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Part 103 Ultralight Trikes

By Dan Johnson, Kitplanes Magazine, December, 2003

Part 103 ultralight trikes aim at soaring pilots.

Easily the most unusual trike at AirVenture was the Escape Pod from Seagull Aerosports. The new model is also the world's first fully enclosed trike.

Many visitors to Oshkosh AirVenture 2003 expected the FAA to announce its new sport pilot/light-sport aircraft rule. New Administrator Marion Blakey reported signing off on the rule on July 30, but with two other agencies in line to review it, we aren’t likely to see the final version until 2004.

Visitors may not have expected to see more than a few Part 103 ultralight aircraft at AirVenture (some thought they would disappear as LSA approaches). But there were many. Next month I’ll write about two Part 103 rotary-wing aircraft, but this time, the subject is nanotrikes.

Nanotrike is a term to describe extremely light wheeled structures combining powered paraglider engines and contemporary hang glider wings. The idea is to create a low-cost, self-launching ultralight motorglider.

Trike Pod

Minnesota-based Seagull Aerosports debuted its Escape Pod at Oshkosh. Pushed by a single-cylinder Cors-Air engine generating 25 hp, the Escape Pod weighs only 75 pounds. Including the wing and fuel, empty weight totals 160 pounds, so the Italian engine designed for powered paragliders offers sufficient thrust. The company also has an unpowered version called the Pod Racer, intended to be towed aloft.

The Escape Pod offers a motorglider for the hang glider set, and it impressed visitors with its many innovative features. The full enclosure is the most obvious as this has never been done on a trike because it relies on weight shift for control. The fully faired pilot flying a modern hang glider needs only gentle finger-tip control for most operations. But on landing or in rough conditions, the pilot’s hands can move outside the enclosure for more aggressive control through lengthwise slits in a wide neoprene cover. Note the black area in the photo.

The body is made of composite foam sandwich construction of PVC and graphite prepreg materials and weighs only 12 pounds out of the mold. All three wheels retract fully inside the body for lower drag. An in-flight trim system advances such developments on trikes by physically moving the pod relative to the wing. A single streamlined and tapered composite mast holds trike to wing, doing away with the forward support tube that obstructs vision on most trike ultralights. A BRS rocket-deployed parachute is housed in the same compartment as the engine, and noise is deadened for pilot comfort by an anechoic foam.

Pricing has not been set, but the Escape Pod attracted liberal interest at Oshkosh, and the Pod Racer is eagerly anticipated for rent at many hang glider flight parks where ultralights tow pilots to thermals.

Powerlite & SkyCycle

A study in contrast: Steve Rewolinski's custom nanotrike in front of Al Reay's highly customized Titan Tornado. Both flew in the pattern at AirVenture 2003. All the trikes in this column combined have less power than the Titan.

Lookout Mountain Flight Park—one of the country’s largest hang glider flight schools—displayed two nanotrikes. The company’s own design, the SkyCycle, is a good example of an early nanotrike refined with recent touches like in-flight-accessible carry bags on either side of the seat frame.

The other nanotrike is the Powerlite, imported from Australia and also sold by Washington-based U.S. Airborne. The Powerlite is another early nanotrike and it, too, has been refined from the earliest examples. Powerlite is made by Airtime Products, which makes a larger, heavier trike and a powered hang glider harness called the Explorer.

Like the Pod, the Powerlite uses the Italian Cors-Air engine that found success powering those strap-on-your-back paraglider rigs. You can also select the Swedish-made Radne Rocket engine that puts out a mere 14 hp but is enough to get this extraordinarily light trike aloft.

The Powerlite is a collection of a few tubes that uses a pocket on the back of the seat to contain the tiny fuel tank, but it has deluxe features including electric starting, self-charging power and an intake silencer to quiet operations, plus a carry bag capable of storing the entire trike chassis.

Lookout Mountain’s SkyCycle is known in the light powered soaring trike field. The Georgia company has delivered about 100 of these rigs, mostly to hang glider pilots who already have a wing they can use.

Formerly known as the Freedom Machine, the SkyCycle uses a Japanese Zenoah engine that puts out 22 hp and features in-flight restarting, a 54-inch prop, 2.5-gallon fuel tank, heat-treated chrome-moly landing gear, and 95-pound trike weight. It has been demonstrated to handle rough landings.

Rewolinksi’s Rig

Approaching for landing at the Oshkosh ultralight airstrip is Steve Rewolinski's reduced-drag trike.

Steve Rewolinski is one of America’s top-ranked hang glider competition pilots. In contests, pilots like Rewolinski often race 100 miles or more to a goal. They must have advanced cross-country flying skills, finely developed wings, high-tech instrumentation (varios, GPS units and radios), and a certain amount of athletic ability to put it all together.

When a fellow like Rewolinski decides to build his own nanotrike, it stands to reason he would do it differently. All top competitors focus obsessively on drag reduction. They use shaped helmets, body-smoothing harnesses, gliders without upper rigging, and streamlined control bars.

Rewolinksi’s still-unnamed nanotrike makes extensive use of streamlined structural tubing. He carries a hand-deployed parachute alongside his seat that presents little area to the wind, and his instrument pod is nestled between his knees. His posture in the trike seat is called suprone, meaning that he is lying down as flat as practical to further smooth his passage through the air. [Editor’s note: The Wright brothers used the same horizontal position on their first gliders and the 1903 airplane for the same reason.]

His nanotrike is powered by the Simonini engine, which is yet another from Italy aimed at the powered paraglider pilot community. Pilots who wear the engine on their backs and run to take off want the lowest weight, least vibration, ease of operation, electric restart and miserly fuel use. Rewolinsky plans to contract with Wisconsin-based Skymaster Powered Parachutes to manufacture his design.

Fly Freely

Nanotrikes may be aimed currently at hang glider pilots, but conventional trike pilots could also find joy in shutting down the engine of a nanotrike and using thermal or ridge lift to fly almost silently. And these machines pack so small and cost little enough (around $10,000) that three-axis pilots may want to sample them.

Add the benefits of no medical, no pilot license and no FAA registration and you can see why Part 103 ultralight vehicles will certainly retain a place in the aviation spectrum.

TO REVIEW ALL “Light Stuff” columns that have appeared in KITPLANES®, visit, which links to the KITPLANES® web site with articles of interest.



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