Friday, 31 December 2010

All in all an interesting year

Well, here we are at the end of 2010 and it's been an interesting and eventful year one way and another. Of course getting G-JONL flying was the pinnacle of my flying achievements to date and I am sure it's a period in my life that I shall look back on with satisfaction in years to come.

In the end the weather put paid to flying for pretty well all of December, with just one solitary flight of an hour at the beginning of the month. Nevertheless, I clocked up 61 hours of P1 time during 2010, 45 hours of which were in G-JONL.

Hopefully 2011 will be the year I can extend my flying in G-JONL and start visiting some of the places that the short field performance of the Sportcruiser makes possible. In particular, I'd like to return to the Orkney Islands and visit all those tiny 500m strips on the many smaller Orkadian islands. I'm also overdue a trip down south, once the weather starts improving.

So I'm looking forward to 2011 and some nice flying weather. I'd like to wish all my readers a Happy New Year and, for those of you that fly, blue skies and good landings.

Saturday, 25 December 2010

Season's greetings

A merry Christmas 
and a 
happy new year

Friday, 3 December 2010


Grounded! We've got about 8" of snow and the road past my house is an ice rink. Sometimes living on top of a hill, on a road that is never gritted, is a real bummer.

Even if I could get out (and more importantly, back up the hill) the airfield is under a similar amount of snow, so flying's orf for the time being. Sadly I don't see any end to the cold weather for a while.

Thursday, 18 November 2010


A friend and I had a meeting to go to in Blackpool so although it's probably no quicker to fly, by the time the 'plane's been taken out of the hangar, fuelled and pre-flighted, we nonetheless decided that it would be fun to do so.

I've not been into Blackpool since my training days, although I've flown past it on numerous occasions. It had gained a bit of a reputation for being rather unfriendly and expensive for GA and, having no reason to go there other than to get it in the logbook, there seemed little point in doing so.

Now equipped with a reason to go there I set about finding out whether the rumours were still true. Well they're not! Blackpool is once again a GA friendly airport, with a separate apron and a very helpful flight briefing office dedicated to GA. There's no longer any need to go through the main terminal or mix with the big jets and their contents. The landing fee is reasonable for an airfield with just about every toy you could need, including ILS, radar and full ATC.

I don't need to go to Blackpool very often but I must say I was impressed with the new arrangements and will certainly fly there in future when the opportunity arises. Credit where credit is due - well done, Blackpool!

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Flying Instructor

Once upon a time there was a flying instructor who, against all the odds, taught me to fly. The rest, as they say, is history: he went on to become a First Officer and is now flying 737s around the Gulf whilst I went on to build G-JONL.

Brian was back in the UK for a few days in November so it seemed like a good idea to get together for a meal and to catch up on each other's news. A thoroughly enjoyable evening was had at one of the excellent country pubs near to Carlisle Airport.

The following day was clear, cold and bright. Excellent weather for a bit of proper flying, so Brian and I assembled at Kirkbride in the late morning, intent on doing just that. Brian kindly permitted me to do the take off but by the time we were climbing through 1000ft it was clear that he was itching to take control. I didn't do any more flying that day!

We headed out over the Solway and on to Dumfries before setting course for Locherbie. This is Brian's old stomping ground and he was in his element. Soon we were making steep turns and all the other things that he doesn't get to do in a 737 with self loading freight! After a bit of that we headed off to Carlisle Airport for a spot of lunch, meeting up with several of his old buddies in the café. Considering that Brian had never flown JONL before he made an excellent landing (I have to say that, other wise he might hit me!).

All too soon it was time to head back to Kirkbride - a short 10 minute direct flight. It was a pleasure to be flying with Brian again and to discover that he hasn't lost his knack of flying little fun aeroplanes.

Photo credits: Brian Peacock 

Monday, 1 November 2010

Glassonby airfield

Glassonby is a small airfield to the north east of Penrith. It has two grass runways, 18/36 (450m) & 05/23 (350m) and is perched on top of a hill at 600ft ASL, in the foothills of the Pennines.

It was a pretty decent day today and the short trip from Kirkbride to Glassonby fitted in perfectly with the relatively short amount of time I had available to commit aviation. A freshening southerly wind meant that 18 was definitely the into wind runway, giving me 450m to play with - ample for the Sportcruiser.

Glassonby is quite hard to find! Even though I had the coordinates in my GPS, I didn't see the runway until I was almost on top of it. In the event, the runway was occupied... by a few hundred sheep... so a low approach and go around was called for. To my amazement all the sheep promptly vacated the runway! Well trained sheep indeed.

The second approach didn't work out either. I rather carelessly lost the airfield (again) and by the time I discovered where the runway was hiding it was too close to make a decent attempt at it. Go around number two.

This is ridiculous! I can't remember the last time I took three goes to make a landing. Er... actually I can - it was a windy day at Glenforsa a few years back. Anyway, whatever, the third approach was spot on and a decent landing followed, using less than half the runway length.

What a delightful airfield! The runways are in good nick, albeit a bit mucky due to aforementioned sheep. The views are superb and there is a lovely log cabin, where tea and coffee are freely available. There is no set landing fee - the book says that donations are welcome and I was more than happy to oblige.

