One of the first trikes I flew was a Cosmos, way back in 1984. It was a trendsetter then and was one stoutly built trike capable of real functions. The reason I flew and owned a Cosmos in those early ultralight days was due to its capability as a tug for hang gliders. I’ve been involved with hang gliding for many more years than powered ultralights so when the two dovetailed in the Cosmos Tug, I was pleased to the point of purchase. Maybe you’ll also be so moved.
Today’s Cosmos Phase III trike is vastly better than that ’84 model. But it retains the brand familiarity (albeit with different ownership) and functionality while increasing the state of the art to a highly refined point.
In the 18 years since that first Cosmos experience, I’ve flown all Cosmos entries except the Echo. This new Phase III appeared in many ways to be the French company’s finest work.
Of course, I was impressed with optional features such as the highly effective hydraulically actuated 3-wheel brakes and the impressive South African SkyDat flight information system. Any ultralight with such equipment is fun to operate. Yet any trike customer will want to know more about the Phase III model.
If that first Cosmos was a first generation machine, it’s easy for me to understand that this Phase III is a third generation machine though I don’t know that Cosmos intended it to be so analyzed – perhaps it simply follows Phase II.
My checkout pilot for the Phase III was an experienced trike pilot and long-time flight instructor (in ultralights and sailplanes) named Jeff Reynolds. We’d known of each other by reputation for several years but had never flown together. Reynolds is based in Arizona and is not an employee of U.S.-based Cosmos importer, Personal Flight.
The Phase III is a slick machine in many unseen ways. For example, it has a gas strut inside the seat frame that is used to aid the erection of the wing. If you’ve flown heavier trikes, you know that lifting the wing can be a struggle. The carriage tends to roll back when you lift the wing and simply lifting a wing that weighs more than 100 pounds is challenging for all and impossible for some smaller pilots.
Cosmos did not invent the gas lift-strut idea. In fact, Cosmos is late to this party. Pegasus Aviation had it some years earlier, though the two systems are different. The Pegasus iteration is more potent and does nearly all the work of lifting. Reynolds claims it can bonk you on the chin as it rises (though that was not my experience when I flew the Quantum 912 Sport from Pegasus).
By design, the Cosmos version only assists; you must still provide some lifting force. The system greatly eases the lifting effort. Not only does it help with resisting gravity, but also the lift system tends to keep wheel roll to a minimum as it pivots from a more rearward fulcrum. Couple that with a parking brake setup and a Cosmos trike can easily be set up by one small person (though hefting the 106-pound, reinforced-for-heavier-weight Top 14.9 wing to the right connect position may strain a few muscles).
I’ve long admired the high-tech-looking instrument pod developed by Cosmos. The test Phase III had the South African SkyDat panel installed and it offers a variety of different information (see specifications). A company owned by Rainbow Aircraft trike maker and world trike flyer, Mike Blyth, produces the SkyDat. I’ve used this system on his Cobra trike and I love its multiple functions and compact size, however I find the gauges slightly on the small side. Digital readouts are also offered for those who prefer numbers to needle positions, but those too are rather small and harder to read.
It’s hard to gripe about a trike this well done, but I found the friction-set hand throttle on the left side was a little far back, making it not quite as comfortable as I prefer. Many trike pilots fly only with their foot throttle, but I prefer to fix the setting. An awkward reach to this control makes constant monitoring harder.
Though deluxe in many ways, this Phase III with the Top 14.9 wing had no trimmer device like Air Création and Pegasus trike wings. For higher speed cruising, a trim system is most helpful.
Cosmos has had two decades to work out their designs and it shows. However, the better companies can always find ways to refine their ultralights.
On this Rotax 912S installation, Cosmos installed a heat shield in front of the oil cooler that protects the occupants and keeps the seat material from getting too warm. The fiberglass fairing over the top of the engine provides a nice finished look though it follows an idea used earlier by Air Création.
The skirting on the sides provides in-flight accessible stash areas on both sides. And the entire skirting can be Velcro®-peeled so you can inspect hardware hidden under the skirting. The space hidden by this cloth fairing could be used to store some items you don’t need in flight, though you’d have to add some structure to keep those items from moving while flying.
