Who invented the trike?

Wed, Mar 7 2012 09:43pm CST 1
Jake McGuire
Jake McGuire
9 Posts
This article makes it sound like Milt Thompson of X-15 fame came up with the idea. His boss wouldn't let him do it, so he talked Neil Armstrong into building the trike with him out of spare parts. At this point his bosses got scared that they were going to kill themselves, so actually let the project become official. Sounds a little like something Ole would pull...

Wed, Mar 7 2012 10:58pm CST 2
Captain X
Captain X
170 Posts
Cool article Jake- I archived it to my hard drive too. We must always give honor also to our (wing) creator Francis Rogallo!! ;)
Thu, Mar 8 2012 07:50am CST 3
E Harv
E Harv
44 Posts
Yeah, it's pretty cool that it all started with NASA. Here's some actual film footage of the parasev flying that I hadn't seen before...

Thu, Mar 8 2012 03:45pm CST 4
Paul Hamilton
Paul Hamilton
238 Posts

I think it could be better said that the trike wing and undercarriage has evolved and not necessarily been invented by one person.

Here is my summary of how the trike evolved for the FAA Weight-Shift Control Flying Handbook. I think this was edited buy the FAA to what is in the final publication so it may not be perfect and the images/figures are helpful to understand the text.


From the beginning of mankind, we have looked to the skies where legends and myths have entertained and provided us the dream to fly. Through the middle ages, the idea of flight evolved across Europe, with Leonardo Da Vinci well known for designing flying machines to carry humans. It was not until 1874, when Otto Lilienthal, a German mechanical engineer, started designing, building, and flying bird like wings. [Figure 1-1] He published his work in 1889, and by 1891 was able to regularly make flights that traveled over 100 feet in distance. Otto was the first successful hang glider pilot designing, building and flying a number of wing designs. [Figure 1-2]

In 1903, the Wright Brothers gliders became powered and the airplane was born as the Wright Flyer. In the early 1900s, aircraft configurations evolved as faster speeds and heavier loads were placed on the aircraft in flight. As a result of the new demands, the simple flexible wing was no longer sufficient and aircraft designers began to incorporate rigid wings with mechanical aerodynamic controls. These new ideas in wing design eventually resulted in the familiar aileron and rudder configurations found on the modern airplane.

Commercial applications were driving the need for faster and heavier aircraft; however, the dream of achieving manned powered flight in its most bird-like form was evolving along a different path. As rigid wing design enjoyed development for military and commercial applications, the flexible wing concept lay largely dormant for decades. In 1948, a flexible wing design was created by Francis Melvin Rogallo as a flying toy kit which he obtained a patent for in 1951. [Figure 1-3]

Rogallo’s design concept evolved down two parallel paths in the early 1960s, military and flight for sport. The military application was the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) development of the Rogallo wing into the Paresev (Paraglider Research Vehicle) later renamed the Parawing. This had rigid leading edges shown in Figure 1-4. NASA had the pilot attached to the keel hanging below the wing using weight shift to control the wing same as modern hang gliders and WSC aircraft today.

During this same period, other pioneering engineers and enthusiasts started developing the Rogallo wing for sport. One was aeronautical engineer, Barry Palmer, who saw pictures of the NASA wings and, in 1961, constructed and flew a number of hang gliders based on the Rogallo design. [Figure 1-5] His efforts and others evolved to the WSC aircraft in the late 1960s. Another pioneer was John Dickenson of Australia who used the NASA Rogallo wing design but incorporated a triangular control bar similar to the water skiing kites that provided structure for the wing during flight with flying wires. Similarly, a post on top provided structure for the wing when it was on the ground with ground wires. The pilot would hang from the wing similar to the NASA design and move the control bar to shift the weight underneath to control the wing similar to the NASA deign.

Hang Glider

The next significant step for the sport was in the late 1960s when Bill Moyes and Bill Bennett, were taught to fly the water skiing glider by Dickenson. Bennett and Moyes introduced and promoted hang gliding to the world with daredevil stunts that attracted media. This started the hang gliding in the early 1970s. [Figure 1-7] In 1967, the first powered aircraft based on the flexible wing concept of Dr. Rogallo was registered as amateur-built experimental. Flexible wing development continued, and by the early 1970s several adventurous entrepreneurs were manufacturing hang gliders for sport use.

