The itch returned. In truth it never left, says TC’s Trikes owner TC Blyth.
“I was a hang glider pilot 20 years ago and when the time was right, I wanted to jump back in,” says Blyth.
But instead of returning to hang gliding, trikes are the machines Blyth chose to reinvigorate his flying. A Chattanooga, Tennessee native, Blyth’s familiarity with tailless delta wings stimulated him to get involved with trikes.
After his earlier time enjoying hang gliding, family and work responsibilities “interfered” with this enjoyment for many years. Many ultralight enthusiasts can understand this situation. In the interim Blyth took up fishing, but he says, “Stumbling around among rocks in moving water had hazards, too. You can trip and fall, and drown.” While he enjoyed fishing, he figured the risks of flying weren’t overwhelming and he itched to fly again.
Blyth started by representing Sabre Aircraft and reports selling many trikes for the Southwestern company. As his experience developed, he got involved with Roger Johnson of J&J Ultralights. In his sales for the two companies, Blyth reports deliveries of about 100 units.
Like many savvy businessmen in light aviation, Blyth didn’t rely on sales alone. He has an operation on Tennessee’s popular Ocoee River, a haven for rafters and kayakers. Blyth’s enterprise at this location delivers many introductory flights. He keeps three people busy providing 1,200 to 1,500 flight lessons per year.
During the time Blyth has run the Ocoee River operation, he says he learned a lot about how trikes wore and failed. From this, Blyth developed ideas to improve the machines for his purposes.
Throughout this development period, Blyth continued to deal for Sabre Aircraft. However, when he felt he had more immediate needs than the Arizona-based company was able to provide, Blyth chose to strike out on his own.
For a time Blyth continued to sell J&J’s Tukan trike. However, he says J&J slowed down in their building of the Tukan trike as their SeaWing took more of their time and attention. As a result, Blyth felt another motivation to go it alone. Note: J&J still offers their Model C and Tukan trikes in addition to the SeaWing.
Once employed by Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) as a designer (“not an engineer,” he stresses), Blyth’s job assured that he is “CAD-capable.” So is his wife, it turns out, and this helps her be supportive of TC’s aviation efforts. The computer design skills have been put to good use on the TC Trike. Blyth says the ultralight is 100% CAD-designed, which “makes for a perfect fit of parts,” he says. Blyth further observes that machine shops prefer to work from such designs.
Not a European Trike
The TC Trike is a simple machine, not at all like the latest from Air Création or Cosmos. But this is by design, says Blyth. Part of the thinking behind a simple trike is that a customer may create some of his own parts as needed. “They may not fit as well,” Blyth clarifies, but customers can keep their aircraft flying if Blyth was unable to supply their needs. Pilots who own ultralights stranded by a producer who went out of business may appreciate this foresight.
When asked, Blyth is happy to relate the refinements he says make his trike better. It’s a mixture of little things and time-proven ideas.
A little thing that makes a difference – especially if your runways aren’t paved – is a wiring harness that goes inside a protective sheath and then disappears inside the main keel. This harness connects the minimal instruments to the engine. The little pod supports a CHT/EGT, hourmeter/tachometer, which Blyth feels are the basics.
Blyth was a piping designer at TVA so he’s understandably proud of the neat way he routes fuel lines. The engine is a dual carb, dual ignition 50-hp Rotax 503 while a single ignition 40-hp Rotax 447 might do. Along with many other Rotax 503 boosters, Blyth likes the dual ignition and two carbs bring a little more power. The blue container under the engine in the photos is an 8-gallon fuel tank, which bears a strong resemblance to the Sabre trike design, as do other features. Blyth always flies with the twin (red) strap-on tanks seen under the front seat.
A simple but effective bracket-and-strap arrangement allows easy removal when you land out and need more fuel. Blyth says he flies with both tanks empty to remain within the exemption to Part 103, but finds the tanks useful when he needs to add fuel away from a convenient fuel spigot. (See later on Part 103 applicability.)
I noticed, despite all the other engineering features in this simple trike, that the engine is not mass focused in its mount. Those brackets, which aim at the engine’s center of mass, are said to reduce vibration. Yet I found the TC Trike operated as smoothly as any Rotax 503 installation I can recall, so the choice of brackets appears a smart decision for this ultralight. The engine mount hardware also incorporates the exhaust and carburetion brackets and they appear to have superbly isolated mounts.
