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 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…?


Aircraft Husbandry

Husbandry. Also known as tinkering. When the weather is too grey or the wind doth blow, then it’s time to get out the cleaning materials and the polish, the grease and the oil. Give a little bit of TLC to the aircraft.

Here’s the Eindecker outside just about to have a ground run to warm the oil. When doing a change it’s better if the oil molecules are warm and flowing rather than huddling together in the sump…

Notice also the Great War style wooden aircraft chocks, stolen from the woodpile. After running the engine for about 10 minutes the aircraft was wheeled back into the hanger and the oil drained. This was quite messy due to the position of the sump plug and the engine mount, but copious quantities of “rag, spillage, aircraft for the use of” helped contain the mess… (they are just old ripped up white t-shirts, if you must know).

Once the oil has drained then it’s time for the filter to come off. If draining the oil was “quite” messy then undoing the filter comes under the “very” messy category. The trick is to place a plastic bag around the filter before unscrewing it. This catches the oil and the filter, and can be left in place while the residue empties from the filter housing.

After clean up it’s time for a new oil filter (from any Briggs and Stratton lawnmower dealer), and a fill with new oil. Checking that the oil sump drain plug is refitted FIRST!  Thinks: “Why has this engine taken five bottles of oil rather than just one?”

The old filter isn’t just thrown away. I have a cool tool in the shed at home which is like a giant tin opener – it cuts the filter to enable inspection of the element. We’re looking for little metal particles which indicate wear of the internals of the engine. The tin opener style cutting wheel is used in preference to snips as it doesn’t produce any bits to contaminate the sample.

All engines produce metal particles which float about in the oil, and there are always little shiny bits lodged in the filter element. The trick is to keep the old elements so that they can be compared with the next one. Last oil change on the Sting there were fewer than 15 specks, which is pretty good. The Eindecker filter produced a bit more, which is to be expected as the engine is slightly more agricultural, but we won’t know for sure until next filter change when we can start to see any trends. Of course if you find a big metal piece in the filter and can read a part number off it, then a little more investigation is called for.

After last year’s Sting service which I carried out myself having done the course, this year we are getting a Rotax engineer to do it because we plan some longer range touring as far as Sweden and having a fully serviced engine with a full bill of health just gives a nice warm fuzzy feeling when you’re far from home. Plus he’ll do the 200hr service and carburettor overhaul in a day, compared with me taking 2 months last year. In my defence a lot of that 2 months was spent waiting for custom Rotax tools to arrive from Germany. My excuse.

Instead of tinkering in the engine it was time to break out the cleaner and polish. The flight equipment retailer Pooleys have this great stuff called OneDryWash – spray it on, wipe off the dirt and then buff to a polish. It’s ace stuff. Not too expensive which is good as it takes just over a bottle to do the Sting. It took two sessions over a couple of days to complete, but could have been done in a day. We are very pleased with the results:

So, lovely smooth wings and a sweetly running engine – all we need now is some good weather and time off. And for those pesky hangar birds to go to the loo somewhere else.

p.s. we also need new chocks…those authentic Great War style wooden ones have since gone to the great woodpile in the sky (via the stove)…

Winter Operations

So here we are. Cut off at home due to the so-called “beast from the east” storm. Up here in Perthshire, it’s called “winter”…but we’re still kind of stuck:

I’ve just completed a run of four 12 hour day shifts, and flew for the grand total of zero minutes! This screenshot of the radar picture from shows the snow showers marching through on the strong easterly winds, and these forced us to keep the aircraft in the hangar.

If really needed it is faster to take the aircraft out of the hangar than it is to take off all the blanks, covers and blade tie-downs which are required if we leave it on the pad.

We got caught out in the last snow. OK, I got caught out, because I made the decision… a little snow shower passed through then the radar showed a nice gap, so we got the aircraft out onto the pad, went inside and put the kettle on. Ten minutes later it was hissing down with snow again.

The Flight Manual for the Eurocopter EC 135 T2+ has this handy section about de-icing the aircraft, and I quote:

“Place the aircraft in a warm hangar”

So that’s what we did. Eventually. It was so slippery that the tractor jack-knifed and was losing grip and steering. We ended up with a paramedic sitting on the tractor front to aid grip, one inside the aircraft to stop it tipping up, and two engineers (who don’t even work for us and are from a totally different company!) pushing on the skids. The aircraft didn’t come out again that shift and when I did the daily check in the evening it still had ice and snow on the roof. Maybe the hangar isn’t that warm after all!

Sometimes we DO get to go flying, and after the snowfall the views are fantastic. Here we are on the way north towards Aviemore and the Cairngorm Mountain ski resort…

…where we picked up an injured snowboarder (from Australia!) and flew her to Inverness for treatment.

The next photo take by Pete in the tower at Perth shows one of the hazards of operating a helicopter in fresh snow. The downwash kicks up the powder into a huge cloud which can then get sucked back down by the blades and recirculate, causing a white out, loss of visual references and disorientation and arriving on the ground in an uncontrolled manner, ending up in a “snotty heap” (Technical term).

Here’s Nigel demonstrating a higher than usual hover taxi height to reduce the threat. Military helicopters in hot places experience the same phenomenon, only out there it’s called brown-out and the cloud kicked up is slightly more abrasive – think sand blasting.

It can be a little boring sitting at work with the aircraft in the hangar. At least the paramedics have the response car so they can get out and do their job, but the pilot just has to check the weather and look at the snow showers.

Once it stops snowing though, the fun starts with the tractor and snowplough, clearing the apron area around the hangar so that we can operate from there if needed.

…although the drifting snow does tend to cover up things which are easily broken by snowplough blades. Oops.

The prolonged snow from this beast from the east thing has even got inside the Scottish Aero Club hangar. There are a few holes in the roof which don’t get noticed normally as the prevailing wind is from the other direction, but now the snow is coming right in. Perhaps we should fix the roof? Luckily the Eindecker is nowhere near one of the entry points so the open cockpit is not full of snow!

(Photo below by Sandy, LAA Engineering Inspector extraordinaire)

So it’s cold, it’s snowing, there hasn’t been much flying of any type and the aero club hangar leaks. But not to worry, spring is just around the corner…

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Stay warm!