Paratrikes – Published by the British Hang Gliding and Paragliding Association April 2017
On 26th April 2017 the CAA published an exemption which allows paratrikes to fly without the need for a pilot’s licence. This applies to aircraft which weigh less than 70kg (or 75kg if the aircraft is equipped with an emergency parachute recovery system) and have a stall speed below 20kts. The exemption only applies to aircraft flown solo. If you are flying tandem with wheels you are still legally required to hold a PPL.
Go to http://publicapps.caa.co.uk/modalapplication.aspx… for a link to the full wording of the exemption.
In response to this and as a temporary measure, BHPA Exec has decided that any BHPA member who holds a power rating can now fly a paratrike and is insured under the BHPA master policy.
Twenty years in the making
This is great news for paramotor pilots who have problems with the weight of the machine or indeed anyone who would prefer the use of an undercarriage as opposed to running a paramotor off the ground. UK pilots have been asking for this possibility for at least 20 years and now finally it is a reality. Technically speaking, you do not need a licence or even training to fly an exemption paratrike in the UK but you will still be very much under the umbrella of UK air law and can pay a heavy price for contravention.
Paratrikes are also referred to as paramotor trikes and trike buggies. There can be a little confusion over this. The large, twin seat high power microlight type machines are often referred to as Paratrikes whereas the smaller detachable clip on tricycle units for existing paramotors are often called paramotor trikes. For simplicity, from here on we will refer to this aircraft as a Paratrike as this now seems to be the trend.
There are also machines called powered parachutes which tend to be two seat aircraft which utilises a large, low-performance parachute as its lifting wing. They are very simple in design and are quite popular in some countries. Due to their heavier weight and the fact that they tend to be designed to carry a passenger, powered parachute pilots tend to need licencing in the UK and their machines must be registered. The gliding performance of these machines is pretty bad when not under power but compensated with incredible stability in flight.
Paratrikes are a short take off and landing (STOL) aircraft. They can break down for easy transport and be assembled on site ready to fly in a short period of time. Some are designed to be used with an existing paramotor whilst others are complete stand alone units. Paratrikes can have typically up to a three to four-hour flight duration and can cover ground at speeds in excess of 40mph. Maximum altitudes not limited by airspace can be as much as 15,000ft and climb rates can also be in excess of 500 feet per minute depending on the size of wing and power output of the engine being used. 100 miles cross country flights can easily be achieved.
Differences over foot launching a paramotor
The paratrike is great for paramotor pilots who have problems with the weight of the machine or indeed anyone who would prefer the use of an undercarriage as opposed to running a paramotor off the ground. Even experienced paramotor pilots are finding especially as they are getting older and finding foot launching too stressful on their knees, that having a wheeled undercarriage is the answer to their problems. But you certainly don’t need to use age as an excuse to move to a paratrike from paramotoring. A lot of pilots simply find the weight of a paramotor too much to launch, especially on windless days. Paratrikes can also carry extra weight such as full fuel tanks, camping gear and excellent ballistic rescue parachute systems.
1. Nothing to carry and smaller skill set: The physical strength of the pilot doesn’t really come into the equation when it comes to paratrikes. You just climb into the harness and let the machine do all the work. No running, no heavy breathing, no sweating. But the really big one is that the pilot will require a much smaller skill set and reduced training to launch and fly a trike. Pretty much all of the foot launch skills such as ground handling and reverse launching are simply not required. Of course, it could also be argued that the skills that you won’t need to learn will simply be replaced by ones that you do.
2. Great for zero wind launches: Paramotor zero wind launches are the biggest single problem for a lot of pilots. It is the most difficult thing that needs to be learnt. Some pilots with heavy machines find this so difficult in fact, that they don’t even bother to try, and would rather wait until there is a breeze. With a paratrike, the usual factors such as how heavy is the machine, can a fast enough run be achieved and how long will it take for the wing to start lifting the paramotor off your back simply do not matter.
3. Safer landings: For landing, it is obviously going to be a much safer way of flying as the prospect of tripping and landing on your face would be eliminated. Having an undercarriage also gives you the capability of being able to land downwind if needed in the case of an emergency. This is obviously not usually recommended but at least it becomes an option. Landing downwind on a paramotor usually ends in the machine, the pilot, or both, being damaged to some extent.
4. Longer flight duration: As you are not going to be physically needed to carry the weight of fuel, it will allow you to use the maximum permitted fuel amount within regulations.
5. Fly Bivi: As long as you are flying within the maximum permitted weight regulations, extra equipment can be taken with you for things such as camping etc. This can open a world of possibilities.