The attachments to the wing can all be readily removed leaving only the two aluminum rings trapping a Delrin block. If you take the time to remove it all, you’ll reduce the chances of sharp corners tearing the wing or bag once it is packed for transport.
The Super D-16 wing is designed with zippered pockets everywhere swiveling junctions occur. Inside the pockets, I found castle nuts with safety wire so the chance of inadvertent nut unthreading is impossible. Though the wing clearly shows Blyth’s long experience with the Sabre trike wings, he appears to have added refinements he found wanting in the original.
The TC Trike’s nosewheel suspension is unusually robust-looking and adds a U-bracket to distribute loads equally to both sides of the spring suspension.
Otherwise, Blyth reasons, unlevel ground might load one side greater than the other and bring less stability.
To assure the right amount of flex and strength Blyth reports the main gear axles have received considerable attention and testing. The primary aspect of the component has much to do with the wall thickness at each point to bring the combination of flex and stiffness that Blyth wanted.
Clean fittings were designed for the control bar corners with a blue plastic insert that prevents kinking the cable during the setup or take-down procedure. Trikes are often broken down for shipment and storage and any system that preserves the cable fittings has merit. As is common on 2-place trikes, the side wires were 1/8-inch steel.
The TC Trike’s seat frame is solid 4130 steel, which provides some extra protection. It can be made of this material, as it does not need to fold, thanks to the articulated-mast breakdown that has become increasingly popular among modern trikes. The control bar is 1.25-inch diameter. The larger diameter demanded extra effort to make smooth bends without deformation.
The TC Trike’s control bar base tube shows Blyth’s hang gliding background.
Called a “speedbar,” the shaped tube allows the pilot to pull in more deeply “with the bar curved around your chest at maximum pull-in” yet provides a comfortable and authoritative hand grip at each end. This way you can push out generously to flare. Why other manufacturers haven’t tried this idea I don’t know but I like it (of course, I’m a hang glider pilot as well). A cable is run down the tube and connects to the corner fittings to provide a backup should some massive load fail the base tube.
The TC Trike’s fuel tank seems cleverly designed. It comes with the usual vent.
If you don’t install this vent and include a filler neck extending down inside the tank, its design prevents you from filling the tank with more than 5 gallons; an air pocket would be created.
Switches for the TC Trike are located on the little instrument pod, providing dual ignition switches for the 50-hp Rotax 503 DIDC engine. No electric start hardware is needed as Blyth offers only pull starting. His personal habit is to pull start before seating himself. The pull handle is directly overhead, though I found it a long stretch when seated.
A BRS parachute canister system can be mounted under the seat in an out-of-the-airstream location. This is possible, as the seat frame does not break down like many trikes. BRS engineers wish all trikes offered this superior mount position. Additionally, Blyth had also neatly buried his BRS airframe straps in a cavity formed by the engine mount gusset plates. Blyth is a big believer in the parachute system. He charges extra for it, but calls it “mandatory.”
Instructor and Student
Blyth rates his wing at 800 pounds of gross weight, a number similar to that of other trike wings. Since the empty carriage I flew weighs 328 pounds and adding 48 pounds for a full load of fuel the total is 376 pounds. Even permitting another 24 pounds for the parachute and a few other goodies, the wing will carry 400 pounds of occupants.
With Blyth’s focus on training, and his efforts to optimize the TC Trike for this purpose, the ultralight is certainly well-suited to this work.
The seat structures add comfort with padding attached by Velcro to an underlying webbing structure suspended from the 4130 steel seat skeleton. Identical seats make them interchangeable during reassembly.
One criticism involves Blyth’s choice of lap belts as standard equipment, an unfortunate decision especially as he prefers to sell his trikes only if equipped with a BRS emergency parachute system. The parachute company strongly recommends shoulder belts even making them mandatory on its general aviation products. Repeated studies show lap belts have been proven insufficient for the more violent of in-flight upsets including deployment of a whole-airplane parachute. FAA reports also cite that shoulder belts are superior to other combinations. Blyth says he has a shoulder belt option and that following our conversation, he’ll consider making it standard. He says he did not realize that you could be pitched out of a lap belt, even if tightly secured, in the event of some mishaps.
