Airplane Pilots Transitioning to WSC Trikes

Mon, Dec 26 2016 04:32pm CST 1
Paul Hamilton
Paul Hamilton
238 Posts

Airplane pilot transitioning to trike - lessons learned

Published by: Paul Hamilton on 18th Feb 2016 | View all blogs by Paul Hamilton
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This is a complete excert from web site

that might help everyone understand about transitioning from airplane to trike........

There are two ways to transition to weight-shift control (WSC) LSA (light-sport aircraft) trike.

You can go for the “adding a category” at the sport pilot level which is being trained by one CFI and than taking a proficiency check with another CFI per 61.321. Here there are no minimum hours required, no knowledge test, no solo and it is a logbook endorsement for an additional category. An FAA 8710-11 form is sent into the FAA to add this to your current pilot certificate. Even if you are a private pilot or ATP airplane, you must fly with the sport pilot limitations of 61.315 except you do not need any of the airspeed or airspace endorsements as specified in 61.303.

It must be noted that if you add a category per 61.321, this does not count as a flight review because it is NOT adding an additional rating, it is adding a log book endorsement same as adding a tail wheel endorsement. So as ridiculous as it might seem, if you are not current as a pilot and you do a proficiency check to add the WSC trike to your airplane private pilot certificate, you need to do a flight review in the trike (or airplane) to be current as a pilot.

Also note you do not have to solo to add a category per 61.321.

You can also go for the Private Pilot WSC Trike. This is almost like starting from scratch. It is like adding a new private pilot category such as helicopter. You need all the 20 hours dual training in WSC plus 10 hours of solo plus all of the cross country requirements per 61.109 (j). You get a break with no knowledge test required. This gives you the privileges of a private pilot for the trike without the limitations of the sport pilot.

We have the capability to do either here at Sport Aviation Center. We have two trike CFI’s for the sport pilot proficiency check option, and two private pilot CFI’s and a private pilot examiner (Paul Hamilton).

How long does it take for an airplane pilot to transition to a WSC trike?

Trike controls are different than the three axis airplane. New skills/habits must be learned by the airplane pilot. It is very different at first for an airplane pilot because you take away the thin walls that provide a false sense of security of being inside something, you take away the horizon reference the pilot usually uses to control the aircraft, than you reverse all the controls so nothing is familiar. It is like learning to ride a motorcycle after just driving a car. We can all do it it is simply different.

Typically, airplane pilots feel disoriented for the first 20 minutes, and must “think” about the movements for the first hours of flight. But it is very interesting how some pilots pick it up really quick and others it takes a while. This large variance in how quick an airplane pilot feels comfortable flying a trike is not easily explained. The “danger zone” for an airplane pilot is the time between when they feel comfortable flying the trike and when the correct body motion habits are developed for flying in bumps. Some pilots can feel comfortable flying a trike in as little at 5 hours in calm air, but it typically takes at least 20 to 50 hours for the proper habits to be developed to instinctively do the right pitch and roll movements in bumpy air when things get challemging.

The dreaded “control reversal” unfortunately is common for airplane pilots transitioning to trikes.

The main danger is flying close to the ground in bumps where pushing out to slow up and increase pitch angle and pulling in to speed up to reduce pitch is critical. Some pilots pick it up quickly, others take longer. It is a matter of learning to “fly the wing” rather than move and coordinate the controls. It is in those “moments of truth” when airplane pilots get pitched up or down when the old airplane control habits may come out and cause a problem. The shortest flight hours for a pilot to transition from airplane to trike has been 8 hours and the longest has been 25 hours. Even as it may appear the airplane pilot is doing great in the trike, we always make sure to fly in bumps to assure the transitioning pilot does not still have this “control reversal” deep in his/her brain.

We highly recommend any transitioning airplane pilot fly at least 30 hours in calm air before flying in the bumps.

I have found that 150 to 500 hour airplane pilots take the longest to learn. ATP, helicopter and jet pilots appear to pick it up quicker. Perhaps the low to medium time airplane pilots are still trying to think about the movements and the body language habits are highly ingrained. The high time pilots fly more by feel of the aircraft.

