For years now, the boys from “down under” at AirBorne Australia, led by co-owner Russell Duncan, have been coming to America. The ultralight they have been showing is the deluxe Edge Executive model. It’s a beauty, but the company lacked a simpler, lower-cost model. No more!
In April of last year, Duncan and crew debuted what they call the Edge X Wizard model. The “Edge X” series refers to the new trike carriage, above which you can have the double-surface Edge wing, making the Executive trike, or you can select the new single-surface Wizard wing. It is this new offering that is the focus of this pilot’s report.
Smoothly finished in all-white powder coating, and lacking the nose pod and aft fairing, the new Edge X trike carriage looks light and basic. At only $11,700 fully assembled, it should find a market in the USA, I feel. (The figure is complete in every way except for an import shipping charge, which U.S. distributor Sam Wade at AirBorne America says has averaged about $700. Combine these and you get a $12,400 price for a ready-to-fly ultralight available in the U.S.)
AirBorne Australia released the Edge X series of trike carriages after gaining Australian airworthiness approval late in ’97. While the carriage and engine part of the aircraft has much to do with creature comfort and powered performance, the wing defines handling and other performance
parameters. So, calling this the Wizard – which refers to the single-surface wing design – says a lot about how it flies.
Of course, wing and carriage are a package among trikes, and the Wizard model is no exception. In this new offering, AirBorne has done a good job of integrating a basic carriage with a simple wing. For enthusiasts of light, slow flight – that which defines ultralights – the Wizard is an exciting new choice.
Keep It Simple
For the past few years, one fellow has accompanied Russell Duncan to America as a key AirBorne staffer. He’s Rob Hibberd, a long-time veteran of the ultralight (and hang gliding) industry. He’s also a writer, I know, as we share by-lines in Fly & Glide(formerly called Drackenflieger), a German aviation magazine.
Some personal familiarity made our flying experience and discussions all the easier. Hibberd talked at some length about the cost and challenge of certification. This is a subject not well-known among fun flying enthusiasts in America, as ultralighters are not required to fulfill certification demands by our FAA to operate flying machines. Based on what Rob said, all I can say is, “Thank goodness!”
Hibberd spoke emphatically in his Aussie accent about the cost to change any little thing under such a system. For example, when AirBorne decided to remove the pod to create the simple Wizard from the Execu
tive configuration, they had to redo extensive flight tests. Perhaps this seems obvious and no big deal, but doing it for their Australian FAA-equivalent added several thousand dollars of additional expense. All this just for the pod removal. Other aspects of the changes forced further retesting.
Clearly, the Edge X Wizard is tough enough to win Australian approval, but since the “down under” country has a population of only 18 million, AirBorne Australia must also sell abroad to cover the certification expense. Therefore, the AirBorne team must meet more than their own govern
ment’s programs – they must also learn and understand certification programs in other countries and win their approval.
Keeping the Wizard simple meant it would not possess the sophistication of the truly deluxe Executive model. While the Executive’s double-surface wing, nose cone and side fairing plus the more potent 65-hp Rotax 582 engine are the most obvious differences, the Wizard is built to be basic throughout.
Like virtually all trikes, the Wizard anticipates your needs in a few ways. Among these are a combination foot throttle – needed during the takeoff or landing phases where both hands should remain on the control bar. During those times, you use the foot throttle on the right foot pedal.
Everyone knows the challenge of holding a steady speed with the foot throttle of an automobile. It’s no different in a trike, and for any longer cruising, your foot may tire. Thus, trike makers today give you a friction-locked hand throttle, as well. All such combination throttles I can recall have an override feature such that the foot throttle can add power without touching the hand throttle position – much like adding power to pass a slower land vehicle while employing the cruise control in your car.
The rear seat occupant can taxi the Wizard via a second footbar, although the aft seat cannot actuate the nosewheel brake nor the foot throttle. For the front seat pilot, a nosewheel drum brake is controlled by the left foot pedal.
No in-flight trim is available on the Wizard. Added in recent years to some deluxe trikes like the XP Racer (see “Pilot’s Report – Air Création’s XP Racer,” August ’97 UF!), this feature adds versatility in setting speed and control bar pressure. Such adjustments are appreciated though not mandatory. To keep the price low and maintain the simplicity of a basic trike, AirBorne left off any trim system.
