Mike's Conversion - Why I Fly Trikes
By Mike Hudetz, Certified Flight Instructor/Manager at A & M Airsports
I've often heard the question:
"Why don't you fly a "real" airplane like your brother, the airline pilot, instead of those "kites"?
Most people (other than my mother) don't know they're asking somebody who's flown hundreds of hours in "real airplanes", mainly Cessna singles, and Hughes helicopters. So it's not that I haven't flown "real" airplanes.
What I found though, with the Cessnas at least was; if I was going to fly, I'd better plan where I was going, because I'd be getting there pretty quick. If I didn't know where I was going, I'd be there pretty quick too- in other words -lost! So I'd flight-plan for destinations, and persuade the wife and kids to go along. When I'd plan a flight in any direction more than a couple hours out from Chicago, I'd typically run into weather. I didn't fly above the weather with my non-pressurized/no oxygen airplanes so I went below the weather – or in the case of IFR, through the weather. This usually caused a certain amount of passenger discomfort and pilot stress. There was also a certain amount of boredom when we were stuck somewhere because of weather ("Time to spare, go by air"). So, eventually, the wife and kids didn't like flying non-commercial anymore. But I'd still fly alone, or a friend would occasionally come along. Not wanting to be gone without the family for extended periods, I'd fly local for a couple hours on Saturday or Sunday mornings - maybe make a fly-in breakfast, or go out for a "hundred dollar hamburger" (which is now up to $200) at one of the fly-in restaurants in the area. All this drilling holes in the sky really got me reflecting on my previous ultra light experience; where I was having 10x the fun for 1/10th the cost.
I started by jumping sand dunes, and then hills and then mountains strapped in hang gliders in the early 70s. And in 76, after seeing a mag ad to "Fly the Flatlands!", I ordered and built an Easy Riser/Moody power-pack ultralight, the first ultra light in Illinois (foot launched) I might add. That was a fair weather machine- but a lot of fun and a great experience overall. I retired it after about 5 years when I stepped up into the Cessnas, and didn't think I'd ever look back. The second generation of 2-seat ultra lights coming out at that time looked like flying lawn furniture to me, and were very draggy; and after flying Cessnas, it just didn't feel right flying something that glided like a coke bottle full of mercury.
Then in 1990, I was transferred to Belgium for a company project. While there, I started exploring the aviation scene and buying aviation magazines. I saw a lot of pictures of these weird aircraft called Deltaplanes and/or ULMs . I tracked down where they were operating these,( just south of Brussels) and I went to check them out. I was immediately impressed by how elegant they looked and how well they were constructed. Unlike the ultralights selling back home, these machines looked sleek,, rugged and they could actually glide pretty well if the engine stopped (accidentally or intentionally).
I decided to take an intro flight with the chief pilot there . I told him I was an instrument and a chopper pilot; so I think he wanted to impress me with what the trike could do. Once we were airborne, I was impressed by how cleanly the trike slipped through the air and how perfectly it carved every turn; and then he started "yankin and bankin". He pulled the bar in, jammed it to the side, slammed it out again - both ways and then over again. He threw the trike around so violently, I could literally feel my eyeballs pushing and pulling in the sockets! All I could think was "Hey man, I got a wife and 3 kids-don't kill me in this thing …." and then my right brain was saying "This is it! the machine I've been looking for!".
I continued taking a few more lessons there in 1990 and 91, there but never finished training.
After 2 years, it was time to get back to the good ol "roomy" USA.
Back home, I got back into renting Cessnas, and I decided to try powered paragliders. In 1993, I was trained near Las Vegas to foot launch - again. This was a lot of fun too; but I quickly found how narrow a meteorological window I could operate within; and the cross-county limitations when flying - especially with a headwind.
So the trikes kept floating around in the back of my mind until one day in 1996, while surfing the newly available internet, I came across a guy near Boston, Rob Albright, who was starting to import AirCreation Trikes from France. I contacted Rob and we soon traveled together to the factory in France, for dealer training, and to place orders on a couple trikes. This eventually "obligated" me into several flight instructor ratings (from USUA, and FAA) and the training and testing of dozens of pilots and instructors, while selling and supporting dozens of trikes for AirCreation and Airborne. Sort of a hobby/job. So I've barely flown anything but the trikes since 1996. But once I flew a trike, I could never get that feeling of freedom (sort of like the first time you coasted down a hill on your first bicycle) in any other aircraft. I was jaded.
The Sport Pilot/Light Sport Aircraft transition has completely changed the ultralight landscape.
Bottom line, it's made the sport more expensive, and it's brought about an enormous amount of choices in the PPG, and the 3 axis enclosed aircraft categories. The younger guys that used to be able to afford entry level ultrlights and trikes, have migrated to the (unregulated/low cost) powered paragliders; and the older guys that could afford high-end ultralights and trikes(but are afraid to lose their medical), have migrated to the sexy new (enclosed 3-axis) European imports. I even considered investing in one of these beauties, but the more I thought about it, the more I was convinced that, that road leads right back into all the issues that drove me away from general aviation in the first place- the expense, the cooped- up cockpit , the feeling of being disconnected from the feel and the smell of the sky, the dependency on fallible gauges for critical flight information, stall/spin vulnerability, etcetera.
The attraction of getting from point A to point B, faster and faster, is always attracted me since I have friends scattered all over the country, but short of having a pressurized high altitude machine and the experience to use it safely, a fast comfortable car will be safer and more reliable on any trip under 500 miles; and an airline, safer and more reliable on any trip over 500 miles.
So after over 30 years of flying ultra light, light, and medium weight aircraft, and exposure to many aspects of sport aviation, I composed a comparison matrix. Granted, it's a bit generic, and I'm sure there are exceptions, and some items could be argued; but for the majority of aircraft in the category compared, these statements are true. I hope this helps people that are trying to sort through all their different light sport options. Depending on what you're trying to do with a flying machine, a trike may or may not be the solution, but don't rule the trike out until you've flown in one. I think you'll be pleasantly surprised.