When Air Création introduced their beautiful Tanarg trike to American pilots in 2005, it earned a very warm response and, at the same time, shock at its $53,000 price tag – some $10,000 more than the next closest high-end trike.
Pronounced Tan-ARG (rhyme it with “barge,” except the G is said softly, more like TAN-arz), the machine is impressive. Even for those pilots or newcomers who regard weight-shift control trikes as “weird,” or “hard to understand,” the Tanarg design concept earns respect rapidly. This aircraft has received enormous attention to detail while also gaining in strength and ease of use. Air Création engineers built on many successful years of designing and producing lots of trikes – some 2,500 of them – to create a stunning work of aeronautical art. Nothing on the market is quite like the Tanarg.
The last time I wrote about Air Création, I talked about my experience with their wonderful new iXess wing (once again introducing a hard-to-pronounce name). Our subject aircraft this month is the Tanarg (chassis) and iXess (wing). Since I’ve written about the wing in UltralightFlying! magazine’s December ’04 issue, this article will focus on the new carriage, and how well it works with the iXess wing.
Where to Start?
The Tanarg is a new trike in every way. Every part of it is so completely different than any earlier Air Création trike that it’s tough to know where to start. I asked lead designer Gilles Bru to show me around his creation. He kindly pointed out many new features, in great detail.
The whole carriage sits a little lower to the ground, which adds to its ground stability. The longer wheelbase also aids stability, and the nosewheel is somewhat extended compared to earlier Air Création trikes.
When I asked how this chassis affects the in-flight feel, Bru observed that airborne changes of power no longer change the carriage position to the wing because the thrust line is superior to earlier models. Some trikes require careful use of power so as not to get the carriage swinging – something like the pendulum effect possible under a powered parachute canopy.
As with the iXess wing before it, the Tanarg was four years in development. When you try to refine the state of an art, which has advanced considerably, you must truly stretch your design vision. Doing so takes time, even for experts like Bru.
The Tanarg’s primary mast structure is chromoly steel, which is then painted to reduce the chance of corrosion. However, the front fork is still made of aluminum, as is the main shock-absorbing landing gear strut (the one on the angle). While steel is appropriate for areas needing great strength, aluminum will always survive on aircraft for its light weight and corrosion resistance. The steel portions of the Tanarg include the mast and seat structure, but not the forward support tube.
The horizontal gear fairing has a smooth look through a fabric cover. I would not have expected a fabric fairing on a deluxe vehicle like the Tanarg, but this material is light and does the job while also easing inspection.
What grabbed my attention right away was the Tanarg’s extensive body fairing, which is just like the most radical “pocket rocket” motorcy
cles. It’s a look that sells and will redefine how trikes are built.
Remarkably, Bru reports all the changes to the Tanarg add only 5 kilos (11 pounds) to the also-deluxe (and still-in-production) Clipper chassis. Such a small weight bump is quite astonishing when you consider how many changes have been made, and how robust the entire assembly is.
Have you ever watched a trike pilot set up his aircraft from a small trailer or the back of a pickup truck? A fairly small package transforms to a full aircraft as a chrysalis turns into a butterfly. But when this happens an awkward moment often arrives when the setup calls for another person to help brace the trike (some pilots use chocks for this purpose).
On most other trikes, lifting the wing pushes aft on the main gear, so you have to chock them to keep the trike from rolling. That hassle is history on the Tanarg. Underneath the forward support of the rear seat is the fulcrum point where the wing mast now hinges. Bru says, “When you lift the wing, the trike does not roll.” He assured me that one person could also erect the wing easily – no small feat for a 100-pound wing raised several feet into the air.
The Aquilair Swing used a similar system back in the early 2000s, but Air Création has taken the concept further. The Tanarg also reflects a more modern appearance than the Swing, which now looks somewhat boxy in comparison.
It may first seem a nit-picking detail but Air Création went to some length to separate electrical and fuel lines on the Tanarg for safety’s sake.
All electrical wiring is routed down the left side of the chassis. An aft-seat kill switch is just under the instructor’s left knee. The main switch is on the panel. Both are protected switches.