However, you must have a fuel tank. Both the Executive and Wizard share a custom-made translucent polyethylene 10-gallon fuel tank, replacing the older aluminum tank. The new one is shaped so you can easily determine the remaining fuel quantity while in flight. You merely turn around from either seat and look at a portion of the tank which protrudes a bit from top to bottom. It worked quite effectively, without adding any cost.
Just because the Wizard model is simple does not mean it doesn’t have some of the Executive features. One example is the seats.
The Executive and Wizard share the back brace for the front seat that allows the models to offer better back support than on many trikes. The Antares (see “Pilot’s Report – Flying the Antares Trike,” December ’97 UF!) has a clever folding backrest setup that offers improved back support over trikes with no such accommodation. However, the soft support of the Antares cannot compare to the solid backrest of the Wizard. Flown dual or solo, the Wizard offers comforts that I appreciated.
Soft and Gentle
The Wizard excels in wheel suspension. In fact, both the Wizard and Executive are rare in providing full three-wheel shock absorbing systems.
The nosewheel has both suspension and a steering dampener, the latter keeping the nosewheel from jerking about on rougher terrain. It worked quite elegantly and had the secondary benefit of keeping the nosewheel planted more securely on the ground, which made steering feel more precise.
The main gear is suspended through the use of a bungee cord arrangement not dissimilar from many 3-axis aircraft, but rare among trikes. When combined with the nose gear system, the Wizard provided a smooth ride superior to most trikes I’ve flown. Not bad for a basic machine at a low price.
The suspension system is for much more than comfort and precise steering, though. Besides bouncing you around less, the nose gear’s trailing link construction helps to “self-straighten,” says Hibberd. This makes landings easier by holding the nose where you point it, but Rob reports it was primarily developed to prevent rollover problems. With their higher center of gravity, trikes have been known to lose stability during poor landings. AirBorne believes their design will reduce that potential dramatically.
Despite these refinements and the allure of the simple nature of the Wizard, what most distinctively sets it apart in my mind is the improved handling. This comes mainly as a result of selecting a single-surface wing (the wing is primarily a single layer of sailcloth, rather than two layers – top and bottom – sewn together at the wing’s leading edge and near the trailing edge), but also includes considerable experimenting with sail tension by AirBorne engineers.
Rob explained that the underside keel strap (tensioning the center section of the sailcloth wing and altering its camber) had been adjustable during development. It is now fixed, but when it was adjustable, Rob said that with just 1 inch of additional forward travel, the wing proved much too roll responsive. Conversely, pulled back, you could stiffen up the wing such that if you bumped if off center, it would return to level flight quickly. After much trial and change, AirBorne found the optimal position and fixed all production models accordingly. They succeeded nicely.
Roll rate was a significant improvement over the majority of trikes I’ve flown. Except for the Sabre single-surface wing (see “Pilot’s Report – Sharp Sabre Trike,” August ’96 UF!) and Air Création’s XP Racer, this is the first trike where I was able to initiate turns single-handedly while doing something else with my other hand. Three-axis pilots take such a situation for granted, but many trikes force you to use both hands to effect rapid control change (roll reversals, for example).
For many operations and in any kind of turbulence, you still want to have both of your hands on the control bar of the Wizard. Rob called it “twitchy” and wondered if I thought it was too much so. At first I rather agreed, but subsequently I realized it was simply responsive enough that you could get into a pilot-induced oscillation (PIO). In no time, you’ll acclimatize to the Wizard’s greater responsiveness and afterward may find the handling of other trikes to be stiff. Certainly, I feel this way.
Bringing Her Back
Most trikes share landings that must be called “straightforward.” Touching down in a trike is typically simple and easy. Likewise, takeoffs are quite simple matters. Nonetheless, most of them require you to make quick, small changes to hold a precise runway heading.
All my landings went very well in the Wizard. However, on approach to landing some turbulence bumped me off course in a way that felt like the wing had some “momentum” whereby it would go beyond your target heading. This may be another manifestation of the PIO roll thing. However, while the Wizard shares that quality with many trikes, it took far less effort to return it to the chosen heading, and that was easy to appreciate.
For some comparison, during airborne maneuvers, the Wizard was pretty cooperative about letting me turn toward a heading and come out as desired. On whole, I loved the Wizard controls, and for my money, I’d prefer this much-less-expensive model over the fancier Executive.
