mine but a more solid, less sophisticated and rather less pretentious structure, which really appealed to me for its minimalism, which ought to be what SSDR is all about, after all.

John told me that when Paul Bailey saw whatever engine it originally had he said, "you are not allowed to have that" :) ... and suggested replacing it with the same engine as I have, the 4-stroke 175. So he did. Interestingly, in a pic of an Elise I found on Google (above) the Elise seems originally to have had a paramotoring style prop cage.

John has no trouble with rigging. Operating from his own field, he keeps his aircraft fully rigged and just wheels it out of his hangar; another friend who is living the dream!

Superb day

Yesterday was superb...a mixture of fantastic flying and club atmosphere like I have never known before. After helping Renate rig her trike and then rigging my own, Peter Millbank showed up with his son, Geoff and Geoff's partner, Sue, and Peter's grandson, Felix, and I was invited to join them for lunch, a splendid repast which we enjoyed on the picnic table outside the clubhouse in T-shirt weather. Glorious.

I flew in short bursts, having not actually planned any routes, so that I spent the time just bimbling around near Sutton Meadows. Initially it was bumpy and hard to get down from circuit height because we were landing on 28 and I don't feel comfortable being on finals across the Washes, so was cutting it short; I suppose because I was at 600' on the other side of the water when I had that engine failure and am a bit nervous of a repeat. But I guess I just need to build confidence again.

Later the wind veered and I opted, non-radio (so that it was potentially a bit hairy), to land on 01, as it was then blowing Northerly, according to the sock, but I saw Peter land on 28 with a strong cross wind, which forced me to delay my approach at the last minute; Renate says "Peter doesn't believe in wind-socks".

All told I did about an hour and a quarter in shortish bursts punctuated by pleasant chats with folk around the field and with Felix, who is that unusual breed, a boy who isn't afraid to be sociable with adults and is uncynically enthusiastic. Being around kids is a busman's holiday and can be wearing when they are boorish and sullen, so Felix was a breath of fresh air. He is being encouraged by his grandfather to join the air cadets, which is a very good idea. I wish I had been encouraged to fly when I was his age.


Thursday, 8 April 2010

Flying on wheels

On the way over to Sutton Meadows to collect my battery (to make sure I have a full charge for tomorrow) I waved to the folk living in the encampment just after Peter Robinson's house, along the horrendously rutted track and they waved back from their barn...and on a whim I thought I'd stop and say hi. Glad I did. I met Phil and his kids and their incredibly impressive woodworking business.

Phil is reputedly one of only 4 wheelwright / wainwrights still using traditional woodworking skills in England and he is descended from line of them, with a hope that his oldest daughter will follow him into it too.

I was shown the wagon they are currently working on, fine wood carving, harps and most interesting of all, Phil designs and makes fine quality luges...and has his own race crew, the Fenland Downhill Crew. You have to check out their looks very exciting and something I have to try! Phil and his mates have been into skateboarding since the 70s.

Here's their website

I liked Phil. He is a skilled and creative bloke, but what I admire most is his passion for what he does, and with me thinking of designing a wood monocoque trike, someone who understands wood is good to know.

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

Let's have no false modesty

I got 93% on my 1st RT exam. Delighted, of course.

To celebrate, am thinking of treating myself to half an hour of helicopter flying at Conington, which is where I am doing the exams and have been doing ground school with Richard Naish.

Afterwards we did several hours' groundschool, including a dry run of the practical exam, which is both harrowing and exhilarating. You "fly" an aeroplane (well, set it on a heading with tiny mouse-corrections, which can be a bit tricky) on a computer simulation of a route, while following a plan on a chart, and have to make all the correct calls to the various types of Air Traffic Controllers along the route.

The simulator has a compass (and heading controls), a Transponder, an altimeter and a radio and you wear a headset and talk to the examiner who is sitting in front of another display in another room. The route is flown in real-time (though you can speed it up- but not slow it down!). Along the route you have to do a Pan-Pan call in response to something flagged-up and you have to do a Mayday, request frequency changes, make an RDF call, do a Matz penetration and fly in Class A controlled airspace, report positions and divert to another airfield when your destination is unavailable due to unforeseen circumstances. The exam starts when you climb into the plane and request engine start and ends when you switch off at the other end!

No wonder it is meant to be the trickiest flying-related exam there is!

Tuesday, 6 April 2010


Weather looks great Thursday - Sunday (with Sunday being the windiest at 12mph).

Saturday looks fabulous for Dragonflying!