Robin, the farmer who owns the airfield, flies a microlight from the field. He came up to meet me and showed me around the hangar. Sadly it's rather full of aircraft but he has promised me that he'll let me know as soon as a spot becomes available. I think I could very happily base myself at Glassonby!

With deteriorating weather it was time to head back to Kirkbride and a slightly tricky cross wind landing on runway 28, with a 10-12kt southerly. I shall certainly visit Glassonby again.

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Visit to Cark

Cark is a small airfield on the southern edge of the Lake District, about 40 minutes flying time from Kirkbride. It has a 500m tarmac runway and is more usually associated with parachuting activities especially at weekends.

Yesterday was such a lovely day it seemed a shame not to fly somewhere, so Mike (a local pilot who has helped me with maintaining JONL) and I decided we would head off to Cark. It was to be the first time that I had landed there and only my second visit.

We decided to route around the coast, past Sellafield and close to Barrow in Furness before turning east along the northern coast of Morecambe Bay. With a light south westerly, progress was good and the landing on runway 24 was straightforward enough. Although there was no parachuting in progress, there was someone at the parachuting centre to welcome us, provide a quick cuppa and relieve us of £15 landing fee, which we thought was a bit steep for a strip with no facilities, not even A/G! I shall never again complain about the fees at full service airports such as Carlisle!

We took a look at the enormous PAC 750 parachute jump aeroplane and marvelled that such a large craft could take off and land on a 500m runway. I guess keeping that flying is an expensive proposition and perhaps explains the disproportionate landing fee.

The return flight was a more speedy affair, more or less direct, over the Lake District mountains in just 35 minutes, with a gentle tailwind.

Friday, 1 October 2010

Keeping the elements at bay

Although JONL will usually be hangared, there will inevitably be occasions when I'm away from base and she has to live outside for a night or two. Even in the hangar it is noticeable that small birds roost in the roof, with inevitable consequences down below. Some covers were clearly called for.

Full coverage for the aircraft is both expensive and time consuming to put on, so I decided to go for a cockpit/engine cowling cover and half wing covers, which extend far enough to cover the wing lockers I also have some wing tip protectors made, in an attempt to reduce the risk of "hangar rash". Finally, I had two waterproof locker bags made, which fit exactly into the wing lockers and are amply large enough for use as a weekend bag.

Deciding on the colour was a bit tricky. On one hand it would be nice to have covers matching the colour scheme of the aircraft but I was concerned that the dark red colour might give rise to excessive heating. In the end I reasoned that the time when one mostly uses covers is during inclement weather, when solar heating is not really an issue.

I had the covers made by Vertigo covers and they've done a good job. All the covers fit into a fairly small stuff bag and the all up weight is just a couple of kg, so it is entirely practical to take the covers on land aways.

Post updated and published 01-Oct-2010 

Sunday, 19 September 2010

It's been a while...

... since I updated this Blog and I have been gently taken to task for not regaling my eager readership with any anecdotes or stories of daring do. It's nice to know there's still a few of you out there!

The summer has been a period of reasonably intense flying, with a number of trips away, notably to Glenforsa on the Island of Mull. I shall write some more about the two trips to my favourite Scottish airfield very soon.

G-JONL has behaved perfectly and now has 40 hours or so on the clock. The first service was done without drama at 25 hours. I've got very used to flying her and am enjoying the opportunity to do so while the weather remains, for the most part, conducive.

I'm still based at Kirkbride and as far as I can see it is unlikely that I will move from there for a variety of reasons, not least that I have several good friends there and it is a thoroughly friendly place. I have a small list of things that I'd like to sort out on G-JONL, most of which are cosmetic and can wait until the "flying season" draws to a close.

It's pleasing to be able to report that G-JONL has lived up to expectations and is proving to be a fun aircraft to fly. Obviously it's not as stable in the air as, say, the Warrior but it's still a very capable touring aircraft. It's a lot cheaper to run too!

Friday, 17 September 2010

Glenforsa 2

 My friend and occasional flying companion Mike has flown with me to Glenforsa on several occasions, usually for the annual fly in. He was less than impressed to discover that I had flown up there on my own and demanded a replay, with him present!

So  it was, then, that we boarded G-JONL at Kirkbride on a rather windy but otherwise nice clear day, en route to Glenforsa. the stiff northerly wind made for slow progress on the way to Mull, with ground speeds often down in the 45kt to 55kt range, so it took a massive 2h 40m to fly there, which I believe is the longest I have ever taken. It was quite turbulent too, especially around the high mountains of Arran. Although the Sportcruiser handled the bumps well there is no doubt that it is not as stable in these conditions as, say, a PA28.

Eventually we arrived, in somewhat anxious anticipation of the stonking crosswind landing. As we approached for a straight in from the east I lined up with the runway as best I could. Lined up is something of a misnomer. In order to track the extended centre line of the runway, the nose was a good 30° to the north... land on Mull by pointing the nose at Skye!

This amount of crosswind is a considerable challenge for any aircraft and the Sportcruiser doesn't have a particularly impressive demonstrated maximum crosswind performance so I'd decided that I was more than willing to throw away the landing and if necessary divert to Oban, which has a north/south runway. In the event though the rudder offered sufficient authority to kick the nose straight just before touchdown and it was, indeed, one of my better landings!

