There are two ways to transition to weight-shift control (WSC) LSA (light-sport aircraft) trike from another category. Typically, this would be from Private Pilot Airplane or Sport Pilot Airplane to WSC Trike.
You can go for the “adding a category” at the sport pilot level which is being trained by one CFI and then 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 at the Sport Pilot level. An FAA 8710-11 form is sent into the FAA to add this additional category 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.
If you add a new category per 61.321, this NOW counts as a flight review based on a new legal interpretation. So if you want to add a trike category to an airplane rating this can count as your flight review.
Also, note you do not have to solo to add a category per 61.321 at the sport pilot level. It must be understood that doing a proficiency check to add a category at the sport pilot level is not just flying, it is the same as an initial sport pilot checkride, except it is done by a CFI not a DPE. So all the subjects such as Airspace, Weather, Systems, Regulations, Certificates/Documents, Airworthiness Requirements, Cross Country Flight Planning, Aeromedical Factors, Principles of Flight, Performance/Limitations, etc are required knowledge, so the training materials listed below are highly recommended to get prepared for the proficiency check.
Best just to go through the on-line Learn to Fly a Trike course to get all the information updated. 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 a helicopter or Airship. 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), even if you are a Private Pilot already.
You get a break with no knowledge test required, if you are a private pilot in another category. So in other words you will need 10 hours solo and 20 hours dual training in a WSC trike. The additional 10 hours to get to 40 can be previous time of any kind since this is not specifically specified. This private WSC trike gives you the privileges of a private pilot for the trike 61.113 (night, on top, above 10,000 MSL etc) without the limitations of the sport pilot 61.315.
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 the false sense of security of being inside something. You take away the horizon reference the pilot usually uses to control the aircraft pitch, then 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, but 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 challenging.
The dreaded “control reversal” unfortunately is common for airplane pilots transitioning to trikes with not enough training. The main danger is flying close to the ground in bumps, 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 (push/pull) may come out and cause a problem.
The shortest flight hours for a pilot to transition from airplane to trike WITHOUT CONTROL REVERSALS IN BUMPS has been 8 hours and the average is 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.
In my years of training that “yank in” happens long after I expect it. This happens more than you would imagine: Flying along after many controlled and successful landings and coming in for landing low (3 to 10 feet) all of a sudden, the “yank in” and pound/bounce into the ground. I ask, “what happened” -they typically say “I don’t know”. The reverse control is the biggest challenge for the transitioning pilot and the instructor.
There have been a significant number of accidents of airplane pilots quickly transitioning to WSC trikes with just enough training to fly in calm air but have had control reversals resulting in fatal results. With not enough time in bumps/stressful/challenging conditions pilot fail to develop the correct muscle memory in the WSC Trike. CONTROL REVERSALS IS THE BIGGEST DANGER FOR ANY TRANSITIONING PILOT.
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. Most 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:
- WSC Trike is like the stick is on the top of the wing BUT you are controlling it from the bottom.
- WSC Trike is like driving the car with your hands on the bottom of the wheel rather than the top.
- WSC Trike is like a motorcycle, pull in/lower your self to resist drag and speed up, push out to go slow, sit up and cruise
- WSC Trike – move/pull your self in the direction you want to go.
- The wing is in your hand, there are no controls.
Usually, one or more of the above analogies assists in airplane pilots transitioning to WSC Trikes.
In addition to the flying wing differences is the ground steering. This is also opposite. This is another critical area of concern. The steering for a WSC trike is like a motorcycle steering but you are doing it with your feet. Completely opposite than steering an airplane on the ground with your feet.
And finally is the throttle control for the WSC trike. The right foot toe pushes down on the throttle to increase it. This is the brake on an airplane. Many time in training the airplane pilot has the right toe pushed down during startup and the engine goes to full throttle. Many a WSC trike have been damaged from this third control reversal.
Overall, the best way to transition is to watch the DVD’s/videos and start to visualize what 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
- Sport Pilot Checkride book
We highly suggest going through the on-line WSC Trike course found at https://elearning.sportaviationcenter.com/courses/learn-to-fly-trike-weight-shift-control-lsa/ providing the flight training videos/DVD’s and ground training for the Sport Pilot.
This also provides all the flight lessons that will help build the sense/feel/visualization for being in a WSC trike that will help instill the basic moves needed to fly a trike.