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… ( )

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?  )

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

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. – 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 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 ) and can also be used for long trips (see ). 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 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!