Sunday, 27 June 2010

John Elliot - MT-03 Gyroplane display pilot

John Elliot

A highlight of the weekend was meeting John Elliot, the only licenced Gyroplane display pilot in the UK, when I was a glorified parking attendant at Rougham - marshalling aircraft myself for the first time.

He put on a really super display of autogyro flying . We had a chat and it turns out, unsurprisingly, that he knows Ken Wallace, our mutual hero.
Helping out with the BBQ at Sutton Meadows last night I talked to another John, a microlight pilot who did a 30 hour conversion on to gyroplanes and who raves about it.

I am going to have to have a go.

Not John's, but another MT-03



You can see from the shadow that this trike is about to touch down near the 200 line
(an arbitrary score line, not a measurement)

It was incredibly frustrating being sans Dragonfly this weekend, especially when I was marshalling the spot landing event, when I should have been flying it! You stop your engine or set to idle at 1000' and descend in the circuit to land (as with an engine failure and as per Colibri rules) and to keep those points you need to stop before a given point. Few did better than 50.

One newbie impressed me by having a second go just for practice, after failing to land and having to go round. On his second attempt he scored and braked on time. I was inspired; I reckon the Dragonfly could be made to score at 250 and brake at 50!

Apparently the club's own fun competitions days no longer happen, through lack of interest. I think I will have to drum some up because I can't wait until next year to have some fun like this.


Flying Circus

When Steve Wilson (fellow Dragonflyer) was telling me, on Saturday, about our mutual friend, Philip Bendall, getting a Dragonfly, I said that we ought to start a flying circus.

He said, "Peter, you ARE a flying circus".

Cheeky sod!


Thursday, 24 June 2010

Crash landing

Nobody get alarmed, now.
Any landing you walk away from is a good one....even when you plough into a field of crop when your engine fails on take-off, as it did on Monday. The only thing I hurt was my bank balance, and even then it could have been a lot worse.

The take-off was longer than I'd have expected but I put this down to slow wind. The climb was sluggish, so that I checked that I had the throttle all the way out, which I did...but the Dragonfly levelled off at about 100', if that (my vario had chosen this time to fail too!), then started sinking startlingly quickly, so that when I started a quick turn to do a downwind landing onto the field, I wasn't sure I'd pull it off, so straightened up again. But then I was running out of surface. At the end of the field beyond the runway is a deep ditch and if I struck the far bank I would probably break my neck. I couldn't stop short of it and it didn't look like I could flare over it, so I made a very fast decision which makes me proud. Counter-intuitively, I pulled the bar in, increasing my rate of descent, but also raising my speed, creating lift over the wing, so that we leapt the ditch and just made it into the crop beyond.

The crop was thigh-high, so there was no chance of rolling to a halt - the crop acted like an arrester wire; the front wheel hit in hard and the plane slewed sideways, so that the front strut bent dramatically and the trike turned up - its starboard wheel in the air...and I hung from my strap and struggled to release myself, before calling in on the radio that I was ok, seeing Dave Broom's Quik circling above. Baz called me on the mobile - he had seen it all - and assured me that Dave Garrison, who had also seen it from his window, had jumped in a truck and was on his way. Shortly afterwards, he and another pilot arrived to help. Embarrassingly, this is not the first time Dave has rescued me!
But as last time, it wasn't my fault - neither bad airmanship nor poor judgement before flight had caused the engine failure.
I got home last night after three days away from home - filthy and exhausted, having camped at Sutton Meadows and at Sywell and after two days of exertion. Tuesday and Wednesday I was up at Sywell, where Paul Dewhurst let me do my own mechanics, sympathetic to the fact that as I am out of work, I really can't afford expensive work on things I CAN do myself; when Ben gets back from France he will do the bits it will need an expert for. (He will put bushes in my widened monopole holes, etc). I took the engine off the trike (with help and advice from Mark) and put it in my van ready to take it down to Paul Bailey. Then I changed the front forks.