All fuel lines are routed down the right side of the chassis to separate them from the electrical. The choke is opposite the instructor’s kill switch, under his right knee. Fuel filters are on the same side as is the sight gauge for the fuel tank, which the factory will mark with quantity levels. The new trike chassis holds 65 liters of fuel (17.2 gallons).
The Tanarg throttles have also been changed. The hand throttle is now push/pull just like a conventional aircraft throttle. The foot throttle remains part of the beefy and comfortable foot pedal.
Carburetor heat is controlled by a liquid cooling system so that it does not require any pilot input.
The Tanarg’s battery is located aft of the front seat. When you lift out the rear seat, a zippered pouch is provided to hold your aircraft documents.
Two pins secure the location of the mast when fully erected. These pins must be in place securely, or a panel light will light up to show the incomplete assembly.
For radio-equipped Tanargs, the antenna is located by the right wheel pant, the connecting cable for which is hidden inside the fabric covering over the horizontal gear leg.
Greater Occupant Comfort
Trikes remain open-cockpit aircraft and as a trike enthusiast, I wouldn’t have it any other way. So, although you’ll want to invest in a comfortable, protective full-face helmet to go with your Tanarg, the French company also knows you want to be comfortable and well served.
Commensurately, cabin comfort has received attention, as has adjustability.
The rear seat no longer requires a climb for entry. You can turn around and sit down on it and push the front seat forward to swing your legs over. The seat back angle can change, rather like an airline seat, moving back and forth a few inches. You can also tension the seat side panels that can enhance your secure feel in the seat, much like adjustable bolsters in some high-end sports cars.
The Tanarg accommodates occupants of various sizes in more ways than seat adjustments. Using a threaded, overcenter lever, you can move the pedals fore and aft over a range to accommodate taller or shorter pilots. Rear pedals also adjust after you remove a collar pin that unlocks the fit into some gears, which permits each pedal to be separately adjusted within a range via rotation.
Trikes have sometimes been faulted for having no cargo or baggage capacity. Air Création heard those comments and added many such areas in the Tanarg. Storage areas include: a map pocket holder on the back of each seat; storage areas on either side of the pilot’s legs, right at the step-in point; an add-on bag can be used when the trike is flown solo (as are most 2-seat machines most of the time); and, a not-accessible-in-flight space under the seat frame is available unless you choose to fill this space with an optional emergency parachute.
In earlier Air Création trikes, the rear seat was folded to make better support for the front seat back when flown solo. Now the new storage bag serves this purpose so you gain space, and also better support.
Once seated and after the surroundings exploration was done, I fired up the powerful 81-hp Rotax 912 engine and began taxiing out for takeoff. I found a very well suspended ride in the Tanarg and felt almost no engine vibration.
The nosewheel steering is no longer part of the front fork assembly where your actions are very direct. Now the linkage is part of the main airframe, which permits the above-described rudder pedal fore and aft adjustment via a friction-type clamp that requires no tools.
The nosewheel construction is a leading link such that when you hit the brake it does not compress and nose down somewhat. However, brakes aren’t limited to the nosewheel as in most trikes. Hydraulic brakes are fitted to all three wheels and larger tires, giving the Tanarg impressive slowing and stopping power. Two hydraulic cylinders allow the front and rear brake systems to be adjusted separately.
Two Wings, One Chassis
Air Création made the Tanarg available with two wings, an older but easier handling Kiss wing that I’ve enjoyed before and the newer, still remarkably easy handling iXess wing. You may also fly the Tanarg with the Fun 450 or the iXess Training model, though I didn’t fly those wings on this trike chassis.
One-handed flying proved to be easy on the Kiss wing attached to the Tanarg. For me, this wing might be my choice as I prize lighter handling. But the iXess wing is still adequately easy and offers a higher top speed. If you plan to go cross-country often in your Tanarg – something it accomplishes very well – then the iXess wing should be your choice. If you fly locally most of the time, the Kiss may be your sweetheart.
Both wings have the trimmer system, and adjustability in the trim remains very convincing. Hands off, idle thrust speed in the iXess with the trimmer turned to each limit went from 65 to 85 km/h (41-53 mph).