A number of analogies used that work on most airplane pilots are:

  • It is like the stick is on the top of the wing and you are controlling it from the bottom
  • it is like driving the car with your hands on the bottom of the wheel rather than the top.
  • It is like a motorcycle, pull in/lower your self to resist drag and speed up, push out to go slow, sit up and cruise
  • Move/pull your self in the direction you want to go
  • The wing is in your hand, there are no controls

Usually one of the above assists in airplane pilots transitioning to trikes.

Overall, the best way to transition is to get the DVD’s and watch them and start to visualize that to do before you start doing it. This visualization usually is a big help in reducing the time it takes to transition.

Training materials for a transition trike pilot are:

  • Training Syllabus and Workbook Weight Shift Control Trike
  • FAA Weight Shift Control aircraft Flying Handbook
  • Weight-Shift Control Pilots Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge
  • Learn to fly a trike DVD
  • Sport Pilot Checkride book

All these can be found at

How do we go through the training process?

Typically, we follow the training syllabus of a new pilot learning to fly. This provides the most efficient procedure for transition pilots.

What do you get when you complete a proficiency check to add a trike to your private/commercial/ATP pilot certificate?

After you complete your proficiency check, 8710-11 paperwork is sent into the FAA and they send you a new pilot certificate with the added category and you get a log book endorsement for the added category/class by the instructor who performed the proficiency check.

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  • Josh Jones
    by Josh Jones 10 months ago
    Hi Paul. First, I just want to say that I'm a big believer in your training materials. I've watched several of your DVDs and have read through your WSC Aircraft Pilot's Handbook multiple times. I think anyone interested in learning to fly trikes would do themselves a favor by utilizing your products. Thanks for all you do for the sport.

    In response to your post, transitioning to trikes isn't just a potential problem for 3-axis pilots, but also for flight simulator flyers who've used a yoke or joystick. There probably aren't many people out there in that situation, but I am one of them. I spent quite a few years, compiling hundreds of hours of flight time, using a flight yoke to flight sim with Flight Simulator X. I learned a lot of valuable lessons about flying pursuing this hobby, lesson that have made actual flying come more naturally, but I also formed the muscle memory for flying a 3-axis aircraft.

    So when it came time to fly real-world trikes, I decided to build a trike simulator, very similar to your simulator as shown on youtube. The first time I took the controls I nearly crashed because it was very confusing; everything was backwards. But after spending quite a bit of time using the simulator to retraining my muscles to react as they should, I started my real world dual-training and experienced no issues whatsoever. In fact, my instructors said I was a natural.

    I would suggest that anyone transitioning from 3-axis control to trikes should spend some time simulating, if possible.
  • Gregg Ludwig
    by Gregg Ludwig 10 months ago
    Nice summary here by Paul Hamilton. It may be time for the FAA to revisit the idea of having only examiners conduct the proficiency check.
  • Doug Boyle
    by Doug Boyle 10 months ago
    Gregg, After talking to Larry about this accident I don't think it had anything to do with the Instructors. Apparently, it has everything to do with the judgment of the pilot, e.g. he was told by the Instructors NOT to jump in the Revo: to wit: get more trike experience AND take Transition Training in the Revo first. And then there were the other factors as well: decision to fly a new trike at 2pm in the High Desert, etc. He may have back-seated the Revo with the owner but that doesn't even come close to Transition Training as you know.
  • Doug Boyle
    by Doug Boyle 10 months ago
    Paul, Does this sentence need rewording?

    "The main danger is flying close to the ground in bumps where pushing out to slow up and reduce pitch angle and pulling in to speed up to reduce pitch is critical."
  • Paul Hamilton
    by Paul Hamilton 10 months ago
    Yes it looks like it needs evaluation to be clear. Thanks. One of the main reasons I publish here is to get the critical opinions of nebews and industry experts such as you and Gregg to flush out any issues which need discussion. This is priceless. We all want the same thing.
  • Tony Castillo
    by Tony Castillo 10 months ago
    Very good information Paul. Thanks for sharing.
  • Leo Iezzi
    by Leo Iezzi 10 months ago
    I don't think any amount of rules or regulation changes would have avoided this tragedy. It's sounding very much like bad decision making unfortunately.
  • white eagle
    by white eagle 10 months ago
    Paul thanks for the update. I helped a G/A pilot who hasnt flown in a while find and buy a trike.He thinks he can fly it with very little instruction. Iam not a cfi so i rufuse to teach him.Ive done everything in my power to encourage him to get training! Ill refer this information to him but unfortunatly just like this accident in AZ, you can lead a pilot to water but you cant make him drink it?
  • Paul Hamilton
    by Paul Hamilton 10 months ago
    Thanks Doug for catching the typo it has been fixed here ans at my web site to

