Tank Fatigue

After engine servicing and prop refurbishment, we suffered a bit of tank fatigue.

A visit to Normandy, amazing countryside where history was made in 1944, and where it seems there’s a tank on a plinth every couple of kilometres, even some in car parks…it’s usually (but not always) a Sherman of some description. Sherman:

And another…

Ooh! Not a Sherman! Technically not even a tank. A Churchill AVRE (Armoured Vehicle Royal Engineers). This one helped to bridge an anti tank ditch at Juno Beach…

A Sherman…

Shermanesque, but not even a tank (Thank you Patrick)…M10 Tank Destroyer:

And a Churchill Crocodile flame thrower tank, minus its trailer full of fuel:

Centaur at Pegasus Bridge…

Aha! Another Sherman:

And another. This is one of the DD (Duplex Drive) swimming versions which made it to shore on Juno Beach:

This next DD Sherman didn’t reach the shore – recovered off Omaha Beach and now in the Museum of Underwater Wrecks…

Stuart light tank which was salvaged:

As was this Sherman bulldozer…

And….another Sherman. At Utah Beach this time.

Self propelled artillery on a (Sherman based!) tracked chassis. Still counts.

German Hetzer tank destroyer at Bayeux museum:

And another Sherman, at the Airborne Museum in Sainte-Mère-Église. You can just make out the reconstruction of US paratrooper John Steele hung up on the church steeple:

Stuart light tank at Saint-Côme-du-Mont. Fascinating German paratrooper museum here as well as the D-Day Experience museum.

Another M10 tank destroyer…

Yet another Sherman…

And a final Sherman to finish…

It’s not all organised museums and tanks on plinths. Every little village seems to have a plaque or memorial somewhere hidden away. This one is in plain sight. The Great War memorial in Trévières was damaged by a shell (from a Sherman!)  a few days after D-Day, and during reconstruction the town elders decided to leave it.


Annual Completed!

Just got back from being the trainee in the simulator and being the trainer at Inverness to find this…

The Permit to Fly has been renewed for another year…just in time for good weather!

Unusual Attitudes

Normally unusual attitudes in an aircraft involve an instructor or examiner putting the aircraft in some idiotic position in the sky like 60 degrees nose up and 120 degrees angle of bank. Then the hapless student has to recover to straight and level flight. Usually by reference to instruments, quite probably with the main attitude indicator failed.

In this case the phrase came to me when I was flat on my back on a mechanic’s creeper trolley looking up at the engine from below, checking wire locking and mounting rubbers. Don’t normally see it from this angle.

Yes, it’s annual inspection time once again.

The propeller spinner came off to inspect the prop hubs and mechanism of the electrically operated pitch change mechanism, including the brushes which transfer the electrical signals from the (static) front of the engine to the (rotating) prop…

The wing tip lights came off to offer a view inside the composite wing structure – notice the aileron control linkage in the distance…

And the tail access hatch came off to enable the tail cone to be detached. This allows access to inspect and lube the elevator controls, rudder controls and pitch trip mechanism…

A close up of the trim mechanism. Note the wiring for a tail position light. The light is not fitted but the wiring is in place to make it easier in the future if required.

Just like last year, the seats and baggage lockers came out to allow access to control runs and the inside of the fuselage. Once everything was inspected and lubed up and checked it was time for the Light Aircraft Association inspector to come along and do his stuff. We have three at the airfield and another who pops in and out so we’re spoilt for choice.

It’s always a nerve wracking time for a couple of hours while the aircraft is gone over in meticulous detail, almost as bad as when the world’s coolest co-pilot was in surgery, but the aircraft passed and subject to a successful flight test will be good to go for another year.

We finally got the replacement wheel pant brackets from TL Ultralight and put them on when all the other panels were going on post-inspection. The first ones were too small, a slight confusion over sizes, but the correct ones came out of the Czech republic by courier. Excellent service from Ludek and Paul at the factory in Hradec Králové.

Now it’s just the renewal test flight to do. But first, back to work…

Return (2) – Church Fenton

Time for a longer trip. A chance to check out the bladder range, as that is more limiting than the fuel range of the aircraft. Also to confirm the running of the post-overhaul engine.

I chose the airfield at “Leeds East” as a destination target. Far enough away to be a challenge but not so far as to take ages to get back if the aircraft broke! Right next to the East Coast Mainline for a quick train home and with copious hangarage from its days as RAF Church Fenton. And the weather was lovely too. A perfect day out.