Of course, as the aircraft slowed, so rudder authority reduced and before long the aircraft was trying to weathercock into the wind. A little judicious differential braking soon fixed that tendency and we rolled to a gentle halt having used only about 300m of the runway. David Howitt, the airfield manager greeted us as always and announced that I definitely had nothing to worry about vis a vis the crosswind performance of the Sportcruiser!

As we were staying the night we could imbibe some of the local brew so it was not long before Michael and I were supping the local ale in the Glenforsa Hotel, swapping our thoughts on the flight. Certainly I felt that it had demonstrated that the Sportcruiser is a very capable aircraft that can hold its own in difficult flying conditions.. albeit it's perhaps not something that I'd want to be doing every day! After a few more sherbets even these doubts seemed less important.

During the late afternoon it rained cats and dogs but JONL was securely tied down and nice and warm under her new red coat, so we didn't feel so bad about carrying on sampling the Glenforsa Hotel's multifarious wares, followed by a jolly good meal.

The following day was better, so we rented a car from David Howitt and headed of for the principality of Tobermoray, where we were once again beguiled by the local produce, this time a bottle each of fine single malt from the Mull distillery. Not for immediate quaffing however, these bottles were destined for export!

All too soon it was time to return to Carlisle and with the northerly still blowing a good hooley, we were back to Kirkbride in what seemed like no time flat, just 1hr 20m, which is exactly half the time it took us to get to Mull. All in all an excellent sortie.

Post updated and published 26-Oct-2010  

Monday, 30 August 2010

Glenforsa 1

The view to the West

Glenforsa has long been one of my favourite flying destinations, and with good reason. It is under two hours flying time (in nil wind conditions) from the Carlisle area and the route takes in some stunning Scottish scenery. Glenforsa's airfield has a beautifully manicured 800m grass strip and is situated right on the coast, overlooking the Sound of Mull, with excellent views of distant hills and the Sound itself. Finally, and very satisfyingly, there is a hotel alongside the airfield, a mere 50 years of so from the airfield boundary.

The weather on the 30th of August was just too good to ignore and soon I was on my way to Kirkbride, having loaded up with fuel at the local garage. With just a light northerly wind, the outbound leg took 1hr 55m, routing at 5000ft via Turnberry, Arran, Lochgilphead and the BRUCE intersection. Arriving at Glenforsa the wind dropped to almost nothing, making a straight in approach to runway 25 completely uneventful.

Looking East towards the mainland
David Howitt, the airfield manager exuded his usual bonhomie, announcing that I was only the third Sportcruiser to have visited Glenforsa International. One of these days I shall be the first Sportcruiser to visit an airfield... there has to be one somewhere!

After a quick lunch in the Glenforsa Hotel I went for a short walk up the Glen that gives Glenforsa its name. It is a beautiful, if rather flat walk into the island, eventually reaching the foothills of some quite large mountains. Unfortunately I didn't have time to walk that far on this occasion. On my return, I noticed a sign for a bed and breakfast establishment just off the airfield and made a note of the name, Ty an Solas, for future reference.

JONL had a good view to the North
All too soon it was time to start heading home, as being a Monday, it was an Air Cadet meeting night. The return flight was equally delightful, with a gentle tailwind, allowing a return journey time to Kirkbride of 1hr 45m.

An altogether superb day out. Glenforsa keeps its prime slot as my favourite Scottish airfield.

Post updated and published 04-Oct-2010 

Saturday, 28 August 2010

First service

The Rotax 912ULS engine fitted to JONL is a modern, reliable engine and requires far less maintenance than traditional avgas burning piston aero engines. Provided one can routinely use standard high octane petrol then not only is the fuel cheaper but it is also much less damaging to the engine.

Even running on petrol (otherwise known as mogas to distinguish it from avgas) an initial service at 25 hours is a good idea, so I decided that it should be done and, of course, being a Permit to Fly aircraft I did it myself!

Essentially, this service involves draining the engine oil, replacing the oil filter, replacing the eight spark plugs (two per cylinder) and refilling the engine with fresh oil. At the same time the opportunity was taken to check the security of all parts of the engine. Hose clips, in particular have a tendency to loosen over time and need a little tightening, particularly in the first few months of operation. Finally, a known weak spot is the exhaust system, so this was carefully inspected and the joints re lubricated with Copaslip to help prevent seizing, followed, potentially, by cracks appearing around the joints.

These are messy jobs but none are difficult and the whole programme was completed in about three hours. Total cost was around £50, which is a bit different from the bills I used to get for routine servicing of my old C of A Warrior!

Post updated and published 01-Oct-2010 

Sunday, 15 August 2010

Happy birthday to me!

It's not every day that one makes it to the grand old age of sixty (thankfully!), so it was definitely time to have a party.

As it happened the weather was brilliant and the outdoor barbecue was a huge success. My Mother made me a birthday cake with a picture of G-JONL on top.

How do they do that? It seemed a shame to cut it and eat it!

Post updated and published 20-Oct-2010  

Saturday, 19 June 2010

Castle Kennedy

The day after the Air Cadets' visit to Bedlands Gate, I flew from there on to Castle Kennedy, located close to Stranraer in the Mull of Galloway. Lord Stair, on whose land Castle Kennedy is situated is an aviation aficionado and airfield is a delight to fly into. Bedlands Gate is on land owned by Lord Lonsdale, so I had the somewhat unusual pleasure of flying from one Lord's estate to another!