Earlier, Bru suggested that I take off and land with the trimmer in the zero position. The rabbit-and-turtle graphical label for trimmer applications (faster or slower) can be understood in any language, appropriate for a company that sells all around the world.
Setting the trimmer to neutral may also be useful to help contain that big engine driving you into the air. I flew solo and after the first launch, I never used more than about 60% power to get aloft. I can envision high elevation sites where 80 hp may be necessary. Two-place flying with big American occupants could be another reason, but when flying solo I would rarely expect to use more than a little over half that power reserve.
Since the trimmer results in a repositioning of the control bar, I found the handling was actually better when the trim was set to high speed as this meant I did not need to pull aft on the bar with as much effort; it was already further aft. When the trim was set slow, I had to pull aft to help accelerate into the turn. This is probably why Bru encouraged me to approach for landing in the neutral trim position, to facilitate better control.
On tailless wing trikes, conventional trim has no surface (an elevator) on which to exert influence, and you can’t use a stick reposition system like a Quicksilver ultralight or Sonex homebuilt. Trikes use a series of luff lines or pitch lines that hold up the trailing edge when the rest of the wing draws tighter, or forward. Like regular trim, this is sufficiently subtle that you might not see the trailing edge movement, but you’ll notice the relief on the control bar.
The new iXess wing is only made in a single size, thanks to its versatility, yet the Air Création trimmer system extends usable speed range.
Despite the differences in wing membrane construction, the same airframe structure is used inside the Kiss, iXess, and Fun wings, though each wing is significantly different from the others. This design move simplifies the effort of manufacturing as well as making it easier for dealers to have parts on hand. Delta wing airframes are important, certainly, but the larger share of what makes the wing work is the sail cut, rib patterns, and numerous refinements that seek to improve handling and speed range.
On the more sophisticated iXess wing, the entire top surface of the sail is made from Trilam because it’s a better match to higher speed. The iXess also has a cloth doubler on the trailing edge due to stress from a tautly stretched wing. This added construction step is not needed on the Fun 450, which employs much less trailing edge tension
To help maintain the fine handling of the Kiss wing, a portion of the iXess undersurface uses spinnaker cloth, a modestly lighter cloth with more flexibility. The more malleable cloth keeps the relationship between upper and lower surfaces more elastic to help with handling and low-speed flight characteristics. The concentration of spinnaker cloth is at midspan where it can do the most good.
I found the iXess wing to have an indicated range of about 50 to 140 km/h (31-88 mph) dual or solo – a respectable three-times range of speeds. Maximum dive speed with no power in the Tanarg 912 indicated 72-75 mph when the trimmer was left in the neutral position. Compared to most trikes, this is speedy, though it’s no match for modern fixed-wing light-sport aircraft.
During assembly or derigging, you realize what it takes to make a foldable membrane wing like iXess. The design uses nine lower ribs, with somewhat wider spacing at the tip to allow more shifting of the wing for improved handling – the way the sail and airframe move relative to one another is what allows a delta wing to respond so well to weight-shift control inputs. The upper surface of the iXess has 13 ribs to maintain a precise airfoil shape. In all, 44 ribs go into the iXess wing.
All this attention to careful wing design allows Air Création to claim competition wins with the iXess wing: First-place wing at the 2001 World Championships, a feat repeated at the 2002 European Championships – all while the wing was still in development.
The Tanarg 912 with the iXess wing climbs so strongly on takeoff that you’ll only use full power if you are heavier with two people, flying heavy at high elevations, or when flying off floats (the company also offers a float kit).
Not only did I observe a smooth ride on the ground, both Tanarg models I flew impressed me with the very low amount of vibration you feel in the seat. To me, this was one of the most convincing qualities assuring this new trike chassis was designed for longer flights.
Air Création has long offered recoil 3-position pilot restraints in both seating positions. And while neither Tanarg model was equipped with a ballistic parachute, the company sells so many of them that they are one of a few companies to develop and incorporate an automatic engine kill switch into the rocket motor’s pull handle. In Air Création’s case this was done in cooperation with BRS engineers to assure proper execution.