This Phase III was not equipped with rear steering or flight instructor bars. Since it was a rowdy day aloft, Reynolds checked to be sure I wanted to do all the flying (as he wouldn’t be able to help as much from the rear seat). At our photo-shoot altitude of 1,500 to 2,000 feet agl I found no challenges, but I did have to pay attention on my landing touchdowns. This is Cosmos’ heaviest trike with a large 160-square-foot wing and making quick changes were harder. On the other hand, heavier flying machines plow through lesser turbulence.
Brakes on the Phase III were unusual for trikes. Hydraulically actuated disc brakes were coupled to the drum brake up front. The joining of these disparate systems worked wonderfully to offer the Cosmos potent stopping power beyond that of most trikes, or most ultralights for that matter. Many trikes use only a nosewheel brake for simplicity and weight but trikes are lightly loaded on their nosewheels so braking effectiveness can be significantly decreased while the wing is producing any lift. It’s easy to skid trikes with nosewheel-only brakes.
Trikes like the Phase III are very easy to taxi with one exception. If winds are brisk or gusty you’ll need to use some muscle to hold the wing steady. Most big Americans will have little trouble, but pilots of smaller stature or muscles may be forced to fight the wing in gusty conditions. Here’s a case where the larger Top 14.9 wing may be inferior to smaller wings.
Trike takeoffs have always been unique events and even with the wing developments in this new millennia of ultralight flight, some things don’t change because the laws of physics won’t allow it. The carriage or chariot sits slightly aft on the ground relative to its position once airborne. This means that right after the nosewheel lifts – and even before the mains leave terra firma – the trike carriage moves forward a few inches to properly orient under the wing.
Takeoff with 100 hp certainly commands your attention. When the Phase III lifts, you can relax your forward rotation push-out to a more comfortable reach. Yet you can also leave it well forward, in fact, you can push as hard as you want. So long as those 100 horses keep pushing, the Phase III will climb like the proverbial homesick angel with no tendency to stall. Even if the engine should quit abruptly, you can hardly stall as the trike’s forward support tube keeps the nose from lifting too high (though I don’t mean to suggest full-push-out takeoffs should be practiced).
Like every trike I have flown, the Phase III flares more easily to a smooth touchdown than virtually any 3-axis ultralight. A stick-controlled aircraft demands more input to the round-out phase than virtually any trike. With the chassis suspended naturally, the mains will touch automatically before the nose unless you truly blow your landing approach.
I have long applauded Cosmos’ use of La Mouette wings. I’m very familiar with the French hang glider builder and know they value good handling. At first Cosmos and La Mouette were owned by the same company. Now they’re separate (though the owners are related), yet Cosmos has stuck with La Mouette wings. This pays benefits. For example, their Top wing holds its turns very cooperatively where many trike wings tighten up more readily.
Roll reversals went like they often do in trikes, that is, not nearly as responsively as almost any 3-axis plane. Reynolds encouraged me to pull in before initiating a turn (the so-called “J” movement). Of course, this helped, but the Top 14.9 still registers as rather taut handling – even for a La Mouette wing – and I feel sure I’d enjoy the 12.9 size much better. I have flown the smaller wing on a Phase II trike and prefer its snappier handling qualities.
Although the Phase III Top 14.9 has better handling than other heavy trike/bigger wing combinations, you still fly it like most trikes, rather “guiding” or “herding” it toward its destination. On a 3-axis design, you can dominate the aircraft’s directional attitude because you have more control authority. Trikes like the Cosmos handle nicely enough, but you must still use the input-and-evaluate (or do-something-and-wait) method moreso than most 3-axis ultralights. With smaller wings like the Top 12.9, control authority increases enough to erase most of the difference in comparison to 3-axis designs.
On the photo shoot, keeping up with the Flightstar proved to be no problem. The Phase III, especially with the 100-hp Rotax 912S, is a speedy trike. Contrarily, earlier in the day while flying the single- surface, 2-stroke-powered TC Trike, the Flightstar photo plane had to slow to minimum speed in order for us to stay in close formation.
All pilots love enough power. Yet if you’re going to strap on 100 hp to a weight-shift-controlled ultralight, you must do something to match that muscle to the control system.
Cosmos has built the motor mount for the Phase III so that its Rotax 912S engine was angled significantly off the centerline as viewed from the rear of the Phase III. The rearward most part of the engine is displaced to the left a discernible distance relative to the rest of the chassis. Why is this necessary?