BBC weather for Ely


RT Exams

I am working like buggery to revise (or learn) my RT for my Radio Telecommunications exams; written exam tomorrow, followed by a run through of the practical exam; then the practical-proper next week.

Lizzie and I did Richard Naish's ground school at Conington in February and it was excellent. We came away reassured that we could do this, having initially found the whole business horrendously daunting. At the end of the day, Lizzie who had done quite a bit of prep passed a mock and I was one mark short, relying very largely on the day's input from Richard.

The practical exam is reputedly the hardest flying-related exam there is and I have to admit I am definitely some way off being ready for that, as it involves following a flight through (using a computer linked to another in a different room) and doing all the calls along the route...and will include every type of call, all types of controller, etc. What I have done on the radio as a student pilot doesn't even begin to cover any of this, but at least I have achieved a small amount of confidence. I have never yet talked to an Air Traffic Controller but I have talked quite a lot to FISOs at Sywell.

When I had my engine failure, I had deliberately not taken my radio with me, even to monitor transmissions, having recently done the RT groundschool - didn't want to get tempted to make a call, when not licenced. I wonder if I would have got in trouble for calling in a Mayday? It was definitely a situation which called for one, ordinarily, except that in a microlight it really doesn't feel like too great a deal really, and maybe my time was better spent trying a re-start and finding a good place to land.

Right, well writing this isn't getting my revision done, so I am off now to revise. Think of me at Conington tomorrow.


Right, well I am now averaging 82% on unseen mock exams (75% is a pass), so I am just about ready....but mustn't get complacent. Incidentally, I get my mocks by subscribing to Airquiz, but I don't do them online. I opt for offline, print them off and am emailed a marking sheet. Then I use my marked scripts to highlight areas needing further study. So far I have taken 5 of their exams and have another ready. I am not sure how many questions they have but I have seen repeats. The trick is not to learn their answers but to use them to identify areas of weakness. In theory I can generate random exams for the next two years, without limit....which is bloody good for a subscription of three quid.

Plus, they welcome emails if you think you might have identified a mistake, which I did, but it turned out that I had got it wrong and should have relied on CAP413 (CAA document....a heavy tome designed to cure insomnia) rather than my now out-of-date Pooleys. Degrees is appended when the last digit is a zero, incidentally; headings normally would not otherwise have degrees after the digits. Jon at Airquiz got back to me with that advice even though it was late at night on a Bank Holiday. Impressive.

Saturday, 3 April 2010

another affordable beauty

This is what friends would call a "real aeroplane". It is an Easy Raider, and it is an absolute beauty...and for sale at only eight and a half grand . . .

and yes, it is a microlight!

Love that livery!

See it on afors, here

Friday, 2 April 2010


I am beginning to think I think about flying more than sex, now! This weather-imposed celibacy is killing me and I find myself scouring the net for plane-porn, like afors, which I have been poring over this evening. It is livid with gorgeous and temptingly cheap aeroplanes that I covet with a passion!

There is a Pietenpol Aircamper (high wing monoplane) for under 13K, the Taylor monoplane for under 9 and this lovely old Spatz for under a grand, trailer included! - almost thinking of taking up gliding..and have even approached the seller, though it has probably sold by now.

Lots of Group A planes are cheaper than microlights! Makes me wish I was a group A pilot sometimes. Especially as older Group As have a mythology and romance which most microlights don't.

I was talking to Lizzie about the fact that the idea of the Chipmunk experience didn't particularly do it for her and we concluded that for microlighters, what matters is flying rather than aeroplanes. Lots of microlighters know nothing about old aeroplanes and are not bitten by the Spitfire obsession, other warbirds or old civil types......they just want to fly.

I love both the purity of flight which I believe that only open air microlighters and hang glider pilots can experience, but am also in love with vintage "A" machines and the ready availablity of unbelievably cheap ones is driving me mad with desire!

Thursday, 1 April 2010

May sell Dragonfly

I am CONSIDERING selling my Dragonfly and converting to 3-axis. I have been looking at prices on eBay and AFORS and I'd easily afford something simple with what I would get for my sought-after Dragonfly, with enough left over to do a conversion. Just a thought at the moment, but I have a hankering to try stick and rudder flying.

Neill has said he will assess me this holiday if we can get half an hour between rainshowers.
We will be flying an AX2000 Hks like this one.

That said, while looking through my pics for an AX2000 to put up here I saw shots of my Dragonfly and thought, "You can't seriously want to sell her?!" and I now I think I would find it too much of a wrench.

I want to have my cake and eat it.

Maybe I should keep the Dragonfly and try to get one of those 2 grand-ish bargains? But, I am open to suggestions.