Takeoffs were less enthusiastic than is typical for trikes I’ve operated recently. Here’s why:
The Wizard uses the 50-hp Rotax 503 dual carb 2-cycle engine and the single-surface trike wing carries somewhat more of a drag penalty than, say, the Executive. The more elaborate 582 model has an additional 15 horsepower and a smoother wing with the crossbar enclosed inside the upper and lower sail surfaces (hence “double-surface” wing).
In the effort to hold the cost down, AirBorne selected the Rotax 503 dual carb. While the 503 is widely considered to be the best engine made by Bombardier-Rotax, it simply hasn’t the push of the bigger powerplant. Also for cost reasons – with a side benefit of lightened handling – the single-surface wing is used.
Personally, I like the choices. I am willing to accept less climb power for much lower cost and more responsive handling. Some pilots won’t agree.
With the smaller less-complicated 503, the Wizard ran quietly. It didn’t seem to require excessive power to hold altitude, but since the tachometer was not working well, I couldn’t verify efficiency very well. Normally I search for the lowest power setting that will hold altitude and compare that to many other designs to arrive at an estimation of how well the aircraft slips through the air.
Idle thrust was a bit fast and the engine was not revving up all the way. Both conspired to increase the workload a bit, but these should be easily rectified.
The main negative I can offer about the 503 with single-surface wing combo is that the climb rate wasn’t too enthusiastic with two people aboard, though it was much better later when I flew solo. While the Wizard can outclimb a standard Cessna 150, most ultralights I’ve flown are stronger in climb. I showed barely 500 feet per minute as a two-up climb rate (AirBorne Australia lists the Edge X 503 Wizard’s climb at 430 fpm at full gross weight
of 948 pounds).
One item needs clarification: In January’s “1998 Ultralight and Microlight Buyer’s Guide,” specifications for the Edge X 503 included a couple of numbers (provided by AirBorne Australia) that are quite misleading. Takeoff and landing distances are listed as 722 and 827 feet. These are much longer than most other ultralights. In reality, and as required for the Wizard to earn Australian certification, the numbers include climbing to or landing from an elevation of 50 feetabove the airfield. On their own, they are solid and useful figures, but compare poorly to other figures in the “Buyer’s Guide.” (We asked for “takeoff and landing distances at gross weight” – not with a 50-foot obstacle to clear.)
I did not measure these specs myself, but the Wizard easily breaks ground in under 100 feet and landings are only a shade longer.
Most American sport pilots are not easily convinced that a certified microlight is appreciably better than a well-designed but not-certified model. I am among those pilots. Others find certification very important. Knowing an aircraft has passed someone else’s rigorous examination is assuring.
When I began my investigation of the stability profile of the Wizard, I felt quite sure I was in for no big surprises. This proved correct.
In general, all stalls were quite mild. However, if I pushed the Wizard’s control bar forward to full extension (the trike equivalent of full backstick) and held it there, it would oscillate or wander somewhat. These oscillations did not appear to dampen as readily as I might have expected, but neither did they worsen into an unpredictable situation.
Such wandering notwithstanding, power-on and power-off stalls were very gentle in their behavior. Power-off, if I aggravated the stall by pulling in the control bar then pushing out again vigorously, the Wizard delivered a much more exciting stall. This is an easily avoided circumstance, and I only investigated to see the worst tendencies.
Even when pushed, though, the AirBorne trike proved its certified nature in that it recovered successfully every time. I was satisfied.
Steeply banked turns also went well. Overall, I have absolutely no complaints about the Wizard and its design stability.
It is worth noting that all maneuvers were done at or near full gross weight of the Wizard, making for a valid test of the design. Had I repeated all the maneuvers solo, I believe I would have found milder characteristics. Time never seems to allow my typical hour-and-a-quarter flight evaluation routine to be done both dual and solo.
However, I want to make one unusual observation. Rob Hibberd occupied the aft seat in a far more relaxed manner than most company reps with whom I fly. Pilot reports create a demanding flight mission; there’s a lot to do. I can be inhibited by a nervous factory rep fidgeting while I stall and bank my way through an understanding of an ultralight I usually have never flown before. This is a principle reason why I prefer doing flight evaluations solo.
