All right, what is this? A trike with no upper support? What does the designer think he’s doing, trying to be some kind of maverick? Well, yeah!
Kamron Blevins runs the show at North Wing Design. When I first met him, I’d call him a mere lad, except that makes me sound old. So, Kamron was a “young entrepreneur” from the Seattle area who made hang glider sails for a living. (His mom probably thought this sounded like as odd an occupation as you think it does.)
Funny thing, though. The kid grew up, got good at making wings, branched into trike wings, and now manufactures entire trikes. And you know what? It’s a darn good trike with some excellent thinking. Let’s look it over.
Youth Gains Experience
Blevins isn’t a kid anymore. But he looks around and sees all his old hang gliding buddies looking older, too. Some of them are using wheels on their gliders (as a backup safety feature for those not-so-perfect foot-landings). Some (like me) fly trikes with hang glider-type wings because we don’t like running landings all that much. And some just plain switched to ultralights. North Wing should be able to serve all of them very well.
Some facts of his experience help explain how Blevins reads the marketplace. Now 37 years old, he started the sailmaking enterprise when he was a tender 23, and he’s been at it ever since. In the last 15 years, he’s done quite well for himself, logging useful experience along the way as he put time in for other manufacturers while keeping his own irons in the fire.
The ’80s were a time of growth in hang gliding. Designs changed regularly as each manufacturer jostled for market share. During this exciting, if frantic time, Airwave UK in Great Britain was one of the most successful. Since then the company has gone out of business, while North Wing Design prospers. Airwave was also the only non-American builder to manufacture in the United States. Blevins worked for the company after the most turbulent days, but Airwave had lots of experience and expertise that Kamron could absorb.
Sailmaking – in this case wing making – is as much art as it is science. While Wills Wing, the largest manufacturer of flex-wings in the U.S., uses all computer pattern design and computer sail cutting, most builders still do it by hand. Like a tailor to movie stars, some acquire reputations for exacting work that customers appreciate.
Springing from these apprenticeships, Blevins started North Wing Design in the fall of ’96, and has now branched out into manufacturing entire aircraft. Along the way, he became a parts supplier for gliders abandoned by their manufacturers, and began supplying trike wings to a market beginning to embrace these flex-wing ultralights.
Over the July 4th holiday this year, Kamron returned to his roots and moved his entire operation to Washington state. The new North Wing employs seven people, three of whom moved with Blevins from Marina, California. The old-timers go way back to the early days of Airwave’s U.S. invasion and therefore give North Wing a lot of time in the industry.
North Wing is now based at Pangborn Memorial Airport in the town of East Wenatchee, Washington. The company had outgrown their facility in California, and is presently quartered in 6,000 square feet of space where they can fly right outside their door. Ironically, though most folks think California has great weather, Kamron says it’s better in Washington.
East Wenatchee is on the east side of the Cascade Mountain range. Seattle is on the west side. On the Seattle side, rain is common while on the east side of the mountains, Washington state is desertlike. Down in California, North Wing was in Marina, which has its share of wet weather.
North Wing is now poised to raise production at a bigger facility and to do more flying, keeping many employees with a great deal of useful experience. The world of ultralight trikes has been good to Blevins and his growing business.
Welcome the Maverick
The Maverick is North Wing’s first entry which they manufacture entirely themselves. So perhaps fittingly, Blevins fitted the Maverick with a maverick wing, a strutted trike wing (no kingpost and cable bracing on top).
Even the strutted wing isn’t new. Several have been built and flown, and one Southern California hang glider manufacturer put their Dawn model into production. However, it failed, possibly from being too far ahead of its time.
A few years ago, the new rage in hang gliding was topless (no upper rigging above the wing), led by big Euro manufacturer La Mouette, who called their hang glider simply the Topless. It doesn’t have struts, but rather retains the lower flying wires and uses a special crossbar system to support negative loads. Within 3 years, all competition hang glider pilots were flying topless (now the generic term) gliders, and most pilots who flew cross-country for fun were buying them, despite their higher prices.
Most incorporate an expensive carbon fiber crossbar to hold the ground (negative) loads previously supported by upper rigging. In flight, loads tend to be positive, so the lower cable rigging works as it always has. To cover costs, these modern hang glider wings rose to $5,000 to $6,000 retail.