The weather was brilliant and I was joined in the flyin by friends in various aircraft from Carlisle airport and a flotilla of girocopters from Kirkbride. Aircraft from Ireland, from as far south as Manchester and from all over Scotland made for a thoroughly enjoyable day's flying.

Castle Kennedy is one of the few relatively local airfields that I had never flown into before. I shall certainly be visiting again soon.

Post updated and published 02-Oct-2010

Friday, 18 June 2010

Air cadets

One of my spare time activities is instructing the Penrith Squadron Air Cadets in electronics and aviation related subjects. As might be expected there is quite a lot of interest in G-JONL amongst the cadets and so it was only natural that I should let them have a look around.

Rather than have the entire squadron travelling up to Kirkbride, it was agreed that I would fly into Bedlands Gate, which is just a few miles south of Penrith. Fortunately it was a nice evening and all the youngsters were able to have a good look around, sit inside it and generally find out more about how a small aircraft is built.

JONL stayed at Bedlands Gate overnight, as it is only a couple of miles away from my home. A friend gave me a lift back home that evening and the following morning I hiked back to the airfield and flew directly to Castle Kennedy... on which trip, more anon.

Photo credit: Jim Hardman

Post updated and published 01-Oct-2010

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

A visit to Bedlands Gate

Even though I am unlikely to get hangarage space at Bedlands Gate, it is the nearest airstrip to home and as such it ought to be flown into.

The strip isn't especially difficult but it does require some care, as the approaches are not entirely clear and the runways are quite short and bounded by dry stone walls. I decided that I ought to visit by car first and walk the runways to better understand what I would be encountering on the fly-in.

Bedlands Gate has three runways, oriented 13/31, 15/33 and 17/35. 15/33 is the longest at about 400m, plus an 80m extension over rather rough ground at the north west end. The approach to 33 is a little tricky, as there are buildings and a road crossing close to the threshold. The approach to 15 is similarly awkward, with falling ground to the threshold. So landing at Bedlands Gate needs a bit of thinking about.

Firstly, I walked each runway in turn, noting the approach characteristics and runway surfaces as I went. Final approach to 33 requires a bit of a dive for the ground after clearing the obstacles on short final and this means that it's quite difficult to use the first 50m or so or runway. At about 150m there is a definite hump, which has the ability to launch one skyward again if still travelling at flying speed. Other than that there is nothing much to worry about!

My survey completed, I drove up to Kirkbride (45 minutes), fuelled JONL and took off for the short (20 minutes!) trip back to Bedlands Gate. With runway 33 in use, I decided to give the buildings on short final a wide vertical berth and also kept a little fast, with the realisation that the first approach may result in a go-around. In the event, I touched down just before the aforementioned hump, which promptly sent me a few feet skywards again but by now my speed had decayed enough to make a good landing ahead, stopping well before the extension section.

The return trip, 45 minutes later was uneventful save to say that it was interesting doing a performance take off on grass and noting that I was airborne less than half way along the runway (yep, that hump again!), confirming that the Sportcruiser is, indeed, a pretty good short stripping aircraft.

It was good to get my local strip in the log!

Monday, 14 June 2010

Which airfield?

Cumbria is a lumpy place, containing, as it does, the vast majority of England's highest mountains and large areas of rolling country, the result of extensive glaciation. As a consequence there are relatively few places where it is possible to build an airstrip, even one of the modest dimensions required by a Sportcruiser.

During the build and test flying stage, it made sense to be at an airfield with a decent length runway and that meant either Carlisle or Kirkbride, both 37 miles or so away from my home. Carlisle doesn't really cater for kit builders and hangarage is scarce and expensive, so I have been based at Kirkbride since last October.

There are, however nearer strips with an entirely adequate 400m or so of grass.

Bedlands Gate is a mere 2 miles away from home and offers three runways of between 250m and 450m. The photograph shows the main runway, 33/13. Bedlands Gate is a high elevation strip at 1000ft AMSL, with lovely views over the Eden Valley and beyond. Unfortunately it has very limited hangarage space and there is no way, for now at least, of getting G-JONL under cover there. Whilst that may be acceptable during the summer, the winter in such an exposed location would be altogether unacceptable. Sadly it seems unlikely that space will become available any time soon.

Glassonby is a little further away, the other side of Penrith, but it is still a lot closer than Kirkbride. 450m and 350m runways are very adequate and it is a somewhat more sheltered spot. But once again there is no hangarage space, although the prospect of availability some time in the next few months does seem better. I'm on the waiting list.

So it looks like I will be staying at Kirkbride and putting up with a 90 minute/70+ mile round trip each time I want to go flying. Disappointing, but manageable.

Friday, 11 June 2010

LAA Project News

A few weeks ago I was pleased to be asked to provide an article for the LAA Project News section of the Association's monthly magazine, LIGHT AVIATION. I penned a few words and sent off a few photographs, never expecting that much if any would be published.

Imagine my surprise and delight at seeing the complete article published in the June magazine!

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Quo vadis?

G-JONL is completed and flying. Of course work is never done on any aeroplane and JONL will surely be no exception but the fact remains that this was intended to be a build Blog and, in essence, all the building is done.

