North Wing Design has a history that stretches back into the mid-1980s when 23-year-old owner Kamron Blevins started making hang glider wings. After gaining experience with other companies and dabbling with his own ideas along the way, Blevins started North Wing Design in 1996 to provide trike wings.
His timing was good. After years of work to encourage Americans to consider trikes, various suppliers – many from Europe – were pleased to see their efforts pay off. Trike numbers began to increase about the time North Wing Design got into business. At first, Blevin’s new company created specially built trike wings for several chassis suppliers and the enterprise grew.
With increasing sales of wings to others and with a rising tide of trike interest lifting all manufacturers, North Wing Design decided to go all the way. Their first full trike ultralight offering in 1999 was the Maverick, a slick single-seater that met FAR Part 103 parameters with a Rotax 447 (see “Pilot’s Report: North Wing Design’s Maverick Trike,” September 1999 Ultralight Flying! magazine). What made it stand out from the crowd was its wing, hardly a surprise given the company’s background.
The Maverick used an Illusion wing that dispenses with the traditional upper rigging of trike wings and employed struts to carry the loads. While struts may create greater drag than wire bracing, they nonetheless lend a more traditional look and pilots reacted favorably to the Maverick.
For 2000, North Wing Design introduced their Apache 2-seater and with it came their little ATF superlight trike. Both these two new offerings will be part of this pilot report with regard to their flight characteristics. The ATF (for “Air Time Fix”) is a simplified – and lightened – version of the Maverick. Both, of course, have North Wing Design wings. Most of our photos will be of the Apache as this one sports a new chassis design altogether.
Welcome to Apache Country
The Apache is North Wing Design’s first 2-seater and is a very credible job. This is a full-featured trike (at least as equipped for this pilot report) and it has a few unique qualities that set it apart from other trikes.
Like the most modern trikes, the Apache’s mast can be folded at a point above the engine rather than down at the keel tube, which runs from under the engine to the nose. Folding the mast higher leaves the engine upright and fully supported during transport. It also means that when you attach the wing and lift it upright, you need not also lift the weight of the engine. This is a win-win all around and few reasons exist to build a 2-seater any other way, in my opinion. (Single-seaters, like North Wing Design’s ATF and Maverick, may stick with conventional folding in the goal of keeping breakdown volume to a minimum so it can be carried in a small pickup truck.)
Not only does the mast fold, its twin booms also set Apache apart from most other trikes. Though one or two brands have tried this and though a few angle the mast to provide more headroom for the rear occupant, the Apache brings a worthy feature to the party.
By splitting the mast in two, Blevins avoids all contact with the head and the mast, itself a rudely buzzing source of vibration should your helmet touch it. Though pilots-in-command fly from the front seat where this is no issue, their students, or passengers in the case of the Glider-Trike regulatory option, will appreciate this consideration. (For more information about Glider-Trike, see “Headquarters Report,” July and September 2000 Ultralight Flying! magazine.)
The mast attaches to another North Wing Design innovation. Blevins refers to the Apache’s structure supporting the engine as a “spine,” a collection of chromoly and mild steel. A materials expert convinced him to use this cost-effective technique by relating that race car designers no longer use chromoly exclusively either. The mild steel is less expensive but is said to be up to the duty asked of it in this design.
Blevin’s goal in making the engine mount system modular is that in the event of minor damage, you can more quickly replace just the damaged components. Landing gear legs are lots easier to refit than a bent engine mount.
In yet another difference between trikes like the Pegasus Quantum and North Wing Design’s Apache is that Blevins elected to use a level-mounted engine where the Quantum aims its Rotax 912 upward a few degrees at the prop end. Blevins feels his design reduces the forward momentum that many trikes experience at rotation and initial liftoff.
Though hard for me to quantify this movement, the lurching forward common to trikes when the nosewheel lifts off the ground seemed less pronounced in the Apache.
What I enjoy from Blevins’ effort with the Apache – as with his ATF superlight trike and his strutted wing on the Maverick – is that he’s seeking change for improvement. Most trikes are extremely similar, differing mainly in hardware, a situation that also exists among powered parachutes. Blevins is willing to innovate and the market may reward his progressiveness. As a fellow trike owner, I liked these changes.