Blevins may be using a way that, while somewhat less exotic, offers most of the topless benefits without all the carbon fiber cost. Instead of an internal crossbar still relying on lower wires, Kamron installed struts. They’re heavier as a total – which is one reason why hang glider designers spurned the idea – but weight is somewhat less critical on a powered ultralight trike.
Blevins may have started something here. I’ve stuck my neck out and predicted trikes will eventually embrace rigid wings (that newest of all hang gliding innovations) in a big way. Their control surfaces – still activated by weight-shift – will lower the handling barriers of more heavily loaded 2-place trike microlights, plus rigid wings come with other desired features like flaps.
Yet the flex-wing will maintain some share of the market as they’re (presently) a lot cheaper and as they work so well on a machine like the Maverick. In adding struts, Blevins is at minimum offering something new and flashy that ought to attract buyers.
That the strutted wing also fits in hangars better is simply one more candle on the cake. Kingpost gliders atop large trikes reach up too high for some smaller hangar doors.
For now, all this leaves aside the good flying qualities of the Maverick wing. We’ll cover that later.
On the downside of the different shape in trike wings, North Wing’s strutted wing is the only flying example I know of in trikes or hang gliding. Although the Dawn of the ’80s met most certification requirements of the Hang Glider Manufacturers Association (an industry group that certifies hang gliders), I am unfamiliar with other successes with this type of wing construction.
Some pilots will resist the strutted wing for the same reasons that others will request it: It’s different.
Until recently, only hang glider pilots pushed for topless wings. And they need very light aircraft for foot-launching. Trikes can add a few pounds, since the wheels do the ground transport work.
The Maverick successfully makes FAR Part 103 requirements, says Blevins, even with the struts and a twin-cylinder 40-hp Rotax 447 2-cycle powerplant that gives it lots of energy.
North Wing delivers the Maverick through their network of dealers in a ready-to-fly mode. No kit is envisioned as the trike is simple and because the manufacturer prefers to fully build the wing. The only assembly you must do is similar to a bicycle taken out of its shipping box, Blevins says. You will have to install the engine; more on this below.
In addition to the Rotax 447, North Wing is also offering the twin-cylinder 40-hp Hirth 2702 2-cycle engine. Costing $200 more than the Rotax, it weighs about the same, North Wing reports, and therefore still qualifies for Part 103.
A ballistic parachute can be added under the regulations without a weight penalty, and North Wing says a BRS fitting has been designed for the light trike. Floats are also weight exempted, but no plans for this option are presently in progress.
Sports Car Trike
I got my chance to fly the Maverick this past April in Florida. As a combination of old hang glider pilot, trike enthusiast and single-seat ultralight buff, I found the Maverick got my attention easily.
The Maverick sits lower to the ground than the bigger 2-seaters. Cosmos has an entry like this called the Echo and Air Création’s Racer is similar. All yield a certain sports car-like look that appeals to some buyers. Like me.
Entering the Maverick is as easy as most trikes and better than many 2-seaters. Since it sits low and has no rear seat to increase size, you need only step over the edge of the front fairing and sit down.
Immediately, you’ll notice the seat is very padded and very comfortable. I felt it offered a substantial reduction in vibration transmitted to the pilot. A sturdy 4-point shoulder harness pilot restraint system comes standard, and it adjusts easily to many pilot sizes. Since the ultralight can accommodate a pilot of 250 pounds or even more, the seating of the Maverick proves versatile.
Under the seats is a construction of webbing and wood panels. The webbing offers some seat “suspension” and yields great strength. The wood panels under you and at your midback give shape that supports your body quite nicely, I felt. Though I flew for about 1 hour, I was comfortable enough to go for much longer flights without misery.
Blevins fully equips the Maverick with all you really need. Though some buyers will insist on adding equipment (wheel pants are now offered from North Wing, for one example), when they do so the ultralight may no longer meet the 254-pound weight limit of Part 103. The Maverick is fully assembled except for the engine, which dealers help customers add.
Despite the need for some owners to add stuff, I found the machine was complete. The only additions I recommend are an airspeed indicator and an altimeter.
