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Trikes / Ultralights / Weightshift Microlighting

The earliest ultralights were basically hang gliders with engines, but which looked a bit like normal aeroplanes, with a body and conventional tailplane. However, the most successful approach basically added a motor to a hang glider. In most 1970's attempts, the motor was mounted to the wing itself. Many positions were tried. On top, on the keel at the rear, and even twin engines on booms either side of the pilot (the rear mounted versions were affectionately known as "toe cutters"). However, most ultralights from the mid 1970's onward have tended to be traditional wing and tail designs, with aerodynamic controls. So, enter the "Trike". In the late '70s, French and British designers realised there was no reason why a powered hang glider needed to be foot-launched, and the best place for a motor was on the pilot. The built a tricycle undercarriage with a pusher prop, suspended from the normal hang point on the glider. The "trike", as it became known, quickly became popular in Europe. Of course, it was only a matter of months before someone decided to put a second seat on one. Weather-frustrated hang glider pilots have since flocked to trikes as a way of getting airtime using existing skills.

Trikes Today
Trikes are no longer just converted hang gliders, but are designed specifically for power. The performance of modern trikes compares favourably with conventional ultralights. Cruise speeds range from 60 to 110kph, and trikes have among the best climb rates of all ultralights. Partial enclosures (pods) keep the worst of the wind and cold away. In Europe, the trike remains the most common and popular form of ultralight, although it is slightly less popular in Australia. New trikes are generally cheaper than new ultralights and have an enviable safety record. There are less moving parts to go wrong, and they are spin and over-speed resistant. They can stored in your garage and still have room for the car, be assembled or dismantled within half an hour and are easily transported on a trailer. Once flying, you can do anything or go anywhere a conventional registered ultralight can. Certified trikes are usually limited to maximum pitch angles of plus or minus 45degrees to the horizon. Bank angles are normally limited to 60degrees. Trikes are not certified for aerobatics. Loops are not sanctioned by any manufacturer. A failed loop which results in the trike stalling upside down will invariably result in a very high descent rate.

Most microlight schools offer Trial Introductory Flights where you will get a taste of the way a trike flies and a chance to try the controls. When you take a course, each lesson will begin with a briefing on the skills to be learnt, and solo flight is usually achieved after about 10hours dual instruction and completion of a basic aeronautical knowledge exam. Another 10hours or so are required before you will receive your licence to fly unsupervised. Additional ratings, cross country navigation flight, a radio operators endorsement, passenger carrying endorsement, and formation flying ratings can all be gained later. All new commercially available trikes are registered as Civil Aviation Order 95.32 category aircraft and are required to have been certified to an acceptable standard. All legal 2-seaters belong to this category. Owner-builder category trikes (CAO 95.10) may be re-sold subject to special provision. Trikes can be registered with either the AUF (Australian Ultralight Federation) or the HGFA (Hang Gliding Federation of Australia). Both associations issue Pilot Certificates and endorsements for after appropriate training.

Where do you get a Trike?
There is only one commercial certified trike builder in Australia - AirBorne Windsports, Newcastle, NSW, which makes the Edge 2-seater. Pre-built, certified trikes are also imported from the UK. These trikes include the two-seat Quantum, Quasar and XL models, and the single-seat Chaser-S. Second-hand trikes are available from about $6000 for a serviceable machine or you can build your own from plans for about the same amount. You should note that although some second hand or imported machines have 2 seats, many cannot be legally flown two-up, or may not have been approved for use. So always check before forking out the readies!

Trike training is available at many ultralight airfields around Australia. At present, the majority of trike instructors operate under the HGFA, but the list of trike-qualified AUF instructors is growing. If you are a GA (General Aviation) three-axis pilot thinking of converting to weight-shift, conversion courses are available, but it is important to remember trikes have reverse sense controls compared with 3-axis aircraft. This means you pull the control bar toward you to speed up, and push away from you to slow down. You move the control bar to the right to turn left and vice versa. When nosewheel steering, push right, go left - none of which is instinctive to a GA trained pilot. Many instructors say 3-axis pilots are their most difficult students, especially when cockpit load is high and a fast reaction is required. Basically, be prepared for your instructor to take a bit longer to solo you due to concerns over this instinctive response aspect.

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