But the best bit, the part that makes me feel proud of myself, is that I taught myself to take the sail off, which I did while Stew was gliding Tuesday evening. And he confirmed when he got down that the tubes had sustained no damage. He agreed that only the splayed hang bracket will need replacing.I struggled quite a bit getting the sail back on, punctuated by occasional teasing from Stew (one time champion hang glider and now-instructor), but eventually succeeded after camping beside it, then finishing at about 5a.m., as balloonists inflated their
ballon nearby.

I talked to Paul Bailey at lunchtime today and he put the engine failure down to the big end bearing, which he has replaced for free with a more robust one which he uses in his more recently developed engines. I did ask that if the repair didn't cost me a lot, he also fit the quick release hub which is also a recent-ish development and which I have coveted for some time; so now I have one of those too. So, it won't be a cheap crash, but I think my plane will actually be better than before it happened.

I went back to Sutton Meadows with the wing and re-rigged it and put it back in the hangar with Andy (a really nice hang glider pilot who told me about ground handling), then talked to Roger, a glider tug plane pilot, who is an interesting personality. It was gratifying to have my wing safely back on its trolley in its bay before coming home. (there was another pic and more text but the editor kept messing about with its html, so I give up - below is a pic of the wing skeleton)

Sunday, 20 June 2010

Sunrise, Sunset

Hands up who hears a tune from Fiddler on the Roof :)

I just found and bookmarked this site, which gives sunrise and set times in local time. Look how early the sun comes up! I must get some early flying in...and with that in mind, and with the weather now improving, I think I will pack some bedding tomorrow and go fly the evening, sleep over (either in the van or the clubhouse) and fly early Tuesday morning too.


This is a terrific set of sunset pics taken by Neill Howarth of me doing early solo hours in my Dragonfly at Sywell.

Saturday, 19 June 2010

Not a terribly attractive solution, I'm afraid, but a pragmatic one. The Aware+'s gps screen is not as easy to see in sunlight as the manufacturers claim, which made it necessary for me to shield it with my hand when reading it last week.

So I made this visor out of corroflute covered in insulating tape. I fitted velcro to it so that it can be quickly detached on the ground.

It is only a prototype, but as with the prototype rotating map (made from a flowerpot), it will probably stay in use.

Thursday, 17 June 2010

GPS power from trike

I want to run my GPS from my trike's battery and couldn't find a hard-wire kit, so I have got these two items off ebay and I am actually rather pleased with them. They snap together to provide an accessory socket (like a car cigarette lighter socket) for my GPS charger to fit into. It is wired to reduce the 12V down to 5 and the output will be 1.3amps. As it is, the Aware+ will only run for about half an hour on its internal battery (and then there is the hassle of charging). My solution will give it continuous power.

The snap connectors can also be disconnected to allow me to attach an
Optimate charger, which will mean being able to charge the battery without cutting the lock-wire which keeps the connections secured.

Must remember to disconnect when not running the engine, though!

Sunday, 13 June 2010

precision hedge-hopping

Dave Broom asked me today if I fancied competing when Sutton Meadows hosts the Nationals in a fortnight. I think it may be fun. He said there may be an event with precision landings, touch and go's etc, so this evening, when the air was smoother I did about ten tight circuits at no more than about 250'.....and did some leg extending at 150' on base; I love it at that height!

Earlier in the day Peter Robinson urged me to make more of the Dragonfly's thermalling capabilities and I discussed this with Nigel who is about 12 hours into training but seems to have a good grasp of matters aviation and who had some advice about thermals, which I then went on to try out North East of the airfield. It is a bit hairy pushing the bar out and doing a 60 degree banking turn with power on fear the wing will stall, but doing that I managed to get about 500' per minute climb, which I reckon is pretty good for a novice.

I wanted to get quickly above 2000' because, according to the Notam for RAF Wyton, a Hurricane of the BBMF was due through at 15.30 hrs (surface to 2000') and I wanted to be safely clear, but airborn. I listened in on 134.05 mhz VHF to all the traffic being asked to hold and most of them were at about 3,500'. Goes to show how many pilots do not check their Notams, that so many had been quite unaware it would be coming through when they asked for Matz penetration!

