Sunday, 31 May 2015

In summary

Today is the day after my return from the Whitehill Farm mini tour de France. It was definitely a lie-in day, my left hand (that had a dislocated thumb following a flying accident last year) aches, and I'm worn out, but it was a great flying holiday.

Special thanks to Ian and Helen for organising the trip, for Tim for the vineyard visit, and to everyone else from the Whitehill Farm club for making it such a great adventure.

In total:
  • 14 people went on the trip in 8 microlight aircraft
  • The most we had together was 12 people (Belle Ile through to Le Mans)
  • For Ollie this was his first trip across the channel, for me my second,  and for others their umpteenth
  • We had 5 planned overnight stops (Dinan, Belle Ile, La Rochelle, Libourne and Le Mans) over 9 days

For me personally:
  • I flew for 27:50 in 10 days - ordinarily this is what I fly in a typical year!
  • 4 of those days were none-flying days,  so flew for an average of nearly 4 hours a day
  • My route included 14 landings,  only landing at one airfield twice (Abbeville)
  • Of these 14 landings at 13 airfields,  12 of them were airfields I had never been to before
  • The route from my home airfield and back again plots at 1,287.38 miles - but this was flying in an absolutely straight line between airfields, so in practice was more than this
  • I burnt through 379 litres of fuel (mainly AV-gas) and 8 litres of 2-stroke oil
  • Average fuel economy was 13.1 litres an hour with individual legs varying between 11 and 15
  • Average speed based on straight-line flying and ignoring taxiing on the ground was 46 mph,  airspeed was typically 55-57 mph

Below is the track of my flights from La Baule onwards round France and back to my home UK airfield.  The memory card which had the outward flights has died and I can't retrieve the flight logs from it.

Apart from fuel and oil the only items of repair that are/were needed to my aircraft are the radio fuse,  the starter switch that stuck on,  one exhaust spring that snapped and an exhaust gasket that has started leaking.

All in all aircraft and pilot survived well!

Saturday, 30 May 2015

Final leg of the journey back home to Sandy

Having stood down the air/sea rescue services I defrosted and calmed myself down with two cups of tea, then set about trying to find out what the power problem on the plane was.

I was working on the assumption that with the plane having sat outside overnight through the torrential downpour at Abbeville, that something electrical was damp.

The resolution was far simpler though, when I turned the ignition back on there was a terrible buzzing from the starter motor solenoid and I worked out that the starter motor switch had jammed on whilst in flight.

This was causing a big drain on the battery that in turn meant that the voltage dropped too low for the radio to work at all.

Having unscrewed the starter motor switch to unjam it, the voltage returned back to normal and the radio now worked fine as well.

Stoke were kind enough to run me down to the garage to buy some more fuel, I refuelled me and the plane, and set off through the mid day thermals for the last leg home.

Apart from more bouncing along it was an uneventful flight but I did notice how more crowded the UK skies were than in France.
I think that in a week of flying in France I saw only one or two planes whereas in my final 90 minute flight home in the UK I saw 2 aircraft, a helicopter, a glider and another flexwing microlight, all in close proximity to me.

My wife and children were waiting to greet me at Sandy and took these photos of my final landing of the holiday.

Bounce bounce back to Stoke

Back over the UK the thermals were kicking in and my little Microlight was making slower and bouncier progress across Kent to my intended arrival in Stoke on the Isle of Grain.

Fortunately the GPS kept on working and Stoke eventually appeared in sight. 

Stoke is not the easiest strip to get into, there are marshes to one side, a big high tension electricity pylons and railway line to the other, and the runway curves as well!

With turbulent air that was blowing at a slight diagonal across the runway it took me two attempts and a go around after the first before I landed, nearly 3 hours after I'd left France.

On arrival I found that search and rescue were concerned that I had disappeared from radio contact over the channel and that they'd phoned Stoke to say that they had lost me enroute. I'd had 3 missed calls on my mobile from Lille Air Traffic Control and soon after I'd landed they called me again.

I reassured both Lille and the UK search and rescue centre that I was safe and well but the radio had stopped working, and then I was delayed getting to Stoke by the headwind.

Good to know that they were looking out for me though.

Return flight across the channel

Took off from Abbeville and started the flight back across the channel.

Found that I had a headwind all the way so was at times only making 40 mph over the ground/sea.

After several confirmation radio discussions as to where I was when I left Abbeville, where I was going, and when I would coast out, I finally managed to activate the flight plan with Lille.

Reached the coast and called coasting out. Although there were clouds and turbulence on both sides of the water, the channel itself was clear and cloudless so I was able to take my phone out and snap a few shots.

At mid channel I called Lille again a couple of times but no reply so changed frequency to London Air Traffic Control, who equally were not responding to my radio calls.

It was then that I noticed that the voltmeter on the plane was showing 8 volts and falling, rather than the 14 volts it should normally show. If the power drops below 10 volts the radio won't transmit which explained why I could hear other aircraft making their radio calls to London Information including Donald who'd also stayed in Abbeville, and Tom and Jane who'd made their way direct from Le Mans to Redhill and were now just ahead of me.

Not good, I was over the channel and the airplane voltage continued to drop even furrther.

Started unplugging thing to see if I could isolate the problem. Wasn't the GPS, and it wasn't the radio, but now down to 6 volts so when I plugged the radio back in it didn't work at all; I couldn't even hear other radio transmissions.

Fearing I'd blown the radio fuse again there was nothing for it but to continue the flight to Stoke, but now without any radio contact.