So I need to work out what to do with this, my first ever proper Blog. I could stop now, on the basis that its job is done, or I could continue with the Blog and discuss my experiences, the happy times, and the vicissitudes, daring aerial exploits and hangar work on an ongoing basis.

My inclination is to keep the Blog going but I expect that it will be rather less frequently updated, if for no other reason than that there will be less to say. I know I have quite a lot of followers, most of whom are silent for most of the time, but I would be interested to know what you think.

Spreading my wings

I've been somewhat remiss in that I haven't updated this Blog much since I started flying G-JONL. Perhaps that is understandable - this was always intended to be a build Blog and now the building stage is completed there is much less to say on that score.

Anyway, I've certainly not been idle. So far I have just under twelve hours of solo flying under my belt in JONL and I've been gradually spreading my wings to further afield places in the process. The aircraft has now done a total of 17 trouble-free hours of flying and it won't be very long before the initial 25 hour engine service is due.

Last week I went to visit my old flying pal Mike, who has recently moved down to Shropshire. His nearest airfield is Sleap, which is near to Shrewsbury and it was about a 90 minute flight each way - the longest so far. It was a lovely day, so I elected to route directly over the Lake District at 4500ft, intending to then transit through Liverpool's controlled airspace via the Liverpool Airport overhead, then directly on to Sleap.

In the end, I was given the more usual (but not quite so convenient) routing via the LPL NDB, which involved heading a few miles further east. It's slightly strange that Liverpool ATC prefers that routing, for it take you a few miles to the east of the airfield, at quite low level, right through the approach/climb out path. Anyway, that's what I got, so that's what I flew.

At the airport I met Mike, who took the pictures you see here (thanks Mike!). After some lunch went for a short bimble around the locality, out to Oswestry and other points west before returning to Sleap. During lunch, what appeared to be another Sportcruiser, EI-MIR landed and parked next to JONL. Curious, we wandered over to discover that it was not in fact a Sportcruiser but a Roko Aero NG4 - also a Czech aircraft and clearly with a similar pedigree. Later I met her owner and we had a good chat about the two aircraft. The Roko certainly looks like a very nice aircraft.

Eventually it was time to return to Kirkbride and this time I was unable to get any transit at all through Liverpool's airspace due to traffic loading and had to route via Wallasey Head. I think that is the first time I have ever been refused a transit through Liverpool's controlled airspace. Wallasey is pleasant enough though and it gave me an excuse to route up the coast, which is always enjoyable.

So by degrees I am extending my range and before long it will be time to head off to some Scottish islands and perhaps even down south. Not now though - the weather is appalling... winter has temporarily reasserted itself.

Saturday, 29 May 2010

Altogether too much fun!

I've been gently taken to task for not updating the Blog for a while. Yep, you've guessed it, I've been having altogether too much fun (if such a thing is possible) flying my new toy.

The day after the permit arrived I did my "first solo" with about half a dozen circuits to get the hang of things. As always happens, the first landing was an absolute greaser and things progressively deteriorated from there on! I reckon I've nailed things now though. Every aircraft is different and it was simply a case of getting used to the handling, how the flaps behave, optimum speeds and so on.

Since then I've been gradually widening my range of flying. On 23rd May I flew across to Fishburn for the first proper land away and, coincidentally, my first visit to that airfield. I've also flown into my old airfield, Carlisle. Gradually I'm building confidence in the aircraft and my ability to fly her. Before long I think a trip to the Scottish Islands will be called for! I've flown around six hours since the permit arrived.

It's pleasing that there are no technical problems with JONL. There are a few minor things to sort out - there is a small amount of aileron trim required for straight and level that needs to be balanced out and I want to try a slightly coarser propeller blade pitch to see if I can improve the cruise speed a little, without upsetting the short field take off performance.

All these things can wait. For now I'm just having fun!

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Let's go fly!

The Permit to Fly has arrived and I have it in my sticky mitts. Rather bad timing, as I have to work tomorrow but I have this feeling that I shall be airborne by tomorrow evening.


Friday, 14 May 2010

Permit issued!


The CAA has issued the Permit to Fly. All I have to do now is wait to get the piece of paper in my grubby hands. Should be flying next week with a bit of luck.

Thursday, 13 May 2010

Jerry cans

The Sportcruiser works best on Mogas (petrol) although it can run on Avgas if necessary. As Avgas is much more expensive and also requires a more frequent engine maintenance regime, Mogas is far preferred when possible.

The problem is that very few airfields pump Mogas. This is something that is probably going to have to change in the not too far distant future but in the meantime, I have a problem to resolve.

The favoured solution is numerous Jerry cans. I've decided to get four, giving a total of 80 litres. Whilst this does not completely fill the Sportcruiser, which has a capacity of 114 litres, 80 litres is sufficient for over five hours of flying, so it will usually be more than enough.

Jerry cans are a bit awkward to transport and tend to rattle around in the boot of my Mercedes so I decided that I would build a wooden frame that they can sit in. I've designed the frame in such a way that it can hold two or four Jerry cans. If only two are carried then there is space for fuel filter, hand pump and various other odds and ends.

The idea is that I can safely carry up to 80 litre of petrol to the airfield by car. I can also put the frame in the aircraft, behind the seats and in that case I would take just two empty cans and use the remaining space for accessories. Needless to say, there is no wish to carry full fuel cans inside the fuselage! Apart from the obvious safety considerations, there is also the small matter of weight and balance to consider. But when one gets to the other end, some means of carting fuel from the petrol station is needed and for that purpose 40 litres should be sufficient.