I wanted to be outside the 3 mile exclusion but able to get a good view - in the air. In the end, though, I heard it on the radio but didn't see it at all, so goodness knows what became of it. Consequently I didn't get the snap on the camera very kindly lent to me by Richard (the accountant whose GT450 is a capital expense!).

Congrats are due today to someone I won't name (in case he'd rather I didn't) who has finally qualified after 12 years! He has had several set-backs over the years, but when his wife threatened to put his XL on ebay, decided it was time he finished the licence off; though apparently he has passed his GFT before and timed-out having forgotten to put in his paperwork. Impossible to imagine forgetting! But I suppose not everyone is as obsessed as I am.

Saturday, 12 June 2010

A private air display before the Queen got to see it

photo cheekily used without permission

Today I went to lunch at Lizzie's, principally because her garden is on the flightpath from the North Sea to London for the Queen's Birthday Flypast. I had hoped to see the BBMF Spitfire, Hurricane and Lancaster, but the Lanc is out of action having its undercarriage repaired and the other two were holding over Cambridge, ready to shoot straight south, to beat the faster aircraft there. But it was still very exciting to see the various formations of Tornados, VC10 in-flight refuellers, a Nimrod (hurrah!), a Tristar, Typhoons and the Red Arrows - shooting over at low level.

I took my VHF radio with me just in case I could catch something of them talking to Wattisham or wherever - it was a long shot, but it then meant that I texted Steve Wilson to ask his ex-RAF advice about frequencies etc - whether they would be on VHF instead of UHF at all, etc. And when the flypast was over I gave him a call.

It turns out that Steve was in the lead aircraft, a Tornado, on the 11th of June 1983! Now that is something impressive to have in your logbook! But he told me the best bit was doing the recce of the route, which he was partly responsible for planning. He described the exhileration of flying the route in a helicopter, then, because they were not allowed to fly up the mall before the big day, they peeled off and flew, at very low level and great speed along the Thames.

Thursday, 10 June 2010

Airbox are selling themselves short

It isn't often the case that a company appears to sell itself short, rather than vaunting qualities that its products actually possess in rather less measure than implied. But the people at Airbox are such a case, it seems to me. They have produced a terrific product, but if reviewers weren't singing its praises, you wouldn't know it. Sure, they have some cute "Space Invaders" advertising, but it is down to people like me to shout about the features these things have.

Part of the problem, it seems to me, is that they have concentrated their efforts in the product (no complaints there) and their manual, such that it is, has been an after-thought, printed on a couple of A5 sheets (not good at all).

Yesterday I embarrassed myself by writing to Tom at Airbox to ask whether using a stylus of some kind (a sawn-off knitting needle, perhaps) might improve pointing accuracy or whether it would damage the screen. I have had mine a week and hadn't even realised that the thing has a stylus built in! I had seen the top of it peeping out of the unit and feared pulling it out in case it wasn't something that was meant to be removed. There was no mention of it at all in the instructions!

Another thing a fellow owner and I discovered quite by accident when removing our SD cards is that the unit comes with other features, including the potential to run car GPS on it, to view movies and pictures, etc. Does this mean that it was not originally built by Airbox but customised from a unit designed for something else and adapted to the Aware's needs? Does it matter? If it has all these extra selling-points, shouldn't Airbox make more of them?

When I was encouraging people in my club to join me in the 6 for the price of 5 deal, one existing owner said the problem with the system, as compared to more expensive ones, was that it could not save routes. As it happens he was wrong, and I was able to bring him up to speed on this, but I really hold Airbox responsible for this misunderstanding because their documentation is really poor; easy to understand (Good English, not as is commonly the case, Chinglish) but far too thin on detail.

The fact is that most owners of the Aware+ are going to find that they got a lot more for their money than they realised and that is not something that happens often, is it!