The last time I was there was during Basic Flying Training…there were three schools, at RAF Cranwell, RAF Church Fenton and RAF Linton-on-Ouse. My course was at No.1 Flying Training School at Linton, flying the Jet Provost Mk3:

During the night flying phase of the course we used Church Fenton for circuits, so I’ve only seen the place in the dark. I was looking forward to seeing it in the daylight as the newly reopened and renamed “Leeds East”…

The route was plotted on Skydemon and followed the normal east coast routing. Southeast from Perth over Fife, crossing the Firth of Forth and down to Newcastle, hugging the coast until past Durham Tees-Valley and over the North York Moors, past York itself and into Church Fenton. Here’s the routing…planned in magenta and actual in blue:

Some photos from the trip. Here we are approaching Blyth ready to transit the coast southbound past Newcastle Airport. Over our old friend the wreck of the Zephyros… ( https://wp.me/p84TeY-1l )

Passing the mouth of the Tyne at South Shields. This is where Eric and Anne live (I bought the aircraft from them)…they are very close to the roundabout in the right third of the picture…

…the distinctive harbour at Seaham…

…Durham ATC gave us  shortcut through their zone, passing over the industrial area at the mouth of the Tees near Middlesborough…

After crossing the North York Moors we passed the old airfield at Wombleton…

And soon Church Fenton “Leeds East” hove into view. It was quiet so we went straight in from a long final…

Prop stopped and canopy open for some fresh air after 2 hours flying…

The control tower is very definitely ex-military.

The fueller was a bit taken aback when I asked for 36 litres – “But there’s a minimum order of 75!” – a quick radio call to the airfield manager in the control tower sorted it out and I wasn’t charged for more than the aircraft could take. Another aircraft was in for fuel at the same time so that probably helped.

The view from the tower, all alone in a vast parking area! There was a strategically placed picnic table at the base of the tower where I had my lunch, and then after a quick loo stop it was time to head back.

Off we went in a southwesterly direction then turned north, paralleling the A1 at Wetherby…

The route northbound was inland of all the controlled airspace. No need to talk to anybody on the radio, but a “Basic Service” from Linton started a process of handover from one controller to the next, through Leeming, Durham and Newcastle before being handed back to the familiar voices of Scottish Information.

The Southern Uplands…

…with its giant wind farms:

Crossing the Firth of Forth northbound – enemy coast ahead!

Drilling rigs mothballed off Kirkcaldy:

Mugdrum Island in the River Tay at Newburgh on the descent towards Perth. (EDIT: HOT NEWS…the Cessna 206 skydiving drop aircraft from nearby Errol had an engine problem and landed on this island over the weekend of 5/6 May)

And finally shut down outside the hangar after a total of 4 hours flying. Welcome home!

Unfortunately it wasn’t a joyous welcome. Post flight inspection showed that the bracket holding the right hand wheel spat had broken:

So both spats were dismantled and the brackets taken off…

And then it was a call to the UK dealers (they were on holiday) and the TL Ultralight factory in Hradec Kralove in Czech Republic to see about getting replacements. The unbroken one was showing signs of wear as well so it was decided to replace both. At 5 euros a bracket it’s not breaking the bank .

We’re not grounded. The aircraft flies fine without the main wheel spats. But it’s annual inspection and permit renewal time anyway.

So. Long range navigation. Got back to Perth feeling as if I could have done another two hour leg. Six hours flying in a day including stops would be enough. But at an average of 115 knots that would be 690 nautical miles.

Here’s what 680 miles might look like. Adventure awaits!

Return (1) – The Prodigal Pen

Remember the £1000 free pen?

http://www.sigurdmartin.se/2017/03/30/the-1000-free-pen/  )

I had lost it but now it has returned… it was found loose in one of the aircraft baggage compartments. I was taking them out for the annual inspection on Monday. I have no idea how it got in there or whether I actually put it in there, but it was a potential loose article which could have got out and ended up as an annoying rattle or worst case jammed in a control run.

