The BMAA 1979

In America things were really humming, and were given a further boost by the introduction in 1979 of the 'Eagle'. Designed as a safe beginners machine, Larry Newman and Bryan Allen's American Aerolights company was to sell large numbers of the canard aircraft over the coming years, bringing flying to thousands who had never known it before.

Image: American Aerolight's Eagle.

There was a lot to be done if the Europeans were to make up for lost time. Even two more channel crossings in 1979 weren't enough. Gerry Breen and Len Gabriels, using Hiway Scorpion and Skyhook Bluebird powered Rogallos respectively, demonstrated the increasing reliability of powered hang-gliders, but they were still tricky to fly, as the wing mounting of the engine meant that the thrust line altered whenever the pitch was changed. Something better was needed if the safety of everyday pilots was to be assured - and that something was the trike.

Roland Magallon visited Jean-Marc Geiser and took a long look at the Motodelta. Plenty of people had allied pure weight-shift control to a wing-mounted engine; and here was hybrid control with a 'fuselage' - much more stable in flight, but rather complex and expensive. Why not combine the best of both worlds, by replacing the Motodelta's 'fuselage' with a simple tubular framework and dispensing with the rudder? That should produce a cheap, safe, flying machine.

It did indeed. Magallon is thus credited - rightly we think - with the invention of the trike, but as it was more a logical development than a flash of genius, it is quite possible that others who have failed to reach the record books had the same idea at the same time, or perhaps even earlier. But it was Magallon who produced and marketed it, Magallon who did for the trike what Henry Ford did for the motor car.

He called the first version 'Mosquito' and marketed it in October 1979, continuing with it until 1981. The prototype had flown with a McCulloch MC-101A motor of 125 cc, delivering 10 hp at 8000 rpm to a direct-drive prop with ground adjustable pitch. But soon he was offering it with a Solo 210 which produced around 12 hp at much less frantic revs.

Inevitably it wasn't long before the idea crossed the Channel, where Gerry Breen was still busy with powered hang-gliders. That year he'd swapped his Soarmaster-powered 'Olympus 160' for a powered 'Super Scorpion', which he took on a 202 mile (325 km) trip from Tredegar to Norwich, but despite this achievement he recognised the deficiencies of keel mounted wings, and when he saw a picture of Magallon's trike in the French hang gliding magazine Vol Libre, he knew that the days of Soarmasters were numbered.

Image: Hiway's Super Scorpian wing with power unit.

He showed the picture to Frank Tarjanyl at Hiway, who promptly constructed Britain's first trike - a monopole - and it wasn't long before Hiway was churning out 'Skytrikes' by the dozen. Interestingly though, these were to a different configuration, Steve Hunt having modified the design to duopole before commencing production. For his part, Frank still preferred the monopole, and shortly afterwards left to join Graham Slater in setting up Ultra Sports, where they put the monopole into production as the Tripacer. At this point the cross-Channel cross fertilisation process began again, the French soon adopting the monopole for their own designs. The configuration has since become almost standard among modern trikes.

Away from the Rogallo scene, little was happening in Europe, but a few seeds were being sewn. In October 79 Paul Baker and Dave Garrison brought two Pterodactyl 'Ptledges' into Britain - the first US-style ultralights to reach the UK - and by the following February were busy importing kits and selling complete aircraft.

Image: Selling the Dream... Early advertising shot from Micro Engineering (Aviation) Ltd, a Bristol company building Pterodactyl aircraft.