Perhaps as a credit to the easy-going nature I’ve observed in Australians, Rob took my maneuvering in stride as though it were nothing unusual. It made for an easier and more enjoyable checkout. Of course, he also knows the design has been through a tough certification program and test pilots surely pushed the envelope much further than I did.
Wade’s the Name
Since my review of the Executive a couple years ago (see “The AirBorne Edge Trike From Down Under,” October ’95 UF!), AirBorne Australia has appointed a new U.S. distributor. Sam Wade is his name, and he hails from Texas.
The owner of three video stores since ’83, Sam has a hang gliding background and has worked with AirBorne’s hang glider line for several years. When former trike representative Scott Johnson chose to leave the enterprise, Sam stepped in gradually and now provides support for AirBorne trikes in the U.S.
Wade seems an affable fellow and answered my questions knowledgeably. His long background with AirBorne should prove a valuable asset to his company, and he is obviously a successful businessman.
I’ve also known the Duncan brothers, Rick and Russell, since they were the “little Duncan brothers.” That was, well, longer ago than I care to admit, but they cut their teeth in the world of competitive hang gliding, coming to the U.S. for hang gliding meets even before powered ultralights existed.
That they’ve endured this long manufacturing hang gliders and ultralights (AirBorne Australia still does both) suggests they have figured out the business end of things and can build a quality microlight which has sustained them their entire adult lives.
Should you get the chance, I recommend you call Sam and ask for more details on the trikes – either one of them. And when attending an airshow, go by and just listen to Russell or Rob sling that Crocodile Dundee lingo. It’s fun, so are they, and so’s their Wizard.
|Empty weight||364 pounds|
|Gross weight||948 pounds|
|Wingspan||32 feet, 8 inches|
|Wing area||190 square feet|
|Wing loading||5.0 pounds/square foot|
|Length||11 feet, 3 inches|
|Height||11 feet, 8 inches|
|Load Limit||+6 Gs, -3 Gs|
|Fuel Capacity||10 gallons|
|Kit type||Fully assembled|
|Standard engine||Rotax 503 dual carb|
|Power||50 hp at 6,500 rpm|
|Power loading||19.0 pounds/hp|
|Cruise speed||54 mph|
|Stall Speed||32 mph|
|Never exceed speed||62 mph|
|Rate of climb at gross||430 fpm|
|Takeoff distance at gross||100 feet|
|Landing distance at gross||125 feet|
|Standard Features||Weight-shift control (dual), foot/hand throttles, dual steerable nosewheel (push left, go right), rear-seat ground steering footbar, integrated drum nosewheel brake (front seat only, left foot pedal), instrument panel (ASI, altimeter), trailing link nosewheel suspension, bungee cord main suspension, solid backrest padded seats, 3-blade composite prop.|
|Options||Rotax 582 engine, Edge double-surface trike wing, Rotax E gearbox, electric start, pilot cockpit pod, side fairings, wheel pants, instruments (compass, tach, dual CHT, dual EGT, water temp), ballistic emergency parachute, after-muffler and air intake silencer kit, 4-blade composite prop, training kit, aerotow system.|
|Construction||Aluminum tubing, chromoly steel, bungee cord main suspension, polyethelene fuel tank, Dacron® sailcloth. Made in Australia.|
Cosmetic appearance, structural integrity, achievement of design goals, effectiveness of aerodynamics, ergonomics.
Pros – Simplified trike from earlier model – a rare but effective move: lowers cost and improves handling. Still a certified microlight as required in Australia. Well-developed; no surprises await buyers. U.S. representative helps import and provides parts. White finish looks clean and light.
Cons – Trike brands don’t differ greatly and neither does this (except it’s simplified over many imported trikes). Performs better solo. Openness won’t appeal to all buyers and doesn’t cut it in cold climates.
Subsystems available to pilot such as: Flaps; Fuel sources; Electric start; In-air restart; Brakes; Engine controls; Navigations; Radio; (items covered may be optional).
Pros – New fuel tank custom-shaped to offer easy quantity check while flying. Brake – on nosewheel only – is quite effective (perhaps due to nose suspension). Hand and foot throttles provided to give pilot more choices. Easy access to all components needing maintenance. Very easy breakdown. Clean refueling.
Cons – No trim and no flaps (as is common on many trikes) means all speed and approach control are manual via control bar. No ground brake control from aft seat. Sparse radio mounting opportunities. Simple aircraft has few systems.