Reynolds believes that if you take off in 912-powered trikes from other companies, you can be torqued to the left. Some experiments I did aloft at Reynolds’ instruction showed that even with a modest amount of existing bank angle, the Phase III 912S did not tend to turn left as would be common based on P-factor with the powerful Rotax engine. In one such trial, even with a shallow right bank, the addition of power helped the right turn when I expected it might begin to undo the turn as P-factor exerted its influence.
This is not a minor point. Merely adding a Rotax 912 engine to a trike gives it plenty of power, perhaps too much. Some pilots say that they have been instructed to use less than full power for takeoffs in other Rotax 912-powered trikes, as you cannot hold a line with the potent engine, adding a yawing motion. While it doesn’t need the power, the Cosmos execution is commendable as the manufacturer addressed this problem.
Engines are vital to good performance, as everyone knows, but in a trike the wing has perhaps even more importance.
As tested, this Phase III trike was fitted with a La Mouette Top 14.9 wing, which has 160 square feet of area. Though La Mouette wings have some of the easiest and most responsive handling this Top 14.9 is a large wing and did not have the customary lightness I prefer.
Just before this article went to press, I spoke again with Reynolds. He is now flying the Phase III with the Top 12.9 wing (with 139 square feet of area). He says it handles much better, more like what I would expect from La Mouette. He also reports higher cruise and top speeds. Reynolds says he has hit 100 mph though maintaining that pace requires lots of bar pull-back and you cannot have a high power setting. Reynolds indicates that 80 mph is a very reasonable, sustainable cruise that will keep up with most 3-axis ultralights.
Many trikes offer some ground adjustments to enhance cross-country cruising. If you hang the Cosmos in the forward of two hang points, the physical effort of higher speed cruising is relieved, though this will also boost the bar forward pressure when you are flaring to a landing. In addition to the two positions of the Delrin block that is part of the connector assembly of chassis to wing, Reynolds explained the bolt hole patterns can actually provide four, albeit more subtle variations in hook-up position. In my experience you’ll have to fly a given trike for some hours before you notice the subtlest of these variations. A trimmer device could obviate many of these adjustments.
With the Top 12.9 wing, Reynolds says fuel consumption is only 2 gph even at higher cruise speeds, speaking to the efficiency of the smaller wing for such flying.
I first flew the Top wings in 1996. The Top design augments – but does not replace – the prior Chronos wing series. Cosmos can still supply the Chronos 16 with their trikes and to other chassis producers. In fact, if you want to keep the 912 model operating within FAR Part 103 trainer exemption speeds, you’ll have to choose the Chronos wing.
After 20 years of trike building, the Cosmos Phase III is beautifully finished in the deluxe tradition of the world’s best trikes. Cosmos is unquestionably one of the world’s great trike brands and this Phase III provides the proof.
European magazines call this Phase III “Cosmos’ newcomer for 2002.” Brought to market due to popular demand, the new Phase III uses a 4-stroke engine and permits a full 450 kg (992 pounds) all-up weight.
Cosmos has always disdained big, heavy machines, but the company says, as if to demonstrate that it has not abandoned its philosophy, that the Phase III’s empty weight is quite light despite the big engine. Handling benefits accordingly.
Its new system of raising the kingpost makes rigging easier and larger Americans who may not prefer the commonly cozy seating of conventional trikes will welcome the separate rigid seats. The pricey Phase III is even more costly in Europe, retailing for 28,523 Euros for the 81-hp model (at present rates this is more than $29,000). You’re better off buying this deluxe trike from Personal Flight here in the USA, which charges a hair over $25,000 for the model before your choice of personal options.
The company states, “Cosmos trikes have been used for a list of work-related chores and events such as [Bill Lishman’s] Operation Migration where Phase II trikes are used to teach migration behavior to domestically-raised geese. Others have used Cosmos trikes to monitor herds of elephants and livestock.” Now you may not need to herd elephants with your Cosmos but the company does have a point that their trikes can be used effectively if put to use in a realm that agrees with its operational activities.
If you want the exact trike flown for this test, be prepared to spend some real money. But also be prepared for a real flying machine that will stand the test of time quite well.
The base trike is about $25,009 for an 81-horse Rotax 912 Cosmos Phase III with a choice of wings, including the Chronos 16, Top 12.9, Top 14.9, or Zoom 19. To the substantial base price, you’ll add for the following options that were present on the evaluation aircraft: SkyDat GX2 analog/digital system with the larger readout panel, $1,450; rear hydraulic brakes, $2,295; upgrade from 81-horse to 100-horse Rotax 912S, $2,100. You’re already well past $30,000 and you haven’t added a parachute or floats.