For those wanting a parachute, Air Création has worked with BRS to create a bracket that comes standard with all Tanarg trikes. The BRS rocket motor will exit on the left side of the Tanarg fuselage.
Are You a “Trike Person”?
If you haven’t already tried trikes, the Tanarg is one you should experience. You may not wish to spend the money on this top-of-the-line model, but it will give such a good ride and flight that it might change your mind about the potential of weight-shift aircraft.
Now that two Air Création trikes – the Tanarg 912 and GTE 912 – plus one AirBorne trike have achieved Special Light-Sport Aircraft status, these “unusual” aircraft must be welcomed at any airport accepting federal funds for their development or upkeep.
The Tanarg is in every way a very deluxe aircraft truly deserving of another look by those who may cast a doubtful eye on weight-shift flying machines.
I recommend contacting the company’s U.S. representative, Air Création USA, and finding the nearest place to get a test flight. You might want to travel to this facility in the Phoenix, Arizona, area. Not only can you access the entire line of Air Création trikes but you can get lessons seven days a week. And, if you’re really lucky (and have the wallet for it), you should try to enlist in one of the company’s “Aero-Trekking” adventures.
|Empty weight||520 pounds|
|Gross weight||992 pounds|
|Wingspan||32 feet, 6 inches|
|Wing area||161 square feet|
|Wing loading||6.2 pounds/square foot|
|Length||6 feet, 9 inches|
|Height||11 feet, 2 inches|
|Kit type||Fully assembled|
|Notes:||First US delivery: March 2004.|
|Standard engine||Rotax 912|
|Power loading||12.4 pounds per hp|
|Max Speed||90 mph|
|Cruise speed||50-72 mph|
|Rate of climb at gross||1,200 fpm|
|Takeoff distance at gross||213 feet 1|
|Landing distance at gross||196 feet 1|
|Notes:||1 With one occupant, takeoff distance is 131
feet and landing distance is 147 feet.
|Standard Features||Rotax 912, 81-hp engine with electric starting, liquid-controlled carburetor temperature, Arplast 3-blade prop, Tanarg completely redesigned chassis with deluxe cockpit and one-person, easy-lift mast erection, rear-seat throttle and steering, iXess wing (available in single size), in-flight trim, hand and foot throttles, nosewheel steering, nosewheel brake and fender, 3-wheel brakes with parking feature, 3-point recoil pilot restraints front and rear, 3-wheel suspension, instrument panel, 17.2-gallon fuel tank, several storage areas (see article).|
|Options||Kiss 450, Fun 450, and iXess Training model wings also available; ballistic parachute system.|
|Construction||Aluminum airframe, fiberglass fairing, mixed-fabric Dacron sailcloth wing covering. Made in France (with 20% ownership by American importer). Distributed by U.S.-based importer.|
Cosmetic appearance, structural integrity, achievement of design goals, effectiveness of aerodynamics, ergonomics.
Pros – Entirely new trike chassis by established manufacturer. Many excellent detail improvements (see article). Creature comforts enhanced in significant ways. Beautiful fabrication of all components. Superb engine vibration isolation. Sets a new standard for Air Création competitors to meet.
Cons – Sets a new price standard while pushing the design concept forward. Combined with a high euro-to-dollar exchange rate, price is well above $50,000. Many pilots don’t “get” trikes so paying a stiff premium makes even less sense to them. Resale value of a high-end trike unknown.
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 – Hand and foot throttles for both seats; foot pedals adjustable. Rear-seat steering. Excellent trim system; works well and universally labeled. Isolation of electrical wiring from fuel line routing. Secure placements of kill switches. Hydraulic brakes on all three wheels; two hydraulic systems for more versatile adjustments.
Cons – No landing aids like flaps (true for all trikes to date). Fuel sight gauge not marked for quantity on test trike. Engine access not as open as older trikes. No other system negatives.
Instrumentation; Ergonomics of controls; Creature comforts; (items covered may be optional).
Pros – Three-wheel dual-system hydraulic brake package is highly effective, more so than most planes I’ve flown. Dual hand and foot throttles with rear-seat steering. Storage areas provided in several locations (see article). Strikingly styled cockpit fairing is very roomy. Secure, comfortable steering pedals.