This is why we do inspections…

Simon Says

Early April. A visit to our home airfield by Simon of Eccleston Aviation to do the 200hr overhaul on the carburettors and an annual service on the engine. I did it last year but we are planning some serious touring this summer so a professional looking over it provides a little added peace of mind. As it turns out there were a few bits needing replacement so it was a good investment to get the expert in…

Plus looking more closely at Simon’s box on wheels gave me a serious case of tool envy:

After the service it seemed only fitting to test the engine by going for a flight. It was a lovely day, so we headed for hills following the River Tay…

Passing over Dunkeld and Birnam:

Up the A9 towards Pitlochry, over the Ballinluig Motor Grill – fantastic all day breakfast at http://www.ballinluigservices.co.uk

Got a bit bored on the way towards Pitlochry (I’ve seen it many times with the day job) so turned east towards the wind farm at Alyth, over the high ground:

Which still had a little snow on it:

Then turning south and running back along the Tay to Stanley and back to the field for some circuits (patterns to those of you in the US)…

But before that, just time for a quick photo of my shadow on the wing. If it’s a selfie of a shadow does that make it a “shelfie” ??

The circuit work was a good workout…low power to idle to full power to medium power to low power to idle to….etc. No issues with the engine at all.

Three of us from the aero club had banded together to share the travel costs (Simon came all the way up from Lancashire to Perth), and on landing I was able to tell the others that the engine had run flawlessly.

https://ecclestonaviation.co.uk – for all your Rotax servicing needs, 4 stroke or 2 stroke. Recommended.


Preview of Forthcoming Attractions

Don’t tell the Sting, but I’ve been seen with another aircraft. Now the Sting is used to me flying other aircraft, what with the works helicopter and the Eindecker, but this one could be a serious rival. Relationship-ending serious.

It’s an RV7, made from a kit produced by Vans Aircraft of Aurora, Oregon. See https://www.vansaircraft.com for more details. This one is powered by a 180hp Lycoming fuel injected engine driving a constant speed prop, and it is FOR SALE!

The RV7 ticks lots of boxes. It can be approved for aerobatics (See the RV grin at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=caFgD_FOJgA ) and can also be used for long trips (see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GxZG-5HjziU ). It’s a great compromise aircraft, Vans call them “Total Performance Kitplanes” – and the company must be doing something right, to date there have been over 10,000 first flights of completed RV kits.

So I drove up to Inverness Airport to meet the owner and see the aircraft and go for a test flight. It was awesome. We blasted around at 140 knots and the engine monitor screen said we were only using 45% power. Opening the throttle up to 75% power would have been storming along at about 170 knots or more… We flew from Inverness to the airstrip at Dornoch and from there to the hilltop airstrip at Knockbain Farm. Didn’t actually land at those strips, just did low passes, like the one below at Knockbain, captured previously (by Wallace, as usual)

Unfortunately I was outbid on this lovely aircraft, so there is no other choice. If I want one I’m going to have to build one. That way I get the aircraft I want, kitted out the way I want. I’ll be intimately acquainted with all the aircraft systems, which will make maintenance a lot easier compared with buying somebody else’s completed kit. The Sting has been a very steep learning curve for the maintenance.

I’ve made plastic model kits. How difficult can it be….? Well actually quite difficult…here’s the kit. Minus the engine and propeller, they are extra. Where on earth do you start to try and get all those bits of aluminium* to fit together to make the aircraft at the back?

(* = the “blue” parts are aluminium sheet covered by a protective film)

That’s a lot of bits. And a shedload of riveting to put it all together. Luckily these days the parts are produced by computer controlled machines, and have the vast majority of the holes pre-punched, so the process is a lot easier than the good old days, when the builder had to fabricate a jig and line up parts and measure and adjust and line up again and only then drill the rivet holes when absolutely certain. It’s a lot easier now.

As well as the “matched-hole” pre-punched parts, there’s another option to make it even easier. The quick build option costs a little more, but is claimed to reduce build time by about 35-40%

For both options, quick build and the full kit (which has naturally become known as “slow-build”), the builder has to complete the tail fin and rudder, horizontal stabiliser and elevator. That way the quick builder has a good foundation in sheet metalwork and riveting even though a massive amount of riveting has been completed already.

In a fit of excitement I sent off to Oregon for the “Preview Plans” which are a half size version of the actual plans and are full of instructions, techniques and drawings…

Here’s the horizontal stabiliser and the mountings for the elevator hinge bearing:

I bet any of us could follow the instructions to put together a hinge bearing support from two brackets. Just one small little job. Do another small job. Then another. And another, and another, and another and another and another. One day there will be a completed aircraft sitting there.