I started making the frame today out of 9mm plywood. I need to get some aluminium angle and short coach bolts to complete the project and I will then paint the finished frame in G-JONL colours!

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

CAA says "processing"

G-INFO has been updated to confirm that the CAA has received the Permit to Fly application and intends to process it by this coming Friday, 14th May.

Might be flying next week after all!

Monday, 10 May 2010

LAA says YES

Postie brought me a letter this morning from the LAA saying that they have sent my Permit to Fly application on to the CAA.

Whilst this is definitely progress, another step along the way, happiness is tinged with frustration again. I now learn that when the permit is issued the CAA will send it back to the LAA who say they will "forward it as soon as we have checked it", then, in big bold letters "...the aircraft must not be flown until you have ... the Permit to Fly in your hand". This despite the fact that G-INFO provides an on line snapshot of the CAA's database that is updated daily. We can be sure that at least another week will be lost in all this postal nonsense.

It is hard to think of a more unnecessarily bureaucratic process, which seems to be designed to waste as much time and (my) money as possible.

The wait continues.

Whiling the time away

While I'm waiting for the Permit to Fly, I've been helping out a pal at Kirkbride with rewiring the engine management system on his RV8. He is also using Dynon kit, so the problems are very similar to those I faced with G-JONL. It's an interesting problem and a lovely aeroplane to work on, so it's keeping me out of mischief... sort of.

I also did a little work yesterday on JONL. For the first time since we started test flying I had the cowlings off and did a full inspection of the engine bay.

I noticed that the water radiator is catching on the cowling very slightly. This is a known problem with Sportcruisers but fortunately it is easy to fix by glueing a piece of foam to the cowling in the appropriate place. The foam pushes up against the radiator and stops the two items from vibrating or moving with respect to one another.

I also took the opportunity to blank off part of the oil cooler and water radiator. The Sportcruiser is grossly overcooled for our climate (especially at the moment - it's only 5°C this morning and the overnight rain has fallen as snow on the fells!), so it is standard practice to blank off parts of the cooling system. G-SCZR, the other Sportcruiser at Kirkbride, has about two thirds of the oil cooler and one third of the water radiator blanked off and that seems to work well, so I've done the same on JONL.

Another area that seems to be problematic with Sportcruisers is the exhaust system, which can develop cracks due to vibration. A reinforced exhaust system is available but is only fitted if the cracks appear. I carefully checked mine and, for now at least, there is no evidence of cracks at all.

There are many jubilee clips in the engine bay and these have a habit of working loose, especially after initial build, so I went round and carefully checked that they were all good and tight. Most were, but it was a useful exercise, for I discovered that the clip screw on the hot air scat pipe to the airbox was preventing full deployment of the carb heat control. It's not clear whether this is because the clip has moved, or if I installed it wrongly. Anyway, it would explain, perhaps, why we were getting little in the way of RPM drop with carb heat on. The fix was easy and the carb heat control now has full travel.

All of which is fair enough but it's not flying! Hopefully I'll hear soon that my Permit to Fly application has been passed on to the CAA.

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Embroiled in bureaucracy

I've just heard that the application for Permit to Fly is unlikely to escape from the LAA until the end of this week. The culprit is yet more bureaucracy associated with the ballistic recovery system, which I thought we had finally put to bed some weeks ago.

Once escape velocity from the LAA is achieved, the CAA will most likely take two weeks to rubber stamp the application and issue the Permit to Fly, so it looks like it will be late May before we are home and dry.

It is very, very frustrating!

Friday, 30 April 2010

April in review

The month that G-JONL fledged!

April started with a waiting game and ended with another waiting game. As March gave way to April I was waiting for the Permit Release Flight Certificate to enable us to start flight testing. A certain amount of bureaucracy followed to ensure that insurance was not only in place but had been shown to be in place.

By the middle of the month JONL had completed her first flight and within a week the entire flight testing programme had been completed. The forms were duly filled in and submitted. Hence the second waiting game commenced - this time for the Permit to Fly.

Meanwhile, the spring has finally sprung in Westmorland Flyer-land so your scribe is keeping himself busy with gardening duties so as not to pine for the open skies too much during what should, hopefully, be the final interregnum.

May should be fun!

Wednesday, 28 April 2010

A couple of queries

I received an e-mail from the LAA this morning with a couple of queries on the flight test reports that were quickly and easily addressed. Everything else is apparently in order and it looks like the application for a Permit to Fly will be sent off to the CAA in the next day or two. Progress is being made!

Monday, 26 April 2010

Flight trials completed

All the flight trials for G-JONL have been completed successfully.

Last Wednesday David and I flew up to Prestwick to check the Mode-S radar transponder and take a run at the Instrument Landing System. It comes as a bit of a surprise to those based further south that we have neither of these facilities at nearby airfields in Cumbria - the nearest ILS/radar equipped airports are Newcastle and Prestwick, both over 60 nautical miles away from Kirkbride.

Wednesday was a cracking VFR flying day, with endless visibility and virtually no cloud. The odd bit of turbulence was encountered along the way but for the most part it was easy, enjoyable flying. Routing over the Solway at Anthorn we then headed west to Wigtown and on to Castle Kennedy, where David made a low approach. The north westerly wind created quite a lot of turbulence and as we got to short final we decided that there was just too much of a cross wind to make a safe landing.