    The main danger is flying close to the ground in bumps where pushing out to slow up and increase pitch angle and pulling in to speed up to reduce pitch is critical.
  • Paul Hamilton
    by Paul Hamilton 10 months ago
    You always want to think of a way to avoid an accident in some form we can improve.
  • Paul Hamilton
    by Paul Hamilton 10 months ago
    All you can do is try and get him proper training. I have outlined my experience here of what works but some do not listen and/or understand. Hopefully others will use these guidelines. I will say that one of the major topics FOR EVERY FLIGHT of transitioning any airplane pilot to trikes is this dreaded "control reversal". As we have seen this is one of the biggest dangers.
  • Leo Iezzi
    by Leo Iezzi 10 months ago
    Are you saying we already don't have that in place? I find that hard to believe.

    Before I started my endeavor to becoming a LSP, I read all of your information, I asked questions, and more importantly, I did research in terms of accident statistics and what caused them.

    My wife and I purchased our trike in June, Henry introduced me to Leo Fitzgerald around Sept, and I arranged to start flying in early Dec.
    It wasn't till later that month that I finally got to fly my own aircraft after being trained in mine and signed off for solo.

    Now, between June and Dec, I could have assembled it and flown it out of El Mirage dry lake, but I did not. During my search for a local Trike CFI, I ran into a General Aviation CFI that said she could go up with me and teach me. She didn't have any experience flying Trikes, and I gently let her know it wasn't the same as a fixed wing, and that I would pass.

    My patience paid off. When I finally did fly with Leo, I quickly realized I was right in my decision making.....which came from your website, and many of the folks posting here.

    You, Larry and many others, including my own CFI have stressed the importance of "transition" training. What more can you possibly do?
    If a person is willing to break those rules, no amount of new ones, or the adjustment of existing ones will make any difference in this particular case.

    The only point I'm trying to make here is, you guys have all the right stuff in place in my opinion. It was just disregarded.
  • white eagle
    by white eagle 10 months ago
    leo I had an airplane the movie moment there for a minute you and leo in the same trike . HOW YOU DOING THERE LEO roger leo roger leo roger roger, oh well you get the point. I wanted to add to the discuccion and thanks for the advice paul . I wanted to clarify that if my friend wants to train himself hes breaking no rules because he holds a ga certificate and bought a FAR 103 trike . (north wing maverick). hes a smart guy and I surely could get him up in my red back and get him going ,but then I would be breaking the rules and iam a good rule follower. I never smoked in the bathroom in high school , NO I was bright and I and a few friends climed down in the vents and smoked down there (totally dumb) smoke goes up. Got my butt reamed but good. So lessoned learned I have no desire to get reamed by paul or any of the trike community for that matter. Iam going down to scotts for a review in the spring so iam hoping that he will take a few good lessons from scott. Really we can only be responsible for ourselves
  • charles nolen
    by charles nolen 10 months ago
    Ok here's my two cents. My first "plane" was a Buckeye powered parachute. Then I learned how to fly trikes. TC of TC's trikes in Soddy Daisy TN was my instructor. My first trike was a NW Maverick with 17 m wing. Then I bought a NW Navajo and sold my Maverick . The guy who purchased it had 10 million hours in GA and had flown everything including helicopters and balloons. He had no trike training when he arrived to pick up the Maverick. I spoke with him several minutes about the need to get proper training. I had him sign a waiver before he left. Thank goodness. He took it home got one lesson- that's right one lesson and took to the skies. As he came in for his first landing he flared way to high and stalled. Ruptured spleen, fractured vertebra, internal bleeding. Almost died. By the way he was 70 years old. I understand that he was upset and he claimed there was probably something wrong with the trike. I guess de nial is not just a river in Egypt. Anyway my first trike was toast. Since then I have my GA ticket and that transition was not that tough because you have to meet strict requirements to get that piece of paper. I guess its like my dad who was also a pilot said "there are old pilots and there are bold pilots, but there are no old bold pilots. Fly safe.
  • scott smith
    by scott smith 10 months ago
    Paul, you mentioned that you do transition training there at Tahoe-do you also do transition training the other way? I have a SP license for trikes but I am planning to get into 3 axis. Do you do that?
  • Paul Hamilton
    by Paul Hamilton 10 months ago
    Yes we have a full training system for airplane also. Have transitioned trike pilots to airplane many times. Also airplane DPE for sport pilots and sport CFI's. Have an awesome LSA Sling 2 airplane and some CFII working for me see
  • Paul Hamilton
    by Paul Hamilton 10 months ago
    Yea familiar story thanks for adding to data base. Any other airplane to trike transitions, good or bad, are helpful for everyone.
  • Miracle Pie
    by Miracle Pie 10 months ago
    My first trike was purchased from a long-time 3-axis guy who simply never could make the mental control reversal. He crunched it, gave up on it, I got it cheap and rebuilt it.
  • Paul Hamilton
    by Paul Hamilton 10 months ago
    Like many life experiences, everything is fine until it is not. Control reversal, very bad.
  • Larry Simpson
    by Larry Simpson 10 months ago
    Retraining habits takes time and effort. "Control Reversal" is much the same as second language mastery. The most dangerous attitude is the "I've got this" point of view. When one begins to dream in the foreign language, only then, does one truly begin to"get it."

