Pegasus Quantum 15 microlight, G-MYYB – ‘A trike’s a trike for a’ that’

When I worked at Wroughton in the 1980s, I played my cricket at Marlborough. Often, during a cricket match, a slow-moving ‘trike’ (or ‘flexwing’) would drone overhead, the crew obviously interested in the game. Unfortunately, the microlights of the time were very noisy and slow, so that they had an extremely intrusive ‘noise footprint’ (particularly if you were playing cricket) due to their early-generation Rotax engine and low altitude! At the time, Pegasus Aviation was based in this ancient Wiltshire town, and I was fortunate enough to have a chance to visit their factory. They were one of the first major manufacturers of the then-new microlight class of aircraft. The idea of a personal, lightweight form of aerial transport has been around as long as manned flight has. The series of competitions held at the Lympne Light Aircraft Trials of 1923/4 attempted to produce a practical solution, but the resulting conventional aircraft were too heavy for their low-powered engines, in many cases.

It wasn’t until the Rogallo ‘sail’ (originally developed as a spacecraft recovery system for NASA) was married to an A-frame weight-shifting control system and a lightweight two-stroke engine like the Austrian-built Rotax (first used in microlights in 1983) that the ‘trike’ or ‘flex-wing trike’ was born. This type of aircraft offers the chance to get into the air relatively cheaply, and within 25 years, the sport has grown from a few microlight manufacturers and some fairly primitive training schools, to a recognized world-class aero-sport, with the FAI World Microlight Championship and the World Airgames.

First generation microlights suffered from the fact that early engines were not certificated as flight engines and were, basically, likely to suffer in-flight failure at any time. Indeed, Rotax issued formal notices to this effect! Never the less, the inherent stability of the Rogallo wing aids neophyte pilots, and along with the relatively cheap costs of acquisition, has given rise to a whole range of microlight/ultralight aircraft. There are certain CAA and European Aviation Safety Regulations, including parts of (EC) 216/2008, which apply to the whole class of weight-shifting, and normal, 3-axis control microlights, depending on their weight classification, as well as CAP 747, App.8 which allows the use of unleaded, automotive gasoline in microlights, so the legal situation is fairly complex. In this case, the two-seater must not exceed 450 kg maximum weight, have a wing-loading of less than 25 kg/sq mt, and stall at not more than 35 kts.

Here we see G-MYYB, a Pegasus Aviation Quantum 15 (c/n 7079), parked at the Shuttleworth Trust’s Old Warden Airfield, Bedfordshire. Built in 1995, this two-seater is powered by a Rotax 582-48 engine of 64 hp, driving a three-bladed Arplast propeller. Owned by Aylmer Johnson and David Ross, this Quantum 15 had flown less than 600 hours by the start of 2011. There are excellent support organizations for the sport, with the British Microlight Aircraft Association providing everything from recommendations for reducing UV damage to the ‘sail’ (a compound called ‘Solarproof’ will help), to helping owners keep abreast of all pertinent regulations. Since Pegasus Aviation merged with its largest rival Mainair Sports, to form P & M Aviation, they have gone from strength to strength. New engines, such as the Japanese-built HKS 700-E offer reliability, at last, and microlight aircraft will become increasingly important.

Why the paraphrase of Rabbie Burns, ‘A Man’s A Man For A’ That’ ? Simply because, at first, most organisers of fly-ins and other aviation events sought to keep flex-wings away, or at least severely restrict their attendance. Times are changing, however, and you can generally see more trikes ‘out in public’ – and this is a good thing. ‘A trike’s a trike for a’ that’.

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