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

magic slate writer

I have come up with a very simple way of fixing my Aware+ to my leg. I went to my local haberdasher's and they sold me several different types of velcro, which I use for all sorts of things (I am a Flylight convert and as one write-up said, Flylight make their aeroplanes out of the stuff).

I use the sew-on, fluffy sided velcro as a leg-strap. I wrap it round my leg, then connect the two ends together by just placing the fuzzy panel (on the back of the GPS) down on them. Simple. The fuzzy velcro is sticky-backed. It is designed for sticking down carpet, so this is super sticky stuff. It is structurally rigid, so won't peel away at the corners of the GPS unit.

Even though I shall be flying in the wide open, I have complete confidence that I won't lose it.
I have cut the leg strap long enough to fit over my suit but I can take up any slack if wearing shorts or jeans by just over-lapping it. Perfect.

Especially now that I am going to be talking to ATC, I am going to want to take notes, but there can be no question of tearing pages off and chucking them on to the floor of the cockpit (what cockpit; what floor), so I have been trying to come up with a simple, paper-free solution and then it came to me . I needed one of those magic slates we had as kids,where you write with a stylus, then pull out the board and push it back in to clear it.

So I got this one for under £2 on ebay. It isn't totally right for my needs, but I am experimenting with something similar. It needs to be about half the size and I am planning to have it strapped to my leg. It will be spring-loaded, so that I can pull out the board with one hand and it will spring back into place, clear. The board will need to slide smoothly in the frame, which it doesn't yet.
I am not sure if you can use ordinary carbon paper - will need to try some.

Saturday, 5 June 2010

shorts and t-shirt at a thousand feet

Easily the nicest day of flying I have ever had. A first for me - for the last half hour of flying today I didn't suit up; I just wore shorts and t-shirt and even at a thousand feet the air was warm - gloriously liberating feeling.

Yesterday I arranged to go to Sackville today to see Neill, but when I rang for PPR today he told me that a storm was due through, so we held fire. And when I texted later it seemed that it was still imminent, so we postponed. Later in the afternoon, the haze and bank of rain was very evident and I was really pleased I didn't risk it - in fact, the heavens opened on my drive home, but even in my last half hour of flying I did get a few drops on me and landed quickly and de-rigged before the wind got up. Good call.

However, before all that the air was very smooth indeed and I did some really great manoeuvring, including a pass down the runway at 20' with wheels up, so no room for getting the throttle settings wrong. That felt superb; I now have complete confidence in the undercarriage - but do recommend spraying it before flight with a lubricant.

Before flying, and indeed for much of the day (where does the time go?) I tinkered around - mainly sticking velcro to my keel and fitting the radio rig and routing the extension cable behind the seat cushion. It works very well, though you will see from the photos that its position is likely to provoke some ribbing.

Airbox Aware+

An important job today was distributing Aware+ units to the various club members who joined me in a deal I arranged through Airbox so that we each saved about £40. I won't use mine until I have found a way to secure it on my lap. It looks like a really decent piece of kit. I spent my saving on getting the quarter mil charts card for southern England on the assurance of the very helpful Lauren that they would throw in Northern England too! Personally I prefer quarter mil, but Baz tells me that the clutter of detail can, so a friend of his tells him, become rather tiresome. We will see, but for now I like the detail for picking my way.

Where the time goes

On reflection, I know where the time goes. Every task is punctuated with short, very pleasant conversations with an array of different people who wander over and admire G-CFKK: the man there on a trial flight; or the man who came a week early just to make sure of the way; or the recent joiner or low-hours student waiting for his hour with Dave Garrison; or the couple Mary Robinson introduced me to - she is a bit nervous of flying and he (who predicted he has 5 years left in him!) has just spent £70grand on his plane! And with everyone I am evangelical about flying, generally, and about the Dragonfly in particular. It is rumoured that I might sell it and it is clear I won't have any difficulty doing so when I do, judging from the interest, but after today, I can't imagine ever wanting to let it go.