It’s too daunting to think of all the things that will have to be done to complete an aircraft like this. But thousands have done it. Most that I’ve spoken to say it’s like completing a postgraduate course in applied aircraft construction…the learning is immense. But at the end there’s an aircraft sitting there, not a diploma to hang on the wall.

Napoleon Hill said: Don’t wait. The time will never be just right. Actually in terms of building an aircraft, the best time to start was five years ago. The second best time is now.

What age will I be in the five years time it might take to complete it? Exactly the same age as if I didn’t do it. The trick is to look just a couple of steps ahead and enjoy the learning process, the mistakes, the swearing, the frustrations and the sense of achievement at each little completed step. There’s no hurry.

The Sting can rest easy for a while. She won’t be replaced overnight….




Minimum Order Numbers

While tinkering on the Sting I found a few screws that needed to be replaced. Unfortunately the bits box failed to give up any suitable replacements, so it was off to LAS spares in Devon for new ones. Not literally as in going to Devon, but they are very good at replacing bits if provided with a sample…I sent them the offending items, three screws and a washer.

Looking at the catalogue I could see that these sort of things go for pennies each, so I was expecting a bill of about 50 pence. This assumption failed to factor in the dreaded minimum order. The final bill including postage came to about £25.

At least I’ve got loads of screws and washers now…

Northern Lights

Fed up of all the snow and ice in Scotland? Let’s go on holiday. To Sweden. Where there was more snow and ice.

We had a hire car with studded tyres, and they were fantastic. There had been a big dump of snow the night before and the roads into the airpark were not yet cleared. We followed the tracks of another car and finally made it to the house.

First priority after arrival was a cold beer…we hadn’t been there since October and the fridge was switched off. Luckily this was not a problem:

Next morning we woke to this. Clear skies and pristine whiteness all around. And cold. Very very cold. But a dry cold, not the damp miserable cold we get in the UK. One night the outside thermometer logged a minimum of -25.6

We visited two German friends on the air park who have two Lancair aircraft like the one below. They have one kit in construction and one completed kit which they use for commuting to Germany for work if the weather cooperates. Last year they flew across the Atlantic. Eastbound from the US and Canada, having flown westbound the previous year. What an adventure. The gold one in the photo is for sale, and would make a great high speed (170kt), long distance touring machine. Very tempting. Reiner passed on lots of useful information about the type and even offered to come and view it with us if we were interested in buying it…

Every time we visit the air park in the winter we check the Kp value at http://www.aurora-service.eu/aurora-forecast/ to see if there is any chance of spotting the northern lights. This time was the first time that there was high solar activity and potential aurora activity.

Tripod out, camera up and stand there in the freezing cold taking long exposures. Some pictures came out OK but the northern lights failed to appear. The glow on the horizon is from the nearby town of Mora.

Got home to Scotland and checked the webcam from Granberget, the nearby ski hill. Northern lights. We missed them by a day. Typical.

Winter Flying Pics

Told you I was sorting the pictures! Here’s a selection taken since New Year…

First, an early morning check flight for Gavin. We flew at the very start of the shift to get the night portion completed before it got light. Here we are out on the airfield, I’m retrieving the portable lights and whipping out the (new) phone for a quick shot…came out quite nicely I think.

We had a little snow earlier, before the main “Beast from the East” stuff. Not enough to stop flying once the airfield has been cleared. The weather wasn’t TOO bad so I fired up the Sting and went for a local hop. Here we are in the Auchterarder area and it looks OK:

But looking out the other side towards where the weather was coming from showed a marked deterioration, so it was time to head home:

A few days later all the snow had gone, but the soggy ground was causing some low level wisps of cloudy fog. Or maybe foggy cloud. They are in the distance in this shot of Stanley looking west:From the ground, looking along the line of clouds, they looked like an unbroken cover. But once airborne the gaps became apparent. This is the Inveralmond Industrial Estate at the north end of Perth:

And Perth city centre just peeking out from the edge:

The next day, no foggy cloud, quite clear skies although not unlimited visibility as you can see in the distance beyond Perth:

Up in the hills, some estate workers were doing their best to reduce the visibility… the smoke was starting to blow to the west on the easterly wind, which a few days later would trap us in the village with heavy snowfall and see snow inside the hangar at Perth…

And now, a frying picture. We had a fried egg competition. Can you see which one was mine…?