Onwards to Stranraer and then on up the coast to Girvan and Turnberry, where we were able to perform further checks on the VOR navigation system before contacting Prestwick Radar for the next stage of our flight. We wanted to check that the Mode-S transponder was visible to radar, squawking the correct code and providing Mode-C altitude information. Everything worked perfectly, so we requested vectors to the ILS for runway 31.

ATC vectored us through the localiser at about 12 miles range, enabling me to observe the behaviour of the vertical (azimuth) indicator. This was the first time I'd seen the instrument working and it was great to see it behave exactly as expected, with stable indications as we passed through the runway extended centreline.

We were then vectored to close the localiser from the right and I was able to precisely line up with the runway centreline, vertical needle dead centre. At this stage, ATC's job is done and we were instructed to descend with the procedure. As we were only at around 2000ft we had to fly level for a while until we intercepted the glide slope, then we reduced power and started the gentle descent to the runway, keeping the horizontal needle centred all the way down.

There is something very satisfying about flying an ILS approach! The accuracy of the system is amazing and, as we descended with the procedure, I had my eyes in the cockpit, keeping the needles in the centre, whilst David did lookout. He continued to report two whites, two reds (meaning that we were on exactly the correct glide slope) and spot on the runway centreline all the way down to 200ft where we called the go-around and climbed away.

The ILS works then!

Our tests completed, we headed back along the coast to Stranraer and across to Castle Kennedy, where we once again tried an approach to land. No go, unfortunately - the cross wind was just too much and there was a lot of turbulence from the nearby trees, so we went around again and departed for Carlisle airport.

The landing at Carlisle was uneventful and concluded a 2 hours and 50 minutes flight - by far the longest flight that G-JONL has undertaken to date and more than sufficient to meet the endurance flight requirements. Sportcruisers are still an unusual sight at Carlisle, so there was soon a gathering of interested onlookers, one of whom took a picture of the two intrepid travellers. This was also G-JONL's first "land away" - not required as apart of the flight trials but good to have done, nonetheless. After a cup of coffee in the airport café we were on our way back to Kirkbride and the conclusion of a magnificent day's flying.

The following day, David and I completed all the paperwork and that has now been sent to the LAA for checking. This apparently takes about a week and the LAA then issues a request to the CAA to issue the Permit to Fly, which takes around ten working days to pop out of the system. So with a bit of luck, G-JONL should be fully permitted by mid May. Then we shall have fun!

Sunday, 18 April 2010

Party time!

Yesterday was my opportunity to thank the people who have helped me to build G-JONL. Although it was a somewhat blustery day, David, my test pilot, was able to do a few circuits, demonstrating the aeroplane and, at the same time doing a few more tests.

Ten of us watched from the balcony of the LAA strut caravan as David did flap-less and glide approaches. The strong wind, about 20º off runway heading made the flying a bit more challenging but that was no problem for David. A couple of low approach and go-arounds finished off the flying display.

After the flight everyone had a chance to take a look at the finished aeroplane on the ground before retiring to the LAA caravan for some lunch, kindly prepared by my riveter-in-chief, Chris. His daughter, Lizzy (who has herself been a key helper during the build by virtue of having small enough hands to get the nut onto the base of the rudder) made an aeroplane cake that was enjoyed by all. Some champaign was quaffed and everyone had a good time.

Roll of honour
  • Chris - riveter in chief and general assistant whenever another pair of hands was needed
  • Lizzy - owner of small enough hands to get the rudder lower mounting nut attached, a task that is completely impossible for blokes with normal sized hands
  • Jim - official photographer
  • Andrew - helped with mounting the wings
  • Ian - helped with loading and unloading
  • David - Chief Test Pilot extraordinaire
  • Alan - transport manager
  • David - workshop facilities for the initial build work
  • Tom - my LAA inspector
  • Mike - LAA Strut boss and good all round engineer who helped in all sorts of ways during the final build
Many thanks to you all. I couldn't have done it without you.

Thursday, 15 April 2010

Two hours of test flying

On the day when civil aviation was, according to the media, completely shut down, we did a couple of hours of very productive flight testing in two separate flights of one hour's duration. With the initial flight out of the way yesterday, I was able to accompany my test pilot as we explored the flight envelope and gradually gained more experience of our new bird.

Amongst the flight test we completed were
  • Maximum power checks on the ground
  • Taxiing 
  • Take off performance
  • Climb performance
  • Handling in the stall
  • Lateral & directional stability
  • Simulated baulked landing
  • Fast cruise
  • Dive to Vne (the "never exceed" speed)
  • Functional checks on all flying controls
  • Checks of all flight instruments
  • A radio check on both radios with Carlisle Airport, from about 40 miles away at St Bees Head
  • Fuel systems
That's a lot of checks and it was a fairly busy two hours of flying for us both. The result is that we are more or less finished with the local flight testing and now need to fly to Prestwick to test the radar transponder and instrument landing system. This will also be the endurance test (two hours minimum flying).

I'm busy with other things for the next few days but I hope we will be able to do the Prestwick trip on Wednesday next week.

