Skysailor > August 2005
Car Top Triking

By Marc Dedman

 I can still recall the air of excitement when I started hang gliding in 1975 as a thirteen year old. At the top of a 100ft hill, Wings Condor balanced on my shoulders, heart pounding and mind racing with the anticipation of realising the dream of flight. I run and my feet lift off the ground. At the bottom I push out like in the books but I plough into the paddock.

No money for lessons so I persist on my own. Many bent tubes and bruises later I finally work it out and fly from top to bottom flawlessly in 30 second airborne hops. In the next five years, 20 minutes airtime, takeoffs around 200.

Finally leave home and think things will get better. Go to university, now no time or money. In the next five years, airtime around 10 hours, takeoffs around 30. Leave university and get a job. Great, got the money but time is pretty short. Get married, try fatherhood, money vanishes and more responsibilities pile on. In the next 19 years, airtime 80 hours, takeoffs around 50. I try paragliding, paramotoring and triking, more airtime is still scarce. What's my point? I love flying, but our sport and rating system can be incredibly frustrating if you live in the real world and aren't prepared to put hang gliding before all else. Many give up, unable or unwilling to become complete hang junkies.

It's taken 30 years, but I've finally found a way of combining a "normal" life with accessible hang gliding: Car Top Triking. I travel all over Australia on family holidays, often in the Outback. Large trikes travel poorly on Outback roads and they exclude bringing along camper trailers or caravans. I know because I have tried this option too. Planning a trip to Flinders Ranges last year I yearned to be able to fly without impinging on my family. Lower back problems ruled out the use of a paramotor. So I bought a second hand Airtime nanotrike and Airborne hang glider and set about finding an easy practical solution for its transport.

Firstly I must congratulate Bob at Airtime for his fantastically well built and thought out trike and its ability to fold into a bag in around five minutes. With a little reinforcement of the bag's cradle and the addition of a couple of attachment points on the base, the trike was ready to carry on the roof rack. But how do you get 50-odd kilograms up on the roof without assistance? Unless you happen to be Arnold Schwarzenegger it's pretty hard. So straight to the shed I went. Around $200 later and with the help of some scrap steel, two cheap winches and a couple of old diff bearings, I now have a roof-mounted crane. Apart from looking a bit eccentric and being the topic of local conversation and finger pointing for a while, I can now put the trike on the roof in around two minutes, and with the help of two 6mm aircraft bolts, attach it to the roof in seconds. All single handed! Eat your heart out, Arnie. I'm sure the design could be adapted to most roof racks, being held on with three aircraft bolts.

We set off for the Flinders a couple of weeks later and I'm wondering why I didn't do this sooner. First flying stop, Blinman airstrip, highest strip in South Australia. There really is no better way to see the vastness of the Australian Bush. Caught a few thermals with the local wedgies; spotted some unspoilt ruins which I marked with the GPS for later exploring; checked out the rugged scenery and abandoned mines. Set up time around 50 minutes from car top to take off, only around 10 minutes longer than just hang gliding. You couldn't wipe the smile off my face; it was like being thirteen all over. The dream was back. But it only got better. Chambers Gorge, Wilpena Pound, Arkaroola, Gammon Ranges and Lake Eyre followed in the next couple of weeks. Turned off the engine and experimented with ridge lift, which I look forward to doing more of. And all this with my family happy and in comfort. It just doesn't get any better.

Take off points are as numerous as your imagination. Airstrips are reasonably common, as are salt pans, open plains and grader scrapes. Generally you find you can get permission pretty easily and it's always better and legally necessary to ask. Arkaroola proved to be a fantastic location for flying. The property is owned by Doug Sprigg, a very approachable antique plane buff. He was more than happy to allow take offs from Arkaroola strip and the larger sealed strip which he leases at Balcanoona in the Gammon Ranges National Park. The ranges around both are spectacularly scenic, as are the neighbouring Lakes Frome and Eyre to the east and north respectively. Further south, Rawnsley Park Station has a strip right at the southern end of Wilpena Pound... fantastic!

A couple of things to note about nanotrikes may be helpful to anyone else considering this option. Total weight of trike and wing, excluding fuel, must come in under 70kg. The wing must be rated for the weight of trike, pilot and fuel. The Airborne Sting 175 is a great wing for the job with a maximum hook-in weight of 135kg, the highest of any single place hang glider on the market that I am aware of. I have added an additional 1m sleeve to allow for the greater torsional forces a rigid attachment imposes on the keel. Best to consult the wing's manufacturer before doing this! Licensing is a little unclear, except that after long communications with the HGFA, a Trike license is not sufficient. You must obtain a Powered Hang Gliding Endorsement, involving five hours of trike instruction and at least a novice hang gliding rating with 20 hours logged experience.

The Airtime trike performed faultlessly. The Sting175/Powerlite combination showed impressive performance. A cruise of 32kt and a climb of around 500ft/min is fantastic for a 70kg aircraft. With 10 litres of fuel endurance is around 2 hours, more of course if engine off flying is used. The electric start is an absolute dream for in-flight restarting, although I had to extend the fuel hose so that the squeeze primer could be reached when seated. Parachute mounting points are limited, but I eventually settled on a triangular container held to the side of the seat with stainless quick links. Very neat and the deployment handle is just below my right elbow. Sadly Airtime has discontinued production of the trikes, so the only options for anyone considering this are to buy second hand or to build.

This may not be the answer for everyone, but if you have a normal life with all its associated ties and need to put them before your passion for flying, it may just be an option. Ways of making our sport more family friendly may help retain members. It worked for me, but I'm a die hard closet hang junkie. Since buying my nanotrike ten months ago, airtime 120 hours, takeoffs around 40, smiles... endless.



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