Tuesday, December 18, 2012

My new BioniX 13 is on its way

I have been rather lazy at updating this BLOG over the past two years, partly because I've been doing a lot of flying in my Tanarg/BioniX - I flew 17 hours last week alone!

Anyway, the boffins at Air Creation came up with a new 13sq. Meter BioniX (my current wing is 15 sq. M) and so I bought one - it should arrive soon after Christmas which will be almost exactly 2 years since I installed the BioniX 15 on my Tanarg.  I'm told that the advantages of the new smaller wing will be:

a)  Higher top speed or, more relevantly, better fuel economy at any given speed due to the reduced drag.
b)  I should experience reduced effects of turbulence due to the smaller wing area given that wing area is fairly proportional to the amount you get bounced around in rough air.
c)  Lighter control inputs - the 15 takes a fair bit of muscle, especially in roll at lower speeds.

Of course there will be sacrifices too:  my payload will drop by about 25 kilos and I will lose a small amount of speed at the lower end - I'm guessing about 2 mph. This higher stalling speed will make it more difficult to land my trike in smaller spaces.

Anyway, enough speculating - I'll write a report when I've had a chance to test her.  In the meantime, here's to a Merry Christmas to everyone and safe flying in 2013.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

My new BioniX has arrived

Alasdair and I assembled the new wing on 15th December 2010 and fitted it to my Tanarg "Little Nellie" and, WOW!
The wing performs so much better than I can recall when I flew it in Sywell a few months ago. On its first flight I went for a short-field take-off and lifted at about 38 mph (remember it's hot here and was about 82 F on this day). I climbed to about 700 feet agl and started to wind the handle towards the "fast" setting...... all of a sudden I was in a shallow dive at 100 mph IAS (about 104 TAS) and so I increased the power to get her into level flight - I couldn't believe I was in level hands-off trimmed flight at over a ton.

I wound the handle back to give me a cruise of 85 mph IAS (about 88 TAS) and found myself buzzing along at around 13.5 LPH and feeling very comfortable. I'd read reports of buffeting at the higher speeds but I can report none at all. I then played at winding-the-handle up and down and started to bond with this new machine. When my friend Alasdair flew her for the first time his verdict was "you've got 4 aeroplanes there - depending on which speed setting you fly her at" - I think this describes the versatility of the wing very well.

Handling was very crisp, especially when you consider it's a brand new wing and, when you consider I'm used to an iXess 13. She was very easy in roll at all speeds although she was more responsive as the speed increased, as is to be expected. In pitch she was predictable and went where she was pointed. Stalling was gradual and predictable with a very slight tendency to drop the starboard wing but I reckon this will be eradicated once I've finely-tuned the wing. Apart from the novelty of adding about 20% to my cruising speed, the most amazing thing was the ability to fly her trimmed at very low speeds. I made several low passes down the runway at 10 feet and at about 40 mph - I could have flown slower but I'm still getting used to her. Landings were ridiculously short and I was getting ground-rolls of 20 meters or so in still air.

In short, the BioniX is an extremely capable wing and does so much more than the pure numbers would suggest - it really makes my Tanarg a far more able machine and a lot more fun too.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Microlight mission to "James Bond" Island with my new GoPro HD Helmet-Cam

There's a full-length version of this on You Tube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dQMr8wZHaQc

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Trying the new BioniX for size

Very soon after I arrived in London I had scheduled to test-fly the BioniX wing at Sywell (Northants). One of Air Creation's test pilots, Guillaume Richard, was at Sywell competing in the European Microlight Championships - this was my chance to see what this wing was all about since I'd have to wait a very long time to test-fly one in or near Thailand!

I was interested in 3 things that were claimed by the BioniX and, that I hoped the BioniX could deliver:
1. Have a trimmed speed range of 50 - 80 mph. My iXess 13 has a max trimmed speed of 70 mph and this extra 10 mph would make a big difference on cross country flying.
2. Be able to take-off and land in shorter spaces - mainly due to the wing's ability to land more slowly as a result of the lower stall speed.
3. That the wing wasn't sluggish at 15.1 sq metres. My iXess is 13.5 sq.m. and I didn't want to feel that the extra area was going to feel like I was flying through treacle.

On a very wet and windy August 14th my father and I set off for Sywell - it was my Dad's 77th birthday! When we got there we had winds of around 12 - 15 kts with a few gusts and, black CBs all around us. The cloud base was pretty low and I was alarmed when, during the flight, Guillaume informed me the circuit height was 1400' agl. Hmmm. In Phuket I rarely fly above 500 feet anywhere.