Another significant step for wing design was made by Paul Hamilton in 1976. He researched, designed, wind tunnel tested and built this vision. Besides a ram air inflatable airfoil that would change shape for optimum performance at slow and fast speeds, it was the first hang glider with a lower surface that could enclose one of the four tubes the structure that holds the wings out. Enclosing this cross bar tube and providing a thicker airfoil similar to the airplane wing, provided a jump in high speed performance.

This double surface wing was quickly adopted by manufactures as the high performance standard and is used on faster hang gliders and WSC aircraft today. [Figure 1-8]

Activity in the hang gliding community increased throughout the 1970s, which resulted in the proliferation and development of stable, high quality modern hang gliders like the one shown in Figure 1-9.

Motorized Hang Gliders

In the late 1970’s, there was increased performance so motors could be added to the hang gliders and flown practically. It was not until the wings had become efficient and the engines and propeller systems evolved that the first commercial motor for a hang glider was introduced in 1977, the Soarmaster. It used a two stroke engine with a reduction system, clutch and long drive-shaft that bolted to the wing frame. It had a climb rate as high as 200 feet per minute (fpm) which was acceptable for practical flight. However, during takeoff the wing would overtake the running pilot and launching was very difficult. Also while flying, if the pilot went weightless or stalled under power, the glider would shoot forward and nose down into a dive. Overall, with the propeller pushing the wing forward during takeoffs and in some situations while flying, this was unsafe for a wide application. [Figure 1-10]

A Maturing Industry

Engines and airframe technology had made great advances because the ultralight fixed wing evolution was providing lighter weight, higher power and more reliable propulsion systems.

The propeller was moved lower for better takeoff and flight characteristics, wheels were added, and the trike was born at the end of the 1970s. A trike describes a hang glider type wing with a three wheeled carriage underneath (much like a tricycle arrangement with one wheel in front and two in back). Trike is the industry term to describe both single place ultralight vehicles and two place Light-Sport Aircraft (LSA) WSC aircraft. Bill Bennett was one of the first to build and sell the undercarriage that could be attached to a hang glider wing in the United States in 1981. [Figure 1-11]

New Challenges

By the 1980s, individuals were developing and operating small powered trikes and airplanes and tail-powered aircraft. This new freedom to fly simple and inexpensive flying machines grew rapidly.

This rapid development failed to address the sport nature and the unique challenges it presented to the aviation community. In an attempt to include these flying machines in its regulatory framework, the FAA issued 14 CFR part 103, Ultralight Vehicles, in 1982. Aircraft falling within the ultralight vehicle specifications are lightweight (less than 254 pounds if powered, or 155 pounds if unpowered), are intended for manned operation by a single occupant, have a fuel capacity of five gallons or less, a maximum calibrated airspeed of not more than 55 knots, and a maximum stall speed of not more than 24 knots. Ultralight vehicles do not require pilot licensing, medical certification, or aircraft registration. Ultralight vehicles are defined in more detail with their operating limitations in Title 14 of the Code of Federal Regulations (14 CFR) part 103.

Because training was so important for the ultralight vehicle pilots, the FAA granted an exemption which allowed the use of two-seat ultralight vehicles for training and the sport of ultralight vehicle flying grew. Throughout the 1990s, worldwide sales of both single-seat and two-seat ultralight vehicles soared, but it was the proliferation of two-seat trainers that took the industry and the regulators by surprise. Worldwide sales of two-seat ultralight vehicle trainers vastly outnumbered the sales of single-seat ultralight vehicles; and it became clear that the two-seat trainers, which were intended to be operated as trainers only, were being used for sport and recreational purposes. This created a demand for increased comfort and reliability, which resulted in heavier, more sophisticated machines.