6. Medical problems need not be an issue: Many pilots who would love to be able to fly a paramotor simply can’t and never will. Many suffer from damaged ankles, knees and backs so running with 30kg on your back is a total non-starter for some. Paratrikes completely remove this restriction and is even suitable for those pilots that have completely lost the use of their legs. They may need a hand getting ready but once in the trike and ready to go, are no different to anyone else.
7. Crash protection: Being surrounded by the steel tubes of a paratrike will give you an element of protection that is completely absent with just a paramotor. Even though paramotors do offer a limited amount of back protection, it is mostly your legs that will take the brunt of any mishaps.
8. Cross wind takeoffs: If after pulling up the wing, you find that it twists into the wind, it is much easier to correct with a paratrike simply by turning the front steering wheel and driving under the wing. This is also possible with foot launching by stepping under the wing but is more difficult.
1. More difficult higher wind speed launches: This is the main single disadvantage with paratrikes. With foot launching and as long as your ground handling skills are adequate, it is possible to reverse launch whilst facing the wing in quite strong conditions. Although these conditions are not usually favoured by paramotor pilots, it does help to extend the available days that it is possible to fly. Even though it is possible to reverse launch with some paratrikes, it is considered an advanced skill. The restricted turning circle on other trikes makes the manoeuvre impossible anyway. So that leaves us with forward launching only and if the conditions are too strong and the pilots timing applying power is incorrect, the result can be the paratrike flipping over backwards and going ‘turtle’. This can be quite funny to see but unfortunately can also be an expensive experience. But even with the restriction of forward launches only, experienced pilots know exactly when to apply power and make this look remarkably easy. So with the right training and practice, this really does not need to be a problem and a lot of pilots have no interest in flying in these conditions anyway.
2. Difficult to launch on rough ground: As long as your ground handling is good, you can foot launch a paramotor from a rough area as long as it is still possible to run. Paratrikes tend to need a smoother surface than this so is slightly more restrictive. Most paratrikes however, do have some level of suspension which helps in these circumstances.
3. Longer takeoff run: But not always. The takeoff distance will depend on the size of the wing being used as well as the amount of available power and total weight. If a paramotor is clipped onto a simple removable trike undercarriage with no other adjustments, the take off distance can be longer just because the engine is now going to have to also lift the weight of the trike. With a lightweight trike however, this extra takeoff distance can be very little. Engines like the Vittorazi Moster 185 and Polini Thor 250 are powerful units that can make a paratrike STOL (short take off and landing) capable.
4. Greater landing distance: But as with the takeoff, this will depend greatly on the all up weight of the aircraft and pilot. A very lightweight trike and paramotor setup will require little more than with foot launching. Heavier trikes or combinations with smaller wings will have a higher stall and landing flare speed so you may need a little more distance. Powerful brakes on some paratrikes help to reduce this roll to a fast stop.
5. More difficult to transport: Paratrikes can be more difficult to transport due to their heavier weight and size although many will either break down or fit in a small van.
6. More expensive: Typically as well as the cost of the paramotor, you will also need to factor in the price of the trike. It is a more complicated aircraft so costs more.
7. More assembly: This will depend on how far you break down the machine. Some people use trailers requiring no assembly whatsoever. The back wheels and axles are almost always removable which is usually enough to be able to put the paratrike into the back of a van.
8. Less natural flying experience: Compared to foot launching, a paratrike can feel quite different being more like an aeroplane than an extension of your body. A lot of people love the feeling of powered flight given by a back pack unit but some prefer the solidity of feeling like they are inside an aircraft. Lower hang points can help to offset any differences to a degree but can result in an amount of pitching of the paratrike. This is one of the main reasons that the majority of paratrikes have high hang points.
Paratriking is destined to grow here in the UK and other countries due to the fairly difficult launching skills required for paramotoring being absent. It is left to be seen if removing this ‘barrier to entry’ skill set will be a good or bad thing in times to come.
Here to Help
I have been involved in paramotoring for over 20 years. I had my first paramotor in 1994 and what an animal it was! I have been instructing full time since 1993 until 2017 and available to help you with advice whenever needed. This is my way of putting back into the sport which has given me such incredible experiences in life. If you purchase a paramotor, I offer a free familiarisation session out in the field to run you through the motor setup and first flights on the new unit where I can offer advice if you need it. If you need any help in the meantime, just write in the chat box found on this site and I’ll get back to you either immediately or when I’m back in the office.
Good Flying! Paul Williams