The rear seat can be removed quite easily, making the trike a single-seater. Some trikes invert the back seat to make a seat rest for the front when flown solo, but this isn’t an issue since both TC Trike seats come with back rests. The seats have wood inside them to offer support. It did not feel like I was leaning up against my aft seat passenger.
In keeping with its training heritage, the TC Trike’s rear seat offers nosewheel steering to facilitate its use as a trainer. This rear steering bar can be removed with a castle nut arrangement if not desired. As with nearly every trike, it offers a friction throttle to augment the spring-loaded foot throttle. An instructor can work this throttle independently as on other brands.
Compared to the excellent 3-wheel Cosmos brake setup I’d just flown earlier in the day, the TC Trike’s nosewheel braking is not particularly effective. Most aircraft have brakes for slowing – not fast stops. In addition, the Super D-16 wing’s slow speeds obviate brake use on most landings.
Brake power isn’t a big concern, but I did find a rather stern pitch resistance of the Super D-16 wing and it had some effect on my landing. I did not pull in hard enough to retain energy and plopped down rather firmly. Though this gave a good recommendation for the suspension system, I wasn’t pleased with my performance. It was unusual for me not to perform repeated landings; the day was too rowdy, not welcoming the repeated touch and goes I’d have preferred.
The pitch stiffness was noted in my stalls as well. It can’t be described as a problem but it felt like the luff lines kicked in too early and put significant pressure on back into the control bar. Ease off a little and the pitch becomes very pleasant, but the Super D-16 I flew did not like being pushed too far. Loosening luff lines, which form the center wing section’s contribution to stability, is not wise and should be left to factory pilots. In most operations aboard the TC Trike I noticed no suspect pitch moments.
The TC Trike’s engine is mounted quite low, an impression reinforced by its upright mount. Blyth explains, “Unlike older trikes, the engine is mounted in the upright position and therefore the engine must be somewhat lower in mount to provide the optimal thrust line.” When I expressed some concern over prop strike on a nose-high rotation, Blyth dismissed the possibility.
A 3-blade composite prop swings behind the Rotax 503 engine. Blyth tilted the trike to the point where a blade could touch. This demonstration satisfied me that the resulting very steep angle would be most unlikely in any normal flight operation, thus the low engine mount is not at issue. As with many pilots I’ve spoken to, an upright engine mount is preferred over the inverted mount that can foul spark plugs with oil.
Speedbar Trike Handling
As previously mentioned, the TC Trike has a speedbar, a dual curved base tube that keeps the bar close (at either end) to permit full push-outs, but has a “belly” that allows a deeper pull-in. Such use is rare on powered trikes though extremely common on hang gliders. Both powered and unpowered weight-shift pilots can use the curved base tube of the control bar to gain greater range in speed control, much like a large 3-axis cabin in which you can move the joystick further. A wire is routed inside this control bar in case the tube fails. This cable is attached to the machined corner brackets. Such construction adds redundant strength without affecting breakdown of the control bar for transport.
The control bar also has shrink tubing for a secure grip. The TC Trike’s speedbar allowed noticeably greater pull-in; on another wing that might have been interesting for acceleration. However, on the very docile Super D-16 wing, the effect was somewhat squandered. Unfortunately, the day’s gusty weather prevented some of the exercises that I would normally have done.
The Super D-16 wing is a 40% double-surface – meaning mostly single-surface – but I did not find its handling as light as is common on such simple wings. The reason may relate to the 16 square meters of area (172 square feet). This fairly large wing explains its 800-pound capacity and very possibly the moderate handling.
Blyth describes his wing. “The Super D-16 wing [uses] 6.5-ounce, ultraviolet-treated, premium Dacron sailcloth,” he says. This is substantially heavier cloth than is found on hang gliders and contributes to a flutter-free flight. Standard colors are a white main body with satin black leading edge pockets and royal navy blue on the lower surface wedge. Other colors are available as an option.