Light Sport Aircraft (LSA)

To address the evolution of the ultralight vehicle and its community of sport users, the FAA issued new rules on September 1, 2004. These rules created a new category of LSA and a new classification of FAA pilot certification pilot to fly LSA called Sport Pilots. This new aircraft category includes airplanes, gyroplanes, powered parachutes (PPC), WSC aircraft, balloons, gliders, and airships if they fall within the weight and other guidelines established by the FAA. [Figure 1-12] This book focuses on the WSC aircraft.

Aircraft certificated as LSA exceed the limitations defined for ultralight vehicles and require that the pilot possess, at a minimum, a Sport Pilot certificate. The sport pilot rule defines the limitations and privileges for both the sport pilot and the LSA. In addition, the regulations governing the sport pilot rule define the training requirements of prospective sport pilots and the airworthiness requirements for their machines. For instance, an ultralight vehicle must not exceed 254 pounds or carry more than one person. Aircraft that carry more than one person and weigh over 254 pounds but less than 1,320 pounds may be certified as LSA provided they meet specific certification requirements. Therefore, many WSC ultralight vehicles became LSA (provided they were properly inspected and issued an airworthiness certificate by the FAA).

Weight-Shift Control Aircraft

WSC aircraft are single and two place trikes that do not meet the criteria of an ultralight vehicle but fall into the criteria of LSA. The definition for WSC in 14 CFR part 1 is a powered aircraft with a framed pivoting wing and a fuselage controllable only in pitch and roll by the pilot’s ability to change the aircraft’s CG with respect to the wing. Flight control of the aircraft depends on the wing’s ability to flexibly deform rather than the use of control surfaces.

The common acronyms for this LSA are WSC (weight-shift control), WSCL (WSC land) which can be wheels or ski equipped, and WSCS (WSC Sea) for water operations. A LSA WSC used for sport and private pilot flying must be registered with a FAA N number, have an airworthiness certificate, a pilot’s operating handbook (POH), and/or limitations with a weight and loading document aboard. The aircraft must be maintained properly by the aircraft owner or other qualified personnel and have the aircraft logbooks available for inspection. Dual controls are required in two-seat aircraft used for training.

Fri, Mar 9 2012 02:36pm CST 5
Flying  Frog
Flying Frog
34 Posts
And in 1982 Aircreation started building trikes.
Sun, Mar 11 2012 12:15am CST 6
Abid Farooqui
Abid Farooqui
354 Posts
NASA of course invented the concept of a "trike" as we think of it today (powered pusher with a Delta shaped Ragollo wing derivative with weight shift control) in early 1960's with with Ryan XV-8 and then with Parasev. NASA engineer Francis Ragollo also held the patent that he released to NASA and the government for the Delta wing as we all know.

As for flex wing glider, well that can be taken all the way back to Arab Muslims in around mid 800's when Ibn Firnas made a flexible flexible glider out of feathers and flexible material in Cordoba, Spain (when they ruled Spain) and attempted first human recoded heavier than air flight which was successful for 200 meters and ended in a crash landing that broke his legs.
Sat, Mar 2 2013 04:58pm CST 7
Michele Marzoli
Michele Marzoli
5 Posts
Few people know of this prototype.
We are in Switzerland in 1964, and this idea of flying machine (never flown), reminds me of the modern trike. The inventor's name was Pierre, Pierre Aubert and his nephew at his side, was called "Olivier"! you understand that?

Sat, Mar 2 2013 05:03pm CST 8
Michele Marzoli
Michele Marzoli
5 Posts
Few people know of this prototype.
We are in Switzerland in 1964, and this idea of flying machine (never flown), reminds me of the modern trike. The inventor's name was Pierre, Pierre Aubert and his nephew at his side, was called "Olivier"! you understand that?
Thu, Jun 27 2013 07:51pm CDT 9
Lucian Bartosik
Lucian Bartosik
66 Posts
HiWay Hang Gliders were building trike units back home in Wales UK in the mid 1970's. I used to visit the factory and see how things were progressing, we used to fly hang gliders of the mountains of Tredegar near by the factory. Jerry Breen was one of the first in the UK to fly the old soar master powered hang glider. Cut some of his toes off in an accident on take off one day and was a hit with all the girls from then after when he used to tell them he had a foot and half hiding below his belt buckle.


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