Personal Flight lists a ballistic parachute for $2,495 and choice of floats: $3,850 for “slow-speed” Full Lotus, $7,150 for slow-speed fiberglass floats, or $10,795 for high-speed, 2-step fiberglass floats. Personal Flight can also sell you a trailer for $1,495 or snow skis for $1,450.
Some may find it amazing that a trike could get close to $40,000 even with the most deluxe setup including floats. Of course, this is fully built. A comparable 3-axis aircraft with Rotax 912S, electronic panel, emergency chute and floats may carry a price tag double the Phase III’s price. Therefore, even in the rarified air of a 4-stroke trike with all the goodies, $35,000 to $40,000 is actually a fair deal. If you don’t need this much trike or can’t justify the cash outlay, you have lots of choices in less costly trikes; Personal Flight offers a full range. But you’ll look long and hard to find another ultralight that offers everything in a tightly integrated package as does Cosmos’ new Phase III. Maybe a bank loan is in order?
|Empty weight||356 pounds 1|
|Gross weight||990 pounds|
|Wing area||160 square feet|
|Wing loading||6.2 pounds per square foot|
|Kit type||Fully assembled 2|
|Notes:||1Before options; Cosmos factory lists 188 kg (413 pounds)
2Chronos Wing 16.0 needed to stay within speed limits listed in FAR Part 103, which allows fully built 2-seat trainers under exemption.
|Standard engine||Rotax 912|
|Power||81 hp 3|
|Power loading||12.3 pounds per hp 3|
|Cruise speed||65 mph|
|Never exceed speed||98 mph|
|Rate of climb at gross||1,500 fpm|
|Takeoff distance at gross||200 feet|
|Landing distance at gross||200 feet|
|Notes:||3 Tested with 100-hp Rotax 912S, so 9.9 pounds per hp.|
|Standard Features||Fully assembled ultralight, 81-hp Rotax 912 engine, comfortably padded “bucket” seats, removable fully-folding wing, remote choke, shock-absorbing gear on all three wheels, side skirting with inside bags, assisted wing lift for setup, 3-blade prop, instrument panel pod (without instruments).|
|Options||Hydraulic brakes, 100-hp Rotax 912S engine, electronic flight deck (SkyDat GX2; see function list
4 Altimeter, vertical speed indicator, airspeed indicator, engine rpm, total engine hours, flight duration timer, battery voltage meter, exhaust gas temperature, cylinder head temperature, water temperature, air temperature, glide ratio, fuel flow meter for instantaneous and accumulated fuel used, fuel tank level gauge, and back-lighted panel. Fuel tank probe and fuel flow sending unit are optional. When purchasing the Rotax 912 engine option, oil temperature and oil pressure are included.
|Construction||Aluminum airframe, fiberglass fairings, presewn Dacron wing. Made in France; distributed in the U.S. by U.S.-owned company.|
Cosmetic appearance, structural integrity, achievement of design goals, effectiveness of aerodynamics, ergonomics.
Pros – Beautifully finished trike from one of the oldest and largest trike builders in Europe. Cosmos uses La Mouette wing; since this company builds hang gliders, good handling is part of the package. With the Rotax 912 or 912S engine and optional equipment as tested, this is a very deluxe trike.
Cons – Equipped as tested, Phase III with 4-stroke engine is costly (though generally less than 3-axis aircraft). Trikes still aren’t the right aircraft for the masses.
Subsystems available to pilot such as: Flaps; Fuel sources; Electric start; In-air restart; Brakes; Engine controls; Navigations; Radio; (items covered may be optional).
Pros – Trikes used to be simple machines; now an electric starter goes hand-in-glove with 4-stroke engines. Gas-piston lift system helps erect the Phase III. Very useful (South African) SkyDat electronic instrument installed in a beautifully designed pod. Three-wheel brakes were highly effective.
Cons – Cosmos still does not offer in-flight trim (as other brands do). Without an electronic gauge, remaining fuel cannot be viewed in flight. Little space available for a radio or GPS. No flaps to aid approaches. No other negatives.
Instrumentation; Ergonomics of controls; Creature comforts; (items covered may be optional).