The pitch-resistance force is greatest when trying to hold a slow speed. While this contributes to the Super D-16’s stability, it also makes for heavier handling if you want to increase or decrease speed dramatically.
The TC Trike wing flew very slowly – a quality I have come to treasure in ultralights. Regrettably, I didn’t have the benefit of an airspeed indicator to gauge the speeds, but returning to base into headwinds of 15 to 20 mph following a photo shoot showed very slow progress across the ground. This made for quite a contrast compared to the Cosmos Phase III with an 81-hp Rotax 912 engine and a 14.9 Top Fun wing. The more powerful, double-surface wing was largely unaffected by the headwind.
The dual trike experiences directly address fundamental differences in trike design, an effort that involves both chassis and wing.
Blyth acknowledges that his machine is quite different from the Phase III.
He says, “I’ve identified that if pilots want the speedy ways of the (much more expensive) Cosmos, then they probably don’t want my trike and if they want my trike, then they don’t want the faster, heavier trikes.” I think that’s an honest reply and an astute one. The TC Trike and the 912 Cosmos are at opposite ends of an ultralight genre that many think are similar. In fact, trikes can be quite different and appeal to pilots with different tastes or needs.
Blyth is unapologetic about his trike’s flight characteristics; and personally I find his conviction refreshing. I enjoyed both trikes, but for different reasons. On the right days, the slower flight of the TC Trike would be absolutely perfect.
I found the wing to be virtually flutter-free, though I didn’t fly fast where such problems typically arise. Regardless, Blyth’s wing seamsters appear talented at sailmaking. As sailboat enthusiasts have long known, sailmaking depends on art and technique as much as engineering and machinery. Two local Chattanooga, Tennessee fellows handle the sailmaking duties.
Stall characteristics were normal and benign except for that pitch stiffness.
In most cases, before a stall broke, I ran out of for
ward bar movement.
Nonetheless, Blyth is serious enough about safety procedures that he makes the following statement: “The waterproof, BRS-5 ballistic chute is mandatory equipment.” He will install a customer-supplied parachute free for those who already have their own emergency parachute.
Many of his decisions come from a hang gliding background and the parachute insistence is a part of this. More than 90% of hang glider pilots around the world use a back-up parachute for in-flight emergencies. All manufacturers of these products point to hundreds of “saves” as proof of their value.
Blyth enjoyed a good start with 100 trike sales for Sabre and J&J Ultralights.
He’s developed a good machine based on his own needs (which will match the needs of many other instructors).
Blyth has just gotten started logging six trike sales as of spring 2002. The model I flew cost more than $13,000 featuring several options. A base trike with the Rotax 503 dual carb engine retails for $12,995 (with 40-hp Rotax 447, $12,295). This includes wing and chassis plus a BRS parachute (which he sells for $2,105), 3-blade IvoProp propeller (worth $430), and all motor mount parts. It also includes full assembly and test-flying, ready for pickup at Ocoee, Tennessee.
To the base price, you can add the little instrument pod for $380 installed, rear seating for $75, rear throttle ($50), and the twin-tank “Cross-Country Refuel System” ($95). Blyth says he can also supply the Krücker amphibious floats for trikes, but you’ll want to call for the pricing and availability.
One of the best ways to find out more about TC Blyth and his TC Trike is to travel to his home base. Blyth operates his intro flight and trike delivery business at a tourist mecca for Eastern Tennessee. I used to live in the area and know the Ocoee River to be a popular outdoor recreation area. I think you’d enjoy the visit.
If you can make the trip, get out your road atlas and find this location: Highway 64, 1 mile east of Highway 411. I’ll bet you’ll find a smiling Blyth waiting and he’d be happy to show you more of his new creation.
|Empty weight||328 pounds|
|Gross weight||800 pounds 1|
|Wing area||172 square feet 2|
|Wing loading||6.1 pounds per square foot|
|Height||11 feet 9 inches|
|Fuel Capacity||8 gallons 3|
|Kit type||Fully Assembled|
|Build time||Field assembly only|
|Notes:||1 determined, as in all trikes, by the wing construction
2square area is 16 meters, giving the Super D-16 wing its name
3gallon tank can be limited to 5 gallons (see article).