Cons – Fabric gear leg fairings are light and functional, but don’t match the high quality in most components (though they save weight). Full-face helmet recommended and therefore won’t appeal to everyone; open-cockpit aircraft are a smaller part of the market, possibly affecting resale.
Taxi visibility; Steering; Turn radius; Shock absorption; Stance/Stability; Braking.
Pros – Large, supportive foot pedals and trailing link suspension that suspends the nose well make the Tanarg very comfortable in taxi. Excellent engine vibration dampening; none felt through airframe. Hydraulic brakes on all three wheels are very powerful. Rear-seat steering and foot throttle.
Cons – Push-right/go-left steering, now standard on nearly every trike, remains counterintuitive for conventionally trained pilots. Recommended full-face helmet restricts ground visibility. No other ground handling negatives.
Qualities; Efficiency; Ease; Comparative values.
Pros – Very fast acceleration, short takeoff roll, strong climb rate come on this lightweight 912-powered machine. The iXess wing helps produce quick ground break. Excellent energy retention. Wide-open visibility on takeoff and landing. Stout and secure-feeling chassis with good ground clearance.
Cons – The 81-hp Rotax 912 represents excess power for many applications; flown solo, I used around 60% throttle for launch. Faster flying wing brings speedy ground roll, which makes push-right/go-left steering seem more difficult. Trikes cannot compensate as well as 3-axis planes in crosswinds.
Quality and quantity for: Coordination; Authority; Pressures; Response; and Coupling.
Pros – The iXess wing has a good percentage of the light handling of the earlier Kiss wing (also reviewed with the Tanarg) plus the speed performance of the older, faster XP series. Trimmer system nicely eases handling pressures. Highly reliable handling; you always get what you’d expect from Air Création wings.
Cons – The iXess wing is so well achieved that handling negatives are few. Significant crosswind limitations still apply despite excellent iXess wing handling. Maintaining control of a movable wing while taxiing in gusty winds can demand some muscle power.
Climb; Glide; Sink; Cruise/stall/max speeds; Endurance; Range; Maneuverability.
Pros – The Tanarg with 81-hp Rotax 912 engine plus iXess wing make for excellent trike performance. Fast climbs. Maximum cruise of 85 mph with stall down into 30s. Very effective trimmer helps pilot use full performance range. Even at high speeds, the iXess wing possesses good control authority. Low vibration engine mount even at higher power settings.
Cons – For some situations the Rotax 912 has more power than needed (unless large occupants, high elevations, or floats). Landings and takeoffs are rather brisk in Rotax 912-powered iXess. No other performance negatives.
Stall recovery and characteristics; Dampening; Spiral stability; Adverse yaw qualities.
Pros – Excellent stability characteristics at any speed range with iXess wing. Wonderful, well-behaved ultralight. All stalls were very benign; did not break (only through very aggressive entry can you produce a stall break). Longitudinal and throttle response checks were positive. Three-point pilot restraint is secure. Parachute fitting bracket is standard equipment as is a related automatic engine shutdown.
Cons – Like most trikes, the iXess wing cannot be steeply dived, even with power reduced (with too much power, no dive is possible). Some overbanking tendency noted if bank angles become steep – common in trike wings, which employ some anhedral. No parachute fitted to test Tanarg aircraft (even though company is supportive of devices).
Addresses the questions: “Will a buyer get what he/she expects to buy, and did the designer/builder achieve the chosen goal?”
Pros – The Tanarg 912 iXess is presently the state of the art in weight-shift aircraft; it seems appropriate that it was the first trike to win SLSA approval. New design is so thorough that it’s hard to imagine additional improvement. U.S. representation is predictable and solid with American ownership of part of the Air Création company.
Cons – The Tanarg’s $50,000+ price is a barrier to many pilots; may affect eventual resale. Less appropriate for beginning trike pilots (though they could certainly learn to fly the Tanarg 912 Kiss (or other lower-performance wings available on the Tanarg). The Rotax 912 engine is expensive and complicated compared to 2-stroke choices.