Steering on all trikes is good and bad. It is good because you have lots of maneuverability and a very steerable nosewheel. They are regarded poorly by those who believe push-left go-right steering is challenging. In fact, some experts note the system isn’t “wrong way steering” at all. Bicycles and snow skis also turn by the push-left go-right method. All steering is a learned response anyway, so it won’t take long to get the Maverick right.
Some trike nosewheels are too steerable. They swivel too quickly in faster landing situations. North Wing installs a piston on the nosewheel to dampen such erratic movements, but the piston hardly interferes. Rubber limiters keep the wheel from overturning, which may also be useful in some situations.
The Maverick’s brake is a simplistic device. A metal pad lowers onto the nosewheel tire when you push down, something advised with both feet simultaneously if you want more deceleration. When you bear down on the pad, it produces more slowing than I expected.
Blevins expressed that this brake is a good thing. Since you must remove your foot from the foot throttle to get the most braking, you cannot make the common mistake of braking while still applying some power. The steel pad brake will never wear out, he adds. However, to address those who prefer a lever-actuated brake, North Wing can supply an Asuza drum brake system much like those found on other trikes.
With the Rotax 447’s 40 horses pushing you, takeoff roll is short (barely more than 100 feet, I’d guess) and climb is brisk. I couldn’t measure this myself as the test Maverick lacked an altimeter, but it felt all of the 800 feet per minute that North Wing advertises.
The Rotax 447 is well-regarded, plentiful and well-serviced, making it an attractive choice for many buyers. Since North Wing positions it upright, spark plugs are easily checked and rarely fouled by engine oil draining down on them.
I did find the hand throttle was too far away for me to reach comfortably with my short arms, though of course, you do have a foot throttle for use when tightly belted in during takeoffs and landings. This is proper takeoff technique in trikes, and once aloft, you can relax one shoulder belt to set the friction-locked hand throttle.
Opposite the hand throttle is a choke to hasten pull starting via overhead handle. Between these two levers, North Wing tucks the kill switch between gusset plates where it won’t easily be bumped inadvertently.
Since North Wing got started in the ultralight industry by making trike wings rather than powered carriages, you might think they refined this part of their art further. I’d have to agree after flying their wings on several other trikes.
North Wings manages a single-surface wing that handles better with a speed range as broad as most double-surface wings. This is a terrific combination, and the Maverick’s unique strutted wing continues the trend.
The wing on this test Maverick had a very slight turn in it and was a bit heavier to handle than I expected. Blevins was unhappy with this assessment and put some time into discovering that three ribs on one side had lost some of their curvature in transit from the factory. Like most flex-wings, his wings come with a batten or “rib” chart that allows owners to verify the correct camber of the battens. More changes occur to ultralights in transport than flying, and this was one of those times. However, the problem was small to begin with and fully corrected after some modest reshaping of the ribs (something you can do easily yourself).
Blevins assured me this solved the problem of the turn and lightened handling. Knowing Kamron to be a very picky wing builder, I’m sure he is right about this, although I did not refly the Maverick even though he invited another check flight. People who sew sails for hang glider pilots, as North Wing Design did when the business started, must pay close attention to good handling, as hang glider pilots demand it.
The Maverick’s wing may have also been set in a somewhat slow trim position. When I pulled in somewhat, handling seemed to improve. This is a consequence of the chassis-to-wing connection point which alters the trim speed. North Wing builds a good-looking part for this critical attachment, and it adjusts on the ground in just a few minutes.
The cylinder head temperature responded rather quickly to throttle input. On adding full power, the temperature dropped in reaction to greater fuel flow, which makes sense. The Maverick’s exhaust gas temperature never moved much at all, suggesting to me that North Wing has properly fitted the engine.
The Maverick seemed like it would hold altitude at about 4,000 rpm. I could see the power setting on the tachometer, but without an altimeter, I could not verify this sensation.
With every stall I tried, I was unable to get the wing to break clearly. I think this is partly a function of forward bar movement range which stems from the trim speed location. However, it may also be the design of the wing to produce a modest stall. It appears to show the dive recovery devices are working.
How Maverick Are You?