Despite the changes introduced by Blevins, the Apache “remains American in some ways.” Overseas trike manufacturers Pegasus, Air Création, and AirBorne would not think of offering a trike where the throttle works in reverse. These established brands have sought refinement so long that this feature is virtually standard. Not so on the Apache.
The Apache’s throttle and choke are reversed. The throttle lever is on the left with the choke on the right. That’s fine, but the throttle moves aft to increase power and forward to reduce power, which disobeys convention in aircraft throttles.
Ironically, my own Cosmos Samba trike also came set up in this counterintuitive manner. In very light trikes, designers take some short cuts to keep them truly simple. Unorthodox or not, I’ve gotten used to the reversed throttle. However, I cannot defend this method and I’ve chosen to change it on my Samba. Years of mechanical action to push forward for more power and to pull aft for less may someday cause me to react incorrectly with a reverse throttle.
Certainly on a rig that is otherwise as well executed as the Apache, this must be changed.
On North Wing Design’s superlight ATF, Blevins has chosen to use the single-cylinder Hirth engine. Despite its small size, the Hirth had electric start. You must first reposition a safety switch, then click both ignition switches (the small Hirth uses dual ignition) and finally push the starter button. For a tiny engine on a trike billed as “superlight,” electric starting seemed unusual. However, who wouldn’t like it? North Wing Design has also experimented with a twin-cylinder JPX engine that should be smoother running (thanks to opposing cylinders) yet retains the light weight needed for a design like the ATF.
Further in the attempt to stay very lightweight – which is appropriate to this trike design – the ATF uses only a foot throttle with no hand throttle backup. On the cool evening when I flew, a chill produced shivering that made it more difficult to hold a steady throttle. Yet I don’t consider this a negative for this trike because its true purpose is to go aloft, shut off the engine, and attempt to soar. On cooler days, you’d also dress more warmly.
The Apache’s convertible seatback allows more support when flying solo but it was actually not as comfortable as I thought because it pivots back too much when you lean against it. It felt good on the important lower back area often overlooked on ultralight seat designs, but it lacked much support in the upper back which you might notice in longer duration flights.
The Apache’s seat also uses some horizontal support tubes that can be bumped out of the way when you get in casually. Attempting not to put my feet on the fiberglass fairing floor, I kind of flopped in the seat and moved one side of the seat support tube off the seat frame. This wouldn’t cause any particular problems but is a bit disconcerting.
However, these minor complaints are balanced by the well-constructed seats that offer luxurious amounts of padding not only on the bottom and back, but also on the sides. The North Wing Design seat made me feel secure and comfortable.
I also loved the solid and secure 4-point seat belt system that clasped easily and adjusted quickly. However, a rear seat occupant is not so lucky. They have only a lap belt, which has been proven to provide far less security in the event of a violent upset.
The Apache has a steering damper on it, which though it did not greatly stiffen the movement of the nosewheel, was slower than that on the Pegasus Quantum which was almost too fast. Rarely do you need to turn a nosewheel (or tailwheel) quickly on an aircraft. I liked the addition of the damper.
I touched down rather crosswind on one landing and the tri-gear stabilizing feature worked just as it was supposed to do. Of course, since the nosewheel is a trailing link design, it also tends to straighten as soon as it touches terra firma.
The Apache has a drum brake system that works fairly well. It would certainly be useful if operating off paved runways and taxiways. North Wing Design’s ATF also has a nosewheel brake but it is a simplistic apparatus. This consists of a plate which you push down to the nosewheel. It’s not as awkward as it sounds except it works best when you push on both sides equally, a fact that leaves you without steering control at a time you may need it. Despite the technique required, I adapted faster than expected and the nosewheel brake did provide some slowing power.
Up and Scooting Along
The Apache has no nosewheel mud guard (around the hole in the fairing), so in Florida’s dry soil, sand was kicked up into my eyes during takeoff roll. This may be rare on turf runways, but could pose a problem.