    Simulation is an outstanding method for acquiring new skills and taking them to the reflex level. Mental and physical practice makes perfect.

    I can't even estimate just how many FCLP/FMLP's (Field Carrier Landing Practice/Field Mirror Landing Practice) it took me before I began to dream about landing on the aircraft carriers in the Navy. You just know when you are there, and ready to translate to your version of flight.

    Keep the blue side up. lrs
  • Paul Dewhurst
    by Paul Dewhurst 10 months ago
    I have converted many fixedwing g pilots to trike, and I started on stick and rudder gliders, so have been through it myself.

    Most converting pilots get competent initially 'brain flying' the machine - in that they can do it but have to think about it. Means they can apparently fly it - in smooth conditions. Often they press for solo or sign off when they can do that - but in reality they are in possibly the most dangerous period. Under stress or in bumps the brain can't keep up and reactions take over and sudden reversals or freezing can occur.

    So the instructor must slowly increase the stress and find that 'pre reversal buffet' and keep poking it until muscle memory and reactions are the right way round regardless of the brain working!

    There have been a significant number of accidents over the years where instructors have been caught out by 'unexpected' reversals or freezing. Of course the instructor should always expect them! - but it's easy to be caught out or miss the signs.

    The signs usually take the form of outward stress increase in the control movements becoming less fluid and delayed, a tension in the body / muscles, and a tension in communication - 2 way chat becomes stilted and strained. So an instructor must be actively surveying for those signs. A phrase I borrowed from my hanglider instructor buddy is 'wiggle your fingers and smile!' Works well to break any building tension. And the more stressed the student gets the more relaxed the instructor must appear. Seems to me that tense instructors have far more problems with students reversals and freezing..

    It certainly is a task whenthe instructor earns their money - and it isn't over when the wheels kiss the ground - the ground steering is often the last thing that the converting pilot gets rid of reversals from - and using the wing leading edge as your braking system is expensive and embarrassing .. :)

    After conversion can be a problematic time too - if the newbie triker has come from a GA background then they often struggle to calibrate to our weather limitations and can try to go flying when really it's too windy or turbulent. It's not uncommon to find they have blown over on the way out to the runway - which can be safer than them making it and taking off! So it's best if they can fly the first 50hours or so in a club environment where there are other trikers around to advise and mentor them.

    But it's great to see someone come over form 'the dark side' and become a really enthusiastic triker - to me it marks them as true aviator - it's far more common to find folk going from trike to fixedwing, becuase triking is just a little too 'real' for them and they need some plexiglass and cockpit sides to take that feeling away...

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