Trike popularity continues to grow in the United States. Ultralight organizations all note more registrations for these ultralights. After many years of promotion by U.S. and European builders, the ultralight style has gained wide acceptance.
Some 3-axis pilots finally tried and liked the simple weight-shift control of trikes. Others value the easy breakdown to pickup truck transport. Still others admire their performance and the fine craftsmanship available. Since most are fully-built ultralights, those who don’t love building are also drawn to them.
When you order a Maverick, it will come complete with everything seen in the accompanying photos, although the builder must install the engine. Since Rotax does not weld mufflers for brackets, you must also deal with this to your satisfaction, but North Wing’s dealers will often handle this chore, according to Blevins.
North Wing Design joins a limited number of U.S. trike makers with a solid offering in the Maverick. Priced at $9,780 ready to fly, the single price trike represents an excellent value in a good performing and good handling ultralight. I had a lot of fun flying North Wing’s Maverick trike, and I think you will, too.
|Empty weight||252 pounds|
|Gross weight||550 pounds|
|Wingspan||31 feet 6 inches|
|Wing area||157 square feet|
|Wing loading||3.5 pounds per square foot|
|Height||7 feet 3 inches|
|Fuel Capacity||5 gallons|
|Kit type||Factory assembled (except for mounting engine)|
|Standard engine||Rotax 447|
|Power loading||13.8 pounds per horsepower|
|Cruise speed||40-45 mph|
|Never exceed speed||70 mph|
|Rate of climb at gross||800 fpm|
|Takeoff distance at gross||150 feet|
|Landing distance at gross||150 feet|
|Standard Features||Topless strutted single-surface wing, steerable nosewheel (push left, go right) with nosewheel brake and tailing link suspension, hand and foot throttles, 4-point shoulder harness pilot restraint, instruments (EGT, CHT, tach), fiberglass rear axle suspension, pilot pod and skirt with storage bags, 3- or 4-blade composite prop.|
|Options||Electric start, Hirth 2702 2-cycle engine, drum nosewheel brake, ballistic emergency parachute, additional instrument panel, wheel pants, portable fuel tank.|
|Construction||6061-T6 and 7075-T6 aluminum tubing, fiberglass, stainless steel and aluminum fittings, AN hardware, Dacron® sailcloth.|
Cosmetic appearance, structural integrity, achievement of design goals, effectiveness of aerodynamics, ergonomics.
Pros – Carefully and simply designed chassis meets wing from experienced wing maker. Square tubing frame is gusset-joined for look of great strength and part simplicity; drag axle and forward support tube are faired. Engine is upright and uses mass-focused mounting. North Wing’s wings have a good handling reputation without sacrificing speed range.
Cons – Single-seat design only will limit resale somewhat (company offers 2-place wings on the Antares trike carriage). Not a soaring machine for those so interested. Strutted hang glider wings are rare, therefore less proven by years of customer operation. Wing strength evaluated by calculations.
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 – Hand and foot throttles with override feature (hand over foot). Nosewheel steering is dampened by a piston and has rubber stops to prevent metal-to-metal contact. Overhead pull starters work pretty well in trikes like the Maverick. Remote choke provided on chassis keel. Kill switch neatly protected. Upright-mounted engine can reduce spark plug fouling.
Cons – No weight allowance to add system accessories like electric starting. Fuel tank feed lines hang down quite low and may be vulnerable in rough terrain; refueling can cause spills inside skirt. Brake has simplistic operation some may not like (a drum brake system is optional).
Instrumentation; Ergonomics of controls; Creature comforts; (items covered may be optional).
Pros – Step over the fairing and sit; easy entry/exit. Beautifully padded seat with webbing “suspension” for vibration dampening; it works well. Side stash areas, one on left outside and one on right inside, will keep stuff handy yet secure. Hand throttle and choke are convenient at front of seat on chassis keel. Four-point shoulder harness pilot restraint is strong and widely adjustable.
Cons – Minimal room for instruments on panel (though other locations are available with effort). Panel demands small instruments, which are then harder to read. No cargo area except small stash bags. Trikes are open-cockpit designs, so full-face helmets are wise but detract from wind-in-your-face flying. Reach to hand throttle was long for my short arms.
