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!


Testing the Heater…

…also known as “First Flight of 2018” – on a bitterly cold day. Out of Perth towards the north west to take some pics of the hills and the snow.

Past Dunkeld and into the hills.

Memories of Sennybridge training area in Wales…lots of little rectangular woods there (although down there they are known as bivouac areas!)

North towards Aberfeldy…

Passing the “Griffin” wind farm.

The long straight “firebreak” is actually the pylon line running away from the wind farm.

Aberfeldy with the peak of Schiehallion  beyond.

And finally back to Perth, where there was no snow but still very cold. The heater stayed on max for the whole trip.

Still working on the best camera settings for photos through the canopy. Always learning.

Valrossen har en hink…

It’s Swedish. For “The Walrus has a bucket” – more about that quaint new year tradition later. It’s time for some flying pictures. Yay!

First, Blairgowrie, taken from the “sun shines on the righteous” series. I can see my old house from up here…

Next, Christmas Day at work last year – this year there was no snow and we went flying. Last year there was only snow…

…as you can see by the tracks, I had fun driving the tractor round the (closed) airfield!

Christmas presents. Socks are good but TOOLS are better. This magnetic extendable grabber tool thing has been sitting in the tool kit for two years, just waiting for the call to action. On the 27th during the pre-flight inspection I was checking the level of the oil and managed to drop the dipstick – it bounced down into the bottom of the engine. Rather than taking the bottom cowling off  (which would have taken about 30 seconds) it was finally time. I deployed the tool. It’s a really strong magnet and the first two attempts tried to retrieve the steel engine mount but the third was a success. Best Christmas present ever…

While the cowling was off I renewed the heat shielding for wiring to the ignition modules. The wires cross the top of the exhaust with about six inches clearance so better safe than sorry…

And then it was time for some new passengers for the aircraft. Amazingly, only two people had flown with me up to this point… Brenda and Rory.

Passenger 3 – Brenda’s daughter Ellie

…and Passenger 4, Ellie’s boyfriend Lewis.

Winter is great for photos, with low sun and long shadows. Most of these were taken on the phone camera.

I like the tree shadows in this one, right in the centre on the green field.

The only trouble with winter is the short daylight hours, we always have to head back to the barn before we want to.

A high wing aircraft would be better for photos, but for the moment, this one will do. Big adventures ahead in 2018.

Oh, and the walrus thing? That’s for some other time.




White Christmas!

In Sweden. Not Scotland. Random picture of a snowy air park house.

…picture taken by Alexander and forwarded. They live there year round.

Picture also supposed to be put up at Christmas. Only 12 days late. It’s now January so Happy New Year!

Did I Just Get Malaria From The TV…?

Ugh. I’ve been off work for a few weeks now. Felt lethargic, no appetite and unable to do anything.  Now, the folks at work would say that this is the normal state of affairs but I was also shivering and boiling at the same time and waking up in the middle of the night in a massive sweat with soaked sheets. From sweat.

This all started the same evening that we watched “The Pacific” on telly. Episode One was set on Guadalcanal…John Basilone, Bob Leckie and the rest of the US Marines were fighting not only the Japanese, but also malaria, dysentry, and various other junglenastinesses (Yay! New word.) As I lay in bed sweating and freezing I was sure that I had caught malaria from the TV, especially as I was deliriously half dreaming that I hadn’t put enough top cover on my bunker and I was about to get mortared any second.

It wasn’t malaria, just some sort of viral infection. My aviation medical examiner and GP both recommended a couple of weeks off to recover. It has been a slow process, and I’m only just getting back to full energy, appetite and interest in anything other than sleep. It looks like I’ll be back at work just in time for my block of shifts covering Christmas. Sting and Eindecker flights should start again too – depending on the weather as always.

Normal service will be resumed soon.


…and I’ve just realised, I couldn’t have caught malaria from the TV. They were actors. ACTORS!

Fokker-Abteilung Nord fliegt wieder

Early November…light winds and not too cold. Just right for a quick patrol in the Eindecker replica. The good thing about this aircraft is that I’m rarely without some good pics that other people have taken!

Here we are on departure from runway 27 at Perth, just starting the early right turn to avoid the trees ahead. The climb performance from the 40hp engine isn’t exactly sparkling, so I like to route over open fields rather than the woods. In summer the open fields also produce good thermals to aid the climb.

The photo was taken by Jim of the Scottish Aero Club, who was at the holding point in his flexwing microlight as the mighty Eindecker thundered/sedately tootled past (delete as applicable). Once he took off I was able to manoeuvre into position for his passenger, the talented photographer Wallace, to get a shot. Jim had seen me turn towards them and held course while I approached. Wallace must have been sitting there drooling and enjoying the view when he suddenly shouted “Fokker!” and was only able to get one picture before a hail of imaginary bullets sent them spinning to their doom in the fields below.

Having dispatched the Tommies we continued on patrol, doing the usual local route of crossing the (200 foot electricity) lines to Stanley, patrolling up the river and crossing back over the lines at Strelitz Wood. Yep there’s a germanic sounding bunch of trees in Perthshire. Apparently it’s named after Queen Charlotte of Strelitz, wife of George 3rd.

The flight also tested the new 8.33 spacing handheld radio in combination with the Campbell Classics leather helmet.

(I like this photo so much I’ve used it twice…)

With the previous radio the helmet was plugged into the aircraft intercom and was picking up a lot of interference from the ignition system. The new setup plugs the helmet directly into the radio and works much better. My ears are no longer bombarded with noise very time we go flying. The radio clips onto a mount on the cockpit sidewall. On landing I was able to unclip it and took it flying in the Sting as a backup.

After 40 minutes flying around in the Sting with the heater on full blast I had just about thawed out. The little open cockpit replica is great fun but only for short trips of 30 minutes at a time – especially in November.

Last Sunday started off as a light wind day and I briefly thought about getting the Eindecker out again for a mid-morning jaunt before the wind got up.  Then I realised that flying a WW1 German fighter around was probably not a good idea on Remembrance Day while all the parades were going on…

Quiet October

October has flashed past…a trip to the simulator, a trip to Sweden, storm Ophelia, busy at work.

Finally got to drag the aircraft out when the month was half over. This is what 9 circuits of the airfield looks like on the Skydemon trace

Half flap landings, full flap landings, glide approaches etc etc. Got a bit dizzy there. Going for a lie down…with work from now until November, October will have been a quiet month on the Sting front…