In between heavy showers we decided to get airborne and Guillaume allowed me to sit in the front - I thought this was very trusting of him, especially considering there were no training bars. With the corset wound fully slack, I rolled on the grass runway 23 into a 60 degree wind of 12 ish - I calculated the cross-wind component was in the order of 10 kts. Guillaume made some gesture for me to rotate and so I applied some forward bar pressure at what seemed like a very low speed compared to what I was used to. We then leapt (and I mean "leapt") into the air and, after a few iterations, established an alarming climb angle - this was going to be fun.

I climbed-out straight ahead (I'm not familiar with Sywell and its environs) and felt we were being battered around by the winds. I would feel a gust hit us but it seemed dampened by the wing and I remember thinking "that would have caused my iXess a few more problems". At this point the question was: is this wing rock-stable and if so, is it going to be sluggish in roll? I continued my climb, leveled-out low (500 ish) and did a couple of level 360 degree turns at about 45 degrees AoB. All seemed pretty good but we continued to get battered - so battered that I wasn't getting much "feel" for the wing.

We headed off in three different directions in an attempt to find some "quiet" sky but we had the doors slammed in our faces by lightening bolts all around us. I think we had three separate thunderstorms flanking us, the closest being about 8 to 10 miles away and I knew this was not a good place to be stooging around. I wound the corset to fully tight and gave her some extra throttle to see what she was like at higher speeds - we accelerated nicely but at around 65 mph we were getting so jostled that I decided to keep the ASI below 120 kph (all the dials were in French - metres per second, KPH, etc.). After a bit more of this we decided to enter the circuit (500 feet for me rather than 1400') and so I thought I'd try to gauge how good she was at landing short.

I flew a tight downwind leg and slackened the corset fully, then dropped in the final turn (no base leg - just a smooth descending arc to touchdown). The wind was still from our right and gusting more than it had on take-off - we had a nice comfortable rate of descent and a pretty low groundspeed (flying slowly and with a strong wind). I gave her a burst of power at about 50 feet as we found the worst part of the wind gradient and I came down for the flare. The wind was gusting and across the runway but I was determined to hold her off for as long as I could so I could witness the short-strip STOL capability. This was the most amazing part of the flight for me - she sat very stable on finals, pointed into wind and carried on going about her business whilst the Gods threw their worst at us - she really was unperturbed.

After shutting down I tried to replay the past 20 minutes back to myself. Sure she was stable - she was on rails! This would be partially due to the fact we were flying dual and neither of us are skinny (although he's far skinnier than I am!), it would also be due to the wing-tips (I don't have these on my iXess), it would also be due to the fact her wing area was 10% up on what I was used to. Having said all this, she didn't seem any different in roll/pitch to what I'm accustomed but, it's hard to tell as the conditions were so shite. I didn't really get the chance to play with the corset and try various cruise configurations - too blowy. I did however get to witness her incredible ability to get in/out of very tight airstrips/fields.

In short? I've ordered one:) I think it'll be a great wing for Phuket - it'll handle rotor turbulence better than my current wing, the extra 10 mph on cruise will be great and, her ability to land slow/tight will be a comforting safety factor.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

"Little Nellie" has her first Annual/100 hour check

So, my little ultralight will be one year old on 6th September and, since I'll be in the UK until the 4th September, I thought I'd get her Annual Inspection done now. This way I can come home and fly her immediately :)

The check was very straightforward. First of all Khun Narin (the engineer) checked the wing fabric, frame and trike frame for cracks, signs of wear, condition, etc. We then gave the engine fresh oil, a new filter, new spark plugs and a compression test - all was OK. I then took her for a 15-minute test flight with Khun Narin and she flew as well as she ever did - smooth, quick and responsive.

I'll be testing the new BioniX wing on 14th August at Sywell when I'm in the UK. It'll be interesting to see what it's like but it would need to be very good indeed if I'm to replace my iXess 13 wing. The BioniX has an area of 15.1 sq.m. and I think I may find it heavy in roll after my 13.5 sq.m. iXess 13. What I like about the BioniX is the fact it will stall at about 32 mph (solo) compared to the 42 mph I have at the moment - this would make emergency landings in short spaces/ditching safer. As I've said before, there are very few places to land in Phuket if the engine goes silent so the slower I can land, the better. I also like the fact that the BioniX will cruise trimmed at about 80 mph, my current wing is about 70 mph.

I'll just have to wait and see..........