Takeoff in the Apache was otherwise a brief and simple affair as it is on many trikes. To my mind, this is one of the strong qualities of trikes as a concept. All are tri-gear designs that self-straighten almost automatically. Since the trike chassis hangs main gear low in flight, the mains touch down first in all cases except those with really poor technique. Liftoff is similar. The nosewheel lifts off. The trike chassis moves in under the wing’s center of gravity and the overall ultralight assumes a normal climb attitude. With the engine pushing from below the wing, climbout is almost a hands-off activity (though I don’t advise this).
The foot pedal support in the ATF is a minimalist design. With no footrest other than friction on the rubber pedal and no fairing underneath to keep your foot located, I found once when I took off that only my big toe was on the throttle. I didn’t want to readjust my contact with the throttle as I was climbing away from the runway over obstacles. Of course it’s my fault for not ensuring correct pedal position before I took off. Once aloft, the adjustment was made easily, but a light heel hook or other support would prevent this error from recurring.
The Contour 14.5 wing on the Apache seemed to exhibit a bit of inertia when roll reversing. After rolling out of one direction and rolling directly into the opposite, the wing wanted to continue further than I preferred. At first I tried to fight it but I later learned that pushing out would decrease the effect (the equivalent of back pressure in a stick or yoke aircraft). I have almost no complaints with the wings of North Wing Design and suggest that this inertial effect may be a fact of a more heavily loaded 2-place trike carriage than the wing design.
Contrarily, the lightweight ATF trike uses a regular hang glider wing and I have to admit – as an old hang glider pilot – I enjoyed experiencing a wing of this agility and responsiveness. When I mentioned this to Blevins, he smiled and asked if I enjoyed the “one finger flying.” (I did!)
He was certainly right in that it was a genuine “hang glider.” You could whip around at will. The ATF’s wing was very easy and a joyful thing to fly. Many ultralight pilots who have flown only 2-place trikes may not really understand the difference but, believe me, it’s a fact.
A benefit, at least to handling buffs like myself, is that you can buy the ATF trike and add the hang glider wing of your choice. This assumes you know something about hang glider wings, but North Wing Design can supply one if you’re unsure (also see sidebar, “Powered Soaring Trike For Your Hang Glider?”).
Good as the Contour wing is (like every other North Wing Design wing I’ve flown), it cannot compare in overall handling purity to the single-place wings.
However, as a long-time wing producer, North Wing Design has refined the art to a high degree. Though recent releases of the Kiss by Air Création and the Streak from AirBorne have sharply improved handling on their machines, they only caught up to Cosmos and North Wing Design. The Contour 14.5 is somewhat more heavily loaded than another Apache wing choice, the 17.5-meter (188-square-foot) Mustang. Heavier loading improves handling on the Contour. However, the Contour is about 80% double surface while the Mustang is only 35%. The latter will have good handling for such a large wing, but will lack the speed range of the Contour.
The Apache worked excellently with the 50-hp dual carb Rotax 503 in Florida’s April warmth. I think this most popular of Rotax engines should be sufficient for all normally sized occupants flying in the lower elevations. However, a couple of big guys flying in the high desert areas of the U.S. west should probably elect to take the 66-hp Rotax 582 that North Wing Design offers as a option. Climb in the 503 Apache appears to be about 700 fpm, good but not spectacular.
The ATF’s little Hirth engine delivered plenty of power as does the 22-hp Zenoah G25B-1 that North Wing Design has also used. However, just as in my Cosmos Samba, I could feel the single-cylinder engine’s vibration transmitted through the control bar.
North Wing Design has also investigated the little 25-hp JPX D-320 twin opposed cylinder engine and this may offer some relief from the dreaded vibration while retaining most of the light weight of the single bangers. Unfortunately, this brand is not well known or accepted by the buying public. That may change if North Wing Design makes good use of it.
Despite the talk about the vibration of the single-cylinder engines, North Wing Design’s engine mount system impressed me with its clean looks and with the amount of vibration dampening that it achieved. The Hirth was lots better than the Cosmos Zenoah mount on my Samba and the ATF felt quite smooth.
I can’t be overly critical of the little engines, though. Remember the ATF is a kind of “poor man’s” motorglider, intended for engine-off operation with a hang glider wing overhead. In my relatively short flight I used hardly any fuel. I started with about 2 gallons and returned with 1 3/4 gallons after 25 minutes of flying under power. In these days of escalating fuel prices who can’t love such a gas miser? Small engines have their place.