Preparing to return and a last minute issue

On Friday evening I prepared for the flight back across the channel. It would have been too far to make it in a single leg back to Bedfordshire so I decided to land at Damyns Hall near Hornchurch. Filed my flight plan and UK Border Force notifications for the flight, put in an online request to Damyns Hall to land their, and I was good to go.

Saturday morning making my final checks I looked at the notam (notices to airmen) for my intended route through France and the UK and found that Damyns Hall was shut for the weekend for a rock concert.


Had to replan the flight, and the customs notification, deciding to go into Stoke Microlight airfield near Rochester, Kent.

Then as I was packing the plane I received a phone call from Southend Border Force who had noticed my last minute change in flight plan and wanted to know why. They were ok when I explained the reasons why but for a minute I'm sure that I was being flagged on the computer as a suspicious flight.

Friday, 29 May 2015

Stuck in Abbeville

We three microlights sat at Abbeville and watched as the wind and rain increased.

One by one we gave up and booked a room in the airfield motel.

Oh well, one last Whitehill Farm dinner!

Tomorrow's weather looks better for getting across the channel.

All meet up at Abbeville

It was really blowing when I got to Abbeville, the tailwind had helped me all the way from Le Mans, but it was tricky to get the plane down onto the runway.

Let's just say that it was a hop, skip, and jump of an arrival rather than anything more graceful.

Met up with Rupert, Ollie and Donald who were also now waiting for the weather front to go through.

Le retour

Geoffrey, Donald Rupert and Oliver left for Abbeville this morning,  Helen and I headed up to Cherbourg hoping for a weather window later in the afternoon.  Tom and Jane and Tim and Kareema have decided to wait on a day in Le Mans, in anticipation of better weather.  The windsock at Cherbourg is horizontal,  with cloud base about 1,000 feet, so looks like we will have to wait a while to sit it out...

Bernay for refuel and repairs

Took off ok from Le Mans, and when I went to call back to the tower to tell them I was leaving their zone, I found that my radio was completely dead and powerless.

Fiddled with it a bit but nothing doing.

After 75 miles as planned I landed at Bernay to tip my jerry can into the fuel tank. Very little happening at Bernay but I was able to quickly find the problem as being a blown fuse.
And would you believe it, I had spare fuses, but not one of the right size!

Fortunately I found two people fiddling with an aircraft in a hanger and they were able to sort me out with a replacement fusible. Merci beaucoup.

Ready for a Le Mans racing start?

We said goodbye to Tim and Kareema, and Tom and Jane at Le Mans, and the rest of us taxi'd to the airport.

Ian and Helen were going back to the UK via Cherbourg, the rest of us via Abbeville.

Everything is motor racing crazy

Le Mans is gearing up for a race in a couple of weeks time, there's some kind of practice this coming weekend so lots of shops had motor racing themed windows.

I saw this book in a shop but after closer inspection found that it had no mention of the legendary Whitehill Farm pilots, so it wasn't worth buying it.

Thursday, 28 May 2015

Last meal of the trip

Great meal,  last of the trip, all going our separate ways tomorrow. Great trip,  thanks for the company to all.

Vieux ville du Le Mans

Taxi to our hotel in Le Mans, somehow Tom had managed to book 5 rooms for us at the wrong price, so we were all given €6 refund - most strange.

We then took the tram into the centre and walked around the old town. The cathedral was truly spectacular.

Donald's shop?

Nothing more to say really....

Le Mans

After waiting it out at Loudon for a while, we continued on to Le Mans.

Fantastic flying in over the race track and landing on the 1500 metre runway, although it took forever to taxi back to the terminal building.

A nice man refuelled my aircraft and then for the first time ever I had to follow the "follow me" truck to the designated GA parking area.

All this for just €2.30 landing fee!

Landed at Loudon

After the beautiful flight from Libourne the sky got progressively cloudier and cloudier.

I'll skip over what happened next....

Landed at Loudon to refuel. After a while Ian joined me followed soon after by Donald who attempted a downwind landing before disappearing in the low clouds and trying again from the other end of the runway.

Beautiful flight from Libourne

My early start from Libourne was rewarded by some beautiful flying conditions, absolutely flat air, mist rising slightly from the valleys; it was perfect.

One patch of cloud at Cognac was patchy so I could legally fly over the top of it, and the air was so smooth I was able to take a few photos with my phone camera.
The bottom photo is of my cockpit and map board, easy enough to see unless you have to turn the map over.

Early morning start

Thought I'd make an early start for the 200 mile flight to Le Mans today before it starts getting hot and thermic.

Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Saint Emilion

Unesco World Heritage site, famous for the regional wines, but didn't stop Rupert paddling in the ancient Wash Houses

Perfect wine?

Spotted at the restaurant where we had lunch - 3 courses for €13

Vines, Vines, everywhere the eye can see

From just these 5 acres the chateau owner told us that he produced 42,000 bottles of wine a year.

Ian and Rupert rigging up the camera stand

Behind the scenes of our group photo shoot

The Vineyard

Group wine tasting

Languishing in Libourne

Breakfast in our hotel was a rather expensive €15.50 so we wandered into the town centre and found a café, just €4.10 and included freshly squeezed orange juice.

The electric cables stapled to some trees caught my eye, the way that the tree has grown over it.

Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Super cool restaurant tonight

Tim took on the tour guide role tonight, a superb restaurant surrounded by vineyards and with a modernist building adjacent to the chateau.

Food and drink were excellent with generous portions but we were also dazzled by the buildings themselves.