Instrumentation; Ergonomics of controls; Creature comforts; (items covered may be optional).
Pros – Entry can’t get much easier, certainly to the front. Seats have excellent back support for front pilot – not common on trikes. Well-padded comfortable seats. Cargo space in aft seat if flown solo. Good pilot restraint system. Wind noise not bad as single-surface wing flies slower.
Cons – Rear seat entry includes some step up (though still easy). Seats do not adjust fore and aft. No cargo space if flown dual (except if you add side bags or other storage area yourself). Can’t reach instrument pod with belts secured. No cabin protection for cold climates.
Taxi visibility; Steering; Turn radius; Shock absorption; Stance/Stability; Braking.
Pros – Excellent nosewheel arrangement: brakes, suspension and trailing link stability – all purpose-designed to prevent rollovers, a potential problem on some trikes. Suspended rear wheels, making absorption the best I’ve seen on a trike. Superb maneuverability (as on most trikes). Tight turn radius.
Cons – As with all trikes, some muscle needed to steady wing in any wind. Upward visibility limited to check pretakeoff traffic. No other negatives.
Qualities; Efficiency; Ease; Comparative values.
Pros – Wonderful visibility once in the air; true for all directions except directly overhead. Little precision needed to make good liftoffs or touchdowns (once you know the technique). Retains energy surprisingly well for a single-surface wing.
Cons – Climbout is limited with two good-sized persons aboard (assuming standard 50-hp Rotax 503 dual carb engine and single-surface wing). Approaches in gusty wind conditions will require attention and exertion to maintain a precise heading. Three-axis pilots generally are puzzled by the liftoff swing of a trike (as carriage orients under wing).
Quality and quantity for: Coordination; Authority; Pressures; Response; and Coupling.
Pros – Handling is much improved – by using single-surface wing – over most other trikes. I was able to initiate turns with single hand (not possible with stiffer trikes). Response is quite fast. Muscular effort is modest. Turns coordinate easily with a little push-out (the trike equivalent of backstick). Predictability is good. Steep turns went well.
Cons – Lack of discrete 3-axis controls means crosswind landings require a different technique (angling across runway). Hard to be precise in turns to headings in stronger conditions. Controls are lightest when flying solo. Control harmony cannot be improved much with experience (though stock harmony isn’t bad).
Climb; Glide; Sink; Cruise/stall/max speeds; Endurance; Range; Maneuverability.
Pros – Sprightly performance when single-seat flying. While not fast, the trike with Wizard wing delivers loads of fun flying in the slower speed range that many ultralighters prefer. Good endurance with popular 503 engine and 10-gallon fuel tank. Single-surface wing offers a good sink rate, though glide is only average among ultralights (AirBorne offers a higher-performance wing – the Executive model).
Cons – Performance suffers a bit when dual at higher payloads (with 503 engine). Climb is not strong when flown dual: under 500 fpm. Not a fast-flying machine; if that’s what you want, try AirBorne’s Executive model with stiffer double-surface wing and bigger engine.
Stall recovery and characteristics; Dampening; Spiral stability; Adverse yaw qualities.
Pros – Power-off, power-on and accelerated stalls all recovered easily. Steep turns went well even at or near gross weight; plenty of “stick range” was available. Spins are probably hard or impossible to enter with this wing. Good longitudinal stability. Throttle response was normal and proper (nose-up on power-up).
Cons – If held in a stall, oscillation followed. Aggravated stalls got fairly exciting (though recovery was never in doubt). Adverse yaw present and lessened only with more aggressive push-out (typical trike coordination technique). Spins not attempted (no parachute fitted).
Addresses the questions: “Will a buyer get what he/she expects to buy, and did the designer/builder achieve the chosen goal?”
Pros – Fully-assembled ultralight means immediate flying. Australian certification should be confidence-inspiring, as program is quite demanding. Very competitive price at $11,700 ready-to-fly – and this includes the very popular Rotax 503 dual carb engine (not included: import shipping at $700). Excellent suspension should make rough-field operations easier. New model can be upgraded to top-of-line version.
Cons – U.S representative is new, taking over from previous distributor. Trikes just aren’t for everybody and limited (although growing) U.S. acceptance may increase the time needed to resell later. Training is still in sparse supply. Single-surface wing cannot offer performance of top end models.