I must say that G-JONL behaved impeccably throughout all our tests today. It feels capable and stable, it is quiet and free of vibration and everything behaves just as it should. All in all a great day's flying. And not a contrail to be seen!

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

Fledged at last

I'm delighted to be able to announce that G-JONL slipped the surly bonds at 11:59 this morning and went on to complete an hour of uneventful test flying.

The first test flight was a very short affair, just one circuit, because it was discovered that the trimmers were configured incorrectly (note to self: they operate in the opposite sense to the associated control surface you eejit!). A few minutes with the crimping tool and that problem was fixed.

My intrepid test pilot then went on to complete another 55 minutes of varied flying and, on his return, announced that the aircraft flies beautifully.

There'll be more Blogging on this momentous day a little later but for now here is a picture of the first take off. I shall try to write more when I get back from a celebratory pint at my local!

Monday, 12 April 2010

Conundrum resolved

A series of e-mail exchanges with LAA Engineering has provided a resolution to the conundrum posed in my earlier posting.

The LAA is going to issue a revised PFRC which will include a trip to Prestwick via Castle Kennedy for the purpose of testing the ILS and radar transponder. This flight will also, conveniently, constitute the two hour endurance test.

Because of the awkward terrain hereabouts, including big mountains and large stretches of water, the LAA has also agreed to slightly relax the 25 mile radius rule, provided we remain clear of the mountains.

All in all a good result, swiftly implemented. Hats off to the LAA for taking a speedy, practical approach.

An interesting conundrum

Last night I was going through all the flight test requirements, trying to sort out a programme when I came across an interesting problem.

The PFRC only permits flight within 25nm of Kirkbride airfield. For most flying that is fine but it poses a problem with testing the avionics. The nearest airfields equipped with radar and/or instrument landing systems (ILS) are Newcastle (53nm), Prestwick (60nm), Durham (66nm) and Blackpool (67nm). G-JONL has both Mode-S radar transponder (with altitude encoder) and ILS Localiser/Glide slope installed.

The area around Kirkbride has no radar coverage at all - one of the few places in the UK to have none. To do a meaningful check on the transponder and altitude encoder it will be necessary to get a lot closer to a radar station than I can currently fly.

The ILS poses even more of a problem. A flight trial will necessarily involve flying the approach down to within a height of few hundred feet of the runway threshold. This means that I pretty well have to fly at least 50nm to do the test.

I've asked the LAA what we can do about this interesting conundrum and await the reply with interest!

Sunday, 11 April 2010

The PFRC has arrived

Hurrah! The Permit Flight Release Certificate arrived in yesterday's post, enabling test flying to proceed. I still need to confirm that the insurance has been upgraded to full flight risks cover but hopefully that should be completed early this coming week.

The official maiden flight is set for 17th April, although it is probable that David, my test pilot will do some low level hops along the runway during the week before G-JONL finally slips the surly bonds next weekend.

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

Permit update

I've just received an e-mail from the LAA to say that the Permit Flight Release Certificate (PFRC) should be with me before the end of the week.  I'm now arranging to upgrade my insurance to full flight risks cover in readiness for the maiden flight, most likely on 17th April. 

Not long now!

Saturday, 3 April 2010

Whilst we're waiting

Whilst I'm waiting for the paperwork to come through I decided I might as well complete a few minor tweaks.

Given that it now seems reasonably certain that the BRS will be approved, I decided to affix all the warning labels, including the rather verbose warning that's required in the cockpit. Fortunately my label printing machine makes a reasonable job although it's still not as nice as the silk screening used elsewhere in the cockpit. There are also three labels on the fuselage - one on the rocket egress cover and one on either side of the cockpit, close the the place where rescue services would be expected to operate.

Next, I fixed the BRS handle in place and finally attached the side panels for the centre console. These had been left off hitherto because once on there is rather poor access to the electrical wiring, of which there is a fair amount.

The BRS was protected from inadvertent activation in transit by a wire lock through the trigger pin and a ty-wrap around the safety pin, preventing it from being removed. Both of these have been removed, so it is now possible to arm the BRS just be removing the safety pin. Pulling the handle will, of course, fire the rocket. The safety pin label has to be replaced with one that states that it is to be removed in order to arm the rocket. The LAA required a two-stage firing system and this is how that has been achieved.

Finally, I finished a job that I've been meaning to do for some time. I wire locked the eight exhaust springs, so that if a spring should fail the exhaust pipe still remains more or less in place. This is not a mandatory requirement but it seemed to be a sensible precaution.

IMC rating revalidation
Although G-JONL is not IFR capable I, as its pilot am, by virtue of my IMC rating. Every two years this has to be revalidated and today was the day. I drove from Kirkbride to Carlisle Airport and after a short briefing my examiner and I clambered into my old Warrior, G-JLIN, bound for Newcastle and a couple of ILS approaches.

It must be said that with all this building and comparatively little IMC flying, I was rather out of practice. The first attempt was distinctly ragged although we both agreed that it would have worked out and a safe landing could have been made. The second approach was altogether better. We then returned to Carlisle and did an NDB/DME non precision approach to round off the revalidation.

There's a lot of talk of the IMC rating being withdrawn (by Europe - who else?), which I think would be a massive safety issue. As long as I can keep it I will and, who knows, perhaps those of us that are current will get some sort of grandfather rights.