Kudos to North Wing
At last year’s Air Sports Expo in Albuquerque, New Mexico, I spoke with North Wing Design’s local representative. All I heard were complimentary remarks about the quality of customer support from Kamron Blevins.
The hardware is neat and clean. The several wings I’ve flown from this company have been terrifically enjoyable. Add good customer relations to that and you have a winning combination for purchasers.
Whether your interest is the 2-seat Apache introduced in 2000, or the superlight ATF also brought out in 2000, or the strutted wing Maverick of 1999, I believe you could be very satisfied with a trike from North Wing Design.
|Empty weight||335 pounds|
|Gross weight||900 pounds|
|Wing area||157 square feet|
|Wing loading||6.1 pounds per square foot|
|Kit type||Fully assembled|
|Notes:||1A strut-braced wing is also available; height is then reduced to 8.5 feet.
2ATF can be purchased without wing, and common hang glider brands can be fitted to the trike.
|Standard engine||Rotax 582|
|Power||50 hp at 6,500 rpm|
|Power loading||18.0 pounds per hp|
|Cruise speed||55-65 mph|
|Never exceed speed||85 mph|
|Rate of climb at gross||700 fpm|
|Takeoff distance at gross||150 feet|
|Landing distance at gross||150 feet|
|Standard Features||Contour 14.5 test-flown double-surfaced wire-braced wing, pilot pod, steerable nosewheel (push right, go left) with nosewheel drum brake and trailing link suspension, hand and foot throttles, 4-point seat belt system, Hobbs hourmeter, dual CHT or water temperature, dual EGT, altimeter, heavy duty fiberglass main gear legs, 10-gallon fuel tank, 3-blade composite prop. ATF – T2 tandem wing, tachometer, CHT, 3-gallon fuel tank.|
|Options||Rotax 582 66-hp engine, electric start, dual steering and throttle, 3-, 4-, or 6-blade prop, ballistic parachute system.ATF – Front fairing, side skirt with storage bags, JPX 2-cylinder engine, ballistic parachute system, 5-gallon fuel tank.|
|Construction||6061-T6 and 7075-T6 aluminum airframe, steel and aluminum fittings, AN hardware, fiberglass, Dacron sailcloth. 6061-T6 and 7075-T6 aluminum airframe, steel and aluminum fittings, AN hardware, fiberglass, Dacron sailcloth. ATF – Same.
Cosmetic appearance, structural integrity, achievement of design goals, effectiveness of aerodynamics, ergonomics.
Pros – PROS – First 2-seater from North Wing Design, an established supplier of trike wings. Very credible effort with several features of note: most significant is the dual mast design that increases comfort. Folds from above the engine so it stays upright during transport. North Wing Design has long excelled with wing design; this Contour 14.5 is no exception. Delivered fully assembled.
Cons – Acceptance of the new brand is still developing, which means resale isn’t well known yet. Field testing by ordinary pilots is also in early stages. Test Apache used wing with common upper rigging that demands tall doors for entry to hangars.
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 – n-flight trim makes a difference of several miles an hour, relieving control pressures. Dual nosewheel steering controls (optional). Instructor bars give a rear-seated instructor pitch and roll control. Electric starting on test Apache. Remote choke in easily reached position. Skirting hides fuel tank from view. Excellent repair access.
Cons – Limited space to add radios, GPS, or other instrumentation (though space might be used more efficiently than test Apache’s panel). Electric starting plus dual steering and throttles, as on test Apache, are deluxe but add to the $14,000 base price of the trike.
Instrumentation; Ergonomics of controls; Creature comforts; (items covered may be optional).
Pros – Dual mast keeps connection to wing from hitting rear occupant. Instructor bars make for good dual controls when the instructor moves to the rear seat. Well-padded seats are more comfortable than average trike. Stash bags on both sides of seats gives some room for items you want to carry. Solid 4-point harness system up front is easily adjusted and clasped.