|Standard engine||Rotax 503 DC 4|
|Power||50 hp at 6,500 rpm|
|Power loading||15.4 pounds per hp|
|Cruise speed||32-45 mph|
|Never exceed speed||65 mph|
|Rate of climb at gross||800 fpm|
|Takeoff distance at gross||100 feet|
|Landing distance at gross||60 feet|
|Notes:||4 TC’s Trikes states that with the Rotax 447, empty weight can be 252 pounds, with the fuel tank limited to 5 gallons (see article).|
|Standard Features||40-hp Rotax 447 single-carb engine with 2:58-to-1 B-Gear box, 3-blade IvoProp propeller, CHT/EGT, hourmeter/
tachometer, BRS ballistic parachute, tandem seating with rear seat elevated, mostly single-surface wing built from durable 6.5-ounce cloth, articulated mast fold-down (engine remains fully supported in transport), 5- or 8-gallon fuel tank, mechanical nosewheel brake, shock-absorbing gear, push right/go left steerable nosewheel, 6.5-ounce Dacron fabric wing, powder coating of all airframe parts, coated bracing wires with no-kink fittings.
|Options||Higher performance 50-hp, Rotax 503 dual-carb engine, Krücker floats, rear seat throttle and steering, instructor bars, 5-gallon cross-country refueling system, front and rear seat shoulder harnesses, custom sail and chassis colors.|
|Construction||Aluminum 6061-T6 wing airframe and main carriage components (keel and mast), 2024 aluminum gusset plates, 4130 steel components on nosewheel and seat frame, fiberglass strut suspension. Made of American parts and distributed in the USA by an American-owned company.|
Cosmetic appearance, structural integrity, achievement of design goals, effectiveness of aerodynamics, ergonomics.
Pros – TC Trike is a simple trike with refinements from one who flies them frequently. Function is more important than fairings. All designed on CAD software making for an excellent fit of parts, says designer. Like many trikes, useful load is good.
Cons – Simple trike, nothing like models from European companies. Though the TC Trike has seen plenty of duty at designer’s school, it has not passed the test of time in field with many users. Other trike brands can offer many similarities with more established brand names.
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 – Built to be simple and therefore not burdened with numerous systems to operate. Fueling will be clean and the optional cross-country tank system is unique. Nosewheel brake is standard. Optional rear steering is good for instruction. Engine access for maintenance and repair is excellent.
Cons – Like all trikes, it has no flaps, but neither does it have trim (as do some other trikes). No electric start option; pulling while belted requires a stretch to reach handle. No flight instruments were fitted (though an optional GPS can supply a lot of info).
Instrumentation; Ergonomics of controls; Creature comforts; (items covered may be optional).
Pros – Separate seats with backrests; better than many established trikes, which push the front occupant into the back one. Tiny instrument pod doesn’t obstruct vision or movement. Wide-open cockpit (no fairing) is fine with TC Trike’s slow flying wing. Solid seat frame should better protect occupants in an upset.
Cons – Lap belts are standard, and insufficient – order the optional shoulder belts. No seat adjustments. Seats may not be comfortable for long flights (of course, wing is not for cross-country so this may not matter). No cargo area.
Taxi visibility; Steering; Turn radius; Shock absorption; Stance/Stability; Braking.
Pros – Suspension worked very well; main gear legs are designed to flex and nosewheel has spring suspension. Brake on left nosewheel lever. Like all trikes, visibility and maneuverability are excellent. Optional rear steering will be appreciated by instructors. Ground clearance is generous. Nosewheel guard will keep debris from ending up in your lap.
Cons – Brake is relatively weak (like many aircraft). Like all trikes, you must hold the wing steady by muscle power, and the Super D-16 is a larger wing to hold. No other ground-handling negatives.
Qualities; Efficiency; Ease; Comparative values.
Pros – Like all trikes, visibility is huge on takeoff and landing. Short ground rolls on both ends of flight. Good ground clearance should you land in a rough field; large tires and wheels will also help. Slow approach speeds should make for short- or soft-field landings with confidence. Not checked on float operations but should work very well.
Cons – Hard to judge factory claims like, “Withstands ‘hard’ landings