Getting the Hang of Weight-Shift Flying
Transitioning from fixed-wing aircraft
BY TERRI SIPANTZI, EAA 735810
Since the introduction of the sport pilot rule, a lot of general aviation (GA) pilots have
discovered the weight-shift trike. GA pilots
transitioning to trikes now account for about 60
percent of weight-shift training hours, and
many weight-shift instructors and designated
examiners are also fixed-wing pilots.
So, what does it take to become a trike pilot
if you already hold a fixed-wing certificate? The
answer has two parts:
1. FAA requirements—what the FAA says is
required. 2. Practical requirements—what the
actual transition typically requires.
The FAA says in FAR 61.321 that you must:
1. Receive a logbook endorsement from
the weight-shift flight instructor who trained
you stating you are ready to pass a proficiency
test, and 2. Receive a second logbook
endorsement from a weight-shift instructor
(other than the one who trained you) that you
passed the proficiency test.
That’s it. There are no written tests and
no aeronautical experience requirements.
No minimum number of training hours, no
solo requirements—just training and a test
Okay, what about the practical requirements.
How long does it really take for a fixed-wing pilot
to get his weight-shift ticket? The average fixed-wing pilot needs about 10 to 15 hours of training
to accomplish the transition, and much of that
training time will be learning how to land. In
contrast, a student without a pilot certificate will
generally take five to 10 hours longer.
Trikes are easy to fly. A fixed-wing pilot
can comfortably take off and fly a trike by the
end of the second or third lesson.
So why does it take a skilled fixed-wing
pilot 10 to 15 hours to become competent in
trikes? Because the control inputs are the
opposite of what fixed-wing pilots are used
to. During takeoff and in cruise flight that
isn’t as big a deal: On takeoff the trike
controls are set to the proper takeoff position
and naturally move in the correct direction
after liftoff. In flight if the pilot makes a
wrong control input he has plenty of time to
But during landing, when the ground is
rushing up and it is time to flare, the fixed-wing pilot wants to pull back on the
controls, which will turn the trike into a
lawn dart. It takes time to overcome those
ingrained instincts. When landing, the
pilot’s control inputs must be instinctual, so
that is where most of the training is
Once you get the feel for flying a trike, it
will seem the most natural thing in the world.
Since the controls are directly attached to the
wing, you can feel the forces of flight more
keenly than any other type of aircraft. Trikes
are the motorcycle of the sky, and like a
motorcycle, you “ride” a trike. Give yourself a
treat and take a trike for a ride. But be
forewarned; it is addictive, and once you start
there is no cure.
In flight, most trike pilots adjust power
using the hand throttle. On landing, however, trikers typically switch to the foot
throttle as they are busier manipulating the
A common option on many trikes is a ballistic recovery chute. This is designed to lower
an aircraft and its occupants to the ground
safely in the event of an emergency.
I added strobe lights to the top and bottom
of my trike, wingtip lights, and a front landing
light for visibility. I fly as a sport pilot so I am
not allowed to fly at night, but I have the lights
on whenever I am in the air for visibility.
Terri Sipantzi is a weight-shift sport pilot, sport pilot
instructor, and sport pilot examiner. He and his
wife, Beth, own and operate Precision Windsports
Inc. They are located in Lynchburg, Virginia, and
specialize in trike sales and training. For more
information visit www.Precision Windsports.com.
Trike wings come in two basic types—single
surface and double surface. A single-surface
wing covers only the top surface of the wing
frame with fabric. Single-surface wings have
light light handling characteristics when it
comes to control, and the stall and landing
speed is low at 25 to 30 mph. Single-surface
wings are appropriate for those looking for
slow cruising speeds and short takeoff and
landing distances. These wings do not handle
turbulence as well as double-surface wings.
A double-surface wing envelops the wing’s
frame in fabric. Double-surface wings fly faster
and handle turbulence quite well.
The design of the wing will determine
how fast the trike will fly, much more so
than the horsepower of the engine. The
wingspan of most wings is 32 to 34 feet.
New to the trike wing lineup are the “
topless” or strutted wings. As the name implies
these wings use struts instead of cables for
support, thereby eliminating the king post
that supports the flying wires above and
below the wing (hence the name “topless”).
Now that you know some of the basics, if
you are curious about the flying experience,
find a trike pilot in your area and go for a
ride. Anyone with a valid sport pilot certificate and an airworthiness certificate for the
trike should be legal. Most sport pilot
instructors will give you an hour demo flight
and let you fly the plane to get the feel of it.
The first time you leave the ground in a trike
is a thrill you won’t forget!
Control bar effect on pitch and airspeed.
Ever since he first jumped into the back seat of a trike
for a demo flight while on vacation in Hawaii, Kevin
Szalapski, EAA 792226, has loved flying trikes. He holds a
sport pilot certificate with more than 300 hours logged.