Cons – Throttle moved counter-intuitively; you move it backward to increase power. No footrest for heel; only rubber-coated peg (although floor of fairing would tell you if your foot was slipping off the peg). No shoulder belt system for rear seat occupant. Seatback for front seat is limited to the lumbar area.
Taxi visibility; Steering; Turn radius; Shock absorption; Stance/Stability; Braking.
Pros – Nosewheel steering damper keeps shake to a minimum and works with trailing link arrangement to keep nosewheel true on landings. Suspended nosewheel has fairly effective drum brake; useful on paved runways. Cantilevered gear legs provide excellent underside clearance. Visibility in trikes is very good. Maneuverability is also excellent, a benefit to being able to move the wings at will.
Cons – Brake was not particularly strong plus it was on the nose where light loading reduces traction. Cantilevered gear legs make some buyers uneasy, worried about fold-back in rough fields (however, design should largely counter that problem, I feel). Ground handling trikes in windy conditions can be challenging.
Qualities; Efficiency; Ease; Comparative values.
Pros – Engine thrust line placed parallel with the ground to reduce the swing-through effect many trikes exhibit on lift-off. All trikes enjoy a wide-open view for takeoff and landing. Good controls make the Apache reasonable to land in uneven winds. Trikes are easy landers as main gear wants to touch down first; wing pitch can be effective to slow rapidly.
Cons – Double-surface wing prefers approach around 50 mph for best results (much like other 2-place trikes). No flaps on trike wings (yet) nor can trikes do slips well; therefore approaches to landing must be planned better. Trikes are not as good as 3-axis ultralights in crosswind conditions (though experience can greatly widen your capabilities).
Quality and quantity for: Coordination; Authority; Pressures; Response; and Coupling.
Pros – A long-time wing producer, North Wing Design has refined the art to include both good speed and superior handling; I’ve liked every wing of theirs I’ve flown. With practice, you can do nearly everything a 3-axis ultralight pilot can do. Contour wing controls were relatively light. Response was very good. Trike control harmony is often better than 3-axis designs; very good on this Contour.
Cons – Like virtually all 2-seat trikes, the Apache is not as agile as the single-place Maverick or ATF. Crosswind landings are still challenging for many newer pilots; trikes don’t benefit from standard aviation training in this regard. Trike precision turns to heading aren’t as accurate as 3-axis controls. Control pressures are not as light as single-place wings.
Climb; Glide; Sink; Cruise/stall/max speeds; Endurance; Range; Maneuverability.
Pros – North Wing Design wings have long exhibited a fairly wide speed range while maintaining good handling. Vibration felt quite low, probably thanks to the center-of-mass engine mount system and rear “spine” construction. Climb of 700 fpm with popular 50-hp Rotax 503 dual carb engine was quite respectable. Double-surfaced wing retained energy quite well on landings.
Cons – If you fly with two big occupants in high density altitudes, you’ll want the optional 66-hp Rotax 582, at extra expense and weight. Trikes don’t dive well with power at higher settings, should that be necessary in your flight. Fast cross-country cruising is better in some 3-axis designs. For low-over-open-field flying, I’d rather have a single-surface wing (North Wing Design has some good ones).
Stall recovery and characteristics; Dampening; Spiral stability; Adverse yaw qualities.
Pros – A focus of owner Kamron Blevins, the Apache was ballistic parachute equipped, though rocket had to be removed for shipping. Proper 4-point seat belt system will hold front seat pilot securely in place. Very predictable wing; you’ll get no surprises. Steep turns maintained bank angle comfortably. Hard to get in much trouble with the Apache (though some pilots can be very “creative”).
Cons – No shoulder belt system for rear seat occupant.
Addresses the questions: “Will a buyer get what he/she expects to buy, and did the designer/builder achieve the chosen goal?”
Pros – Excellent wing design, a vital part of any trike ultralight. Wing design work is a core strength of North Wing Design; handling and speed range are both very good. Clean and simple machined parts. Very well-equipped 2-seater; many features like 3-blade prop are standard. Fold-down system leaves engine upright and fully braced. Design optimized to ease minor repairs.
Cons – At $14,000 fully assembled list price, the Apache may not be the less expensive among 2-seat trikes (though several are more costly). New design with unproved resale or field-use history though wings have been around much longer).