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Flying my new Husky South

Late last year I went to Afton, Wyoming to buy myself an Aviat Husky A-1C; Huskys are made in Afton. Having paid the money I had her "torn-down" and shipped to Eastern Flying Club, near Pattaya, Thailand - a great club with many enthusiastic members! Here she was re-assembled and underwent her flight testing and, I flew her for about 15 hours to get the hang of her - I'd never flown a tail-dragger before and the techniques are a little different. Her name is Oh! Natty Jo-Jo after my daughters Natalie and Joanna.

On 20th July I flew her some 400 miles South to a temporary airfield, she'll be moved to another airfield sometime in the near future - she behaved in the ladylike manner you'd expect from a well-bred debutant! The trip took 3 hours and 40 minutes and so we were cruising with a groundspeed of about 115 mph at 10,500 feet and, we had around a 10 mph headwind the whole way. On this trip I averaged 7.8 US Gals per hour (29.15 l/hr) solo.

She's an A-1C with the Lycoming 0-360 (180 HP) engine. She has 31" Alaskan Bushwheels and takes-off/lands in pretty short distances. She is a BUSH PLANE:)

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Off to Koh Phi-Phi again in my microlight

It's the wet season here in Phuket right now and so the good flying days are slightly less common than they are in the dry season. Having said that, there are still plenty of excellent days and this week has been made up of such days. We've had incredibly light winds, little cloud cover and the normal high temperatures and so, I thought I'd take my trike up for another look at Phi-Phi.

I filed my flight plan for a dawn departure (06:15) on Monday 5th July and got to the airfield about 15 minutes before take-off. I called the Phuket International Airport to notify them of my imminent departure, they told me the QNH and reported winds "calm"; good! I started her up and set off over the dew-soaked grass to warm my oil prior to take-off - you need 50 degrees C before you can rev the nuts off a 912S. I then pointed Little Nellie down runway 13 and floored the throttle - she trundled off like an old maid, lifting her hems as she sprinted down towards the sea. At this time of the morning the temperature was 25 degrees C and so she leapt into the air with a youthful spring - I made a heading adjustment to about 165 and put her into a very shallow climb to 500 feet. I like flying low over the sea - the "long-tail" fishing boats were starting their days work and I enjoy flying low over their heads, we always exchange waves. Or maybe they're shaking their fists (?)

By the way, I know the pundits say you should fly high-ish over the water in case of an engine failure but I don't really see the point in this. My view is, you're gonna get your feet wet whether you fly at 50 or 5,000 feet so what's the difference? Providing you have enough height/speed to turn and ditch into wind, make the MAYDAY call and disconnect your headset wires.... fly as low as you like! Besides, we're not allowed to climb over 1,000 feet if we're within 30 nm of the International airport - unless we get clearance of course and they're unlikely to grant this for a local flight.

I soon spotted a couple of chartered catamarans at anchor - probably waiting to get down the tidal channel to the Boat Lagoon (this channel's never dredged and can get as shallow as 2 metres in parts even at high tide so, it's worth waiting for a high tide!). I immediately pulled the bar in to gather speed and flew between their masts at about 90 mph - what fun. Glancing behind I saw I'd stirred the occupants who'd rushed up on deck to see what had made all the noise - one boat had some oldish folk on board and the other had about 3 bikini-clad babes, it was therefore worth another pass for a closer inspection. Yes, they were definitely female and I got a flurry of waves and cheers - if only they knew I was an overweight, middle-aged, retiree with a wife and three kids! Praise the Lord for face-obscuring helmets.

On with the mission. I could see the Southern tip of the island Koh Yao Yai (half-way to Phi-Phi from my home field - "Koh" in Thai means "island") and in fact, I could just about see Phi-Phi - about 30 miles away. I set a course for the tip of Yao Yai since I wanted to see if we could build a small landing strip there - it would be a nice place to land and there are a couple of small hotels which I'm sure could be trained to rustle-up a full English breakfast for future trips. As I approached the tip, the wind was picking up to about 13 knots at 500 feet - from the East-ish. This didn't cause too much trouble but it meant (a) my groundspeed was now about 58 mph and (b), there was a bit of rotor-turbulence since I was downwind of the hills that border the Southern tip of Yao Yai. Anyway, I decided not to mess around for too long in the lea but just take a quick peek - I did see some land that had potential and reckon I'll go back for a closer inspection when I have more time and it's less blowy.

On the way out of Yao Yai I saw a lovely little fishing village in the milky dawn light, comprising of a few shacks made from corrugated tin with some long-tail boats scattered in their small bay. I can only wonder how hot it must get inside those shacks when the sun is beating down at mid-day - it must be like a sauna.