Taxi visibility; Steering; Turn radius; Shock absorption; Stance/Stability; Braking.
Pros – Trailing link nosewheel suspension provides easy wheel tracking (further aided by dampener). Brake is helpful in taxi lineup situations. Nosepod helps keep nosewheel spray from reaching pilot. Terrific visibility in trikes, partly as you can just move the wing. Very maneuverable in tight quarters.
Cons – Brake is simplistic and requires both feet for best braking results. Clearance concerns me with fuel lines hanging down low on the chassis. Suspension is limited to air in the tires (though they’re large and no more seemed necessary). Trikes require a firm grip in windy conditions. Push-left go-right ground steering still offends some 3-axis pilots.
Qualities; Efficiency; Ease; Comparative values.
Pros – Lively takeoff with 40-hp Rotax 447 power. Up or down takes only 100 to 150 feet of airstrip. Visibility is better than most ultralights, even open-cockpit ones. The Maverick landed as easily as most trikes, setting main gear down first with little effort. Good glide helps on low approaches.
Cons – No flaps in trikes and no slipping ability restrict your approach path options. Trikes are also not great in crosswinds (though the Maverick lands so short that cross-runway is a reasonable option). No other negatives.
Quality and quantity for: Coordination; Authority; Pressures; Response; and Coupling.
Pros – North Wing has a reputation for nice-handling wings; they’ve been quite successful in the trike wing supply business. With a wide leading edge pocket in lieu of double-surface, sail shift is enhanced and handling becomes lighter. Flying wings are devoid of adverse yaw and don’t spin readily. Harmony between roll, bank and yaw is easily achieved on the Maverick.
Cons – Trike control motions still confuse many 3-axis pilots; some just won’t try. Weight-shift in general is not as well understood in the U.S., even though it is very simple. Crosswind controls are nonexistent on trikes. (Take some instruction in trikes and most negatives disappear.)
Climb; Glide; Sink; Cruise/stall/max speeds; Endurance; Range; Maneuverability.
Pros – Even with a good sink rate (for a powered ultralight), the Maverick isn’t strong on soaring. Most trikes don’t dive well under power. A broad speed range doesn’t come with trike ultralights (the Maverick stalls about 28, tops at 70; ratio is 2.5, 4 is best).
Cons – For a single-surface wing, the Maverick wing also manages a decent speed range with a 70-mph top end. Climb is 800 fpm with the Rotax 447. Glide is better than average among Part 103 ultralights, and sink rate is even better. Excellent characteristics as a low-above-open-fields flyer. The Maverick was able to sustain altitude well down into 4,000 rpm range, a sign of good efficiency.
Stall recovery and characteristics; Dampening; Spiral stability; Adverse yaw qualities.
Pros – Trikes enjoy pendulum stability that is highly effective in most situations. Stall was quite docile and very slow, but I had no ASI to check speeds. Stalls with less than full power still keep climbing even at control limits. Spins are nearly impossible to enter. Longitudinal stability seemed quite good; the Maverick’s dive recovery devices felt functional.
Cons – Flying wings often use anhedral, which can tighten up turns if unattended. Add lots of power on the Maverick and the trike will rise regardless of control input, a common trike complaint. No other negatives.
Addresses the questions: “Will a buyer get what he/she expects to buy, and did the designer/builder achieve the chosen goal?”
Pros – The Maverick can make Part 103 weight with the Rotax 447 and strutted wing, according to North Wing. The trike comes complete with everything you really need and is ready to fly (after shipping reassembly) for less than $10,000; that has to represent a good value. Pilots up to 250 pounds (even a few more) can fit in and fly the Maverick. Breaks down to pickup truck carry capability.
Cons – Good value or not, the Maverick remains a single-seat Part 103 ultralight with basic utility. Strutted flex-wing has yet to prove itself in the field over a long time. Some European trikes appear slicker and are more feature laden (of course, they don’t make Part 103). No 2-seat option.
ALVIS JENKINS says
Keep the cost of hang glider trikes below $10,000 and more people will buy them.
Dan Johnson says
I agree, Alvis, that such a low price would inspire sales. However, that will be mighty challenging given the price of engines. Still, some prices are close to that, so you do have some options.