Pros – Nosewheel fender keeps debris off the occupants on sand or dirt runways. Very comfortable seats, well padded for longer flights. Trike entry is about as easy as it gets. Hand and foot throttle plus choke controls are close to reach. Smooth running 4-stroke imparts little vibration to occupants.
Cons – No trike fairing on an aircraft as deluxe and costly as this seems odd (an optional one can be added). The Phase III is speedy enough that you’ll get quite a windblast in either seat. Hard to see any instruments from the rear seat. No shoulder belts provided. No rear seat steering was installed (available as option).
Taxi visibility; Steering; Turn radius; Shock absorption; Stance/Stability; Braking.
Pros – LING
PROS – Three-wheel brakes were exceptionally potent, as good as any light aircraft I’ve flown. Higher profile tires made the Phase III ride well even on rough terrain. Suspension at all wheels further softens bumps. Trikes maneuver easily on a crowded ramp. Precise ground steering (push right/go left). Great visibility.
Cons – Push right/go left steering remains foreign for many American pilots (though it remains analogous to skiing or bicycle riding). Considerable muscle is needed to hold the wing in stronger winds; checkout pilot Jeff Reynolds says he prefers the Top 12.9 wing (much smaller than tested wing).
Qualities; Efficiency; Ease; Comparative values.
Pros – Trike takeoffs are easy and the Phase III continues this theme. Also sets down easily; very intuitive round-out. Suspension on all three wheels eases most poor landings. Good visibility during most takeoff and landing operations. Potent climb rate with 100-hp Rotax 912S and larger Top 14.9 wing.
Cons – Trikes leave the ground abruptly, mystifying those without trike experience. Crosswinds offer significant challenges to 3-axis pilots. The Phase III offers no flaps and cannot slip to a landing (you should practice S-turns to lose altitude more rapidly).
Quality and quantity for: Coordination; Authority; Pressures; Response; and Coupling.
Pros – Cosmos has long offered wings with some of the best handling among trikes I’ve flown; the La Mouette Top 12.9 continues this tradition. Good steep turns were easy to achieve. No adverse yaw. Trikes coordinate easily. The Phase III with the Rotax 912S handled better than expected for a heavy trike; angled engine mount helps.
Cons – Precision turns are still tough in trikes; they require practice and “finesse.” With the heavy 912S engine and larger Top 14.9 wing, the Phase III was relatively heavy on the controls unlike most Cosmos trikes (Jeff Reynolds confirms it is much better with the Top 12.9 wing).
Climb; Glide; Sink; Cruise/stall/max speeds; Endurance; Range; Maneuverability.
Pros – Cosmos and the Top wings are good performers. With the Top 12.9 wing, reported speeds can hit 100 mph with cruise at 80 mph (though these speeds exceed speed limits listed in FAR Part 103). Glide performance and sink rate both seem strong as expected since the wings come from a hang glider producer.
Cons – The Top 14.9 wing, when combined with the 100-hp Rotax 912S engine, offers thrilling climb rates, however, faster speeds require the smaller 12.9 wing (not tested for this report). The lack of a trimmer device prevents high-speed cruising without arm fatigue.
Stall recovery and characteristics; Dampening; Spiral stability; Adverse yaw qualities.
Pros – Highly stable flying platform. Stalls are very predictable and unthreatening. Throttle response and push/pull-and-release tests went well, showing normal characteristics. Almost no adverse yaw to counter. Roll stability was quite good in this heavier trike with its large wing.
Cons – Trikes respond differently when power is added – carriage moves forward before the wing – which bothers some 3-axis pilots (though it is not a stability problem). Lap belts simply aren’t enough if a flight is upset and reflect poorly on an otherwise very well built aircraft.
Addresses the questions: “Will a buyer get what he/she expects to buy, and did the designer/builder achieve the chosen goal?”
Pros – Cosmos trikes are built with top quality components and this Phase III is the best I’ve seen yet. Fully built aircraft with beautiful hardware. Experienced and established company with sales all over the world. Four-stroke powerplant will appeal to many ultralight buyers.
Cons – To get the Phase III’s level of quality and components, you must pay dearly, some $25,000 for the base aircraft (which includes the 80-hp Rotax 912 4-stroke engine). Built in France and sold by Personal Flight in the USA, Cosmos prices are competitive but currency fluctuations can affect the final price.
I love Cosmos Phase II on floats. I don’t know if the Phase III is good on floats? THANK YOU VERY MUCH! Frederic from France