Onwards to Phi-Phi and so I aimed for the northern tip of Phi-Phi Don - the larger of the two islands and the one that has habitation: bars/hotels/dive schools, etc. The wind was still pretty fresh from the East and so I thought it best to stay upwind of any land by flying down its North-Eastern coast in order to avoid any rotor - the rocks on Phi-Phi rise to about 1,000 feet; more than enough to kick-up some rough air. The East coast is mainly tree-lined with a few hotels/bungalows and a decent stretch of beach; enough to make a landing should the engine give me any trouble. I flew down to its South-eastern tip and then turned back on myself around the point to run-up to Tonsai Bay - the main jetty is here and so are all the shops, bars and dive-schools. I was now at about 700 feet in the lea of the mountains and was consequently getting bounced around a little, nothing alarming but a tiny bit uncomfortable. Glancing down to Tonsai Bay I saw a bonfire with smoke rising vertically so I thought it would be better to drop to 100 feet in order to explore this area. The smoke was right, it was flat calm down here.

Tonsai Bay and Loh Dalam Bay almost meet each other but are separated by a sandy strand about 200 metres wide at its narrowest part. These two beaches were devastated simultaneously in the 2004 tsunami and many souls were lost. All the buildings were flattened and so what you see now is post-tsunami construction:

I meandered around this area for a while, putting in some nice swoopy turns in each bay at 100 feet or less - it is SO MUCH FUN doing this early on a beautiful July morning when everyone else is still sleeping - my Tanarg is the "ES" (for Extra Silent) version so I don't think I'd have been disturbing anyone. There are probably only a handful of trikers who've ever flown around here; it's such a privilege and it makes me feel very honoured each time I do it.

I decided to vacate Phi-Phi Don and head South for the smaller but more scenic Phi-Phi Ley island - this is the one that contains the stunning Maya Bay, the location for the Leo di Caprio movie "The Beach". Phi-Phi Ley is a massive rock jutting out of the sea to over 1,000 feet, here it is as seen from the North-East:

I knew this obstacle could chuck-up some choppy air and so I stayed East and climbed to 2,500 feet in order to get a nice aerial shot of Maya Bay and, avoid the turbulence. This Tanarg is a wonderful machine - stick her in a cruise-climb at about 4,500 rpm (she peaks at 5,000 rpm if you have the "912 ES" version) and she claws her way upwards at about 700 feet per minute. I know I shouldn't complain but as we climbed the temperature fell (as it's supposed to do) - we started our climb at 25 C and at 23 C I felt a real chill then, as we got to 2,500 feet it had plummeted to 21 C - bloody freezing in an open cockpit at 70 mph wearing only a t-shirt and a pair of shorts. I have to remember that the vast majority of the World's trike pilots fly in temperatures way below these and so I'll stop moaning now.

Looking down on Maya was a treat for mine eyes - the huge cliffs that surround the bay are clad with trees and grass tufts and then in the centre is this clear, aquamarine, warm and flat-calm sea, so clear that you can clearly see the reef and sand on its bed. I have to say it again, I feel so privileged to witness such beauty especially when I know that only a select few ever get treated to this view. I resisted a strong urge to swoop down into the bay with rock walls all around me, and then fly down the corridor of cliffs to make a high-banked exit through Maya's Western door. The truth is I was very wary of the turbs that might transform my gallant dash into a bowel-loosening and scary ride. I decided to chicken-out and come back on a less windy day.

I spiraled down to about 800 feet and got about 800 metres West of Phi-Phi Ley when I realized my decision not to fly through the bay was the right one. Even at this distance in its lea I was tossed about in moderate fashion - I could still feel the rough air some 2 miles downwind of the island.

I set course for Phuket via a couple of islands and beat-up a few trawlers on the way - I think they enjoyed it. Half-way home I saw a Christmas Frigatebird, this seemed unusual since they're migratory and I thought they'd all cleared-off by now although apparently some do stay all year round. Frigatebirds are pretty big and spectacular with forked tails and a very characteristic wing-profile caused by a pronounced carpal joint - they get their name from the fact they plunder other birds for their prey - just like frigate ships. Here's a female Christmas Frigatebird that I shot from a boat last year:

After a fast sea-crossing home (I had a 12 knot wind up my backside) I flew up the East side of Phuket (still mindful of the winds) to my home field and made an uneventful landing after a sortie which had lasted 1 hour and 35 minutes. As always on landing I started planing my next trip..... if the wind is calm and from the North I'll do this, if from the South I'll do that, etc, etc. Eventually I'll get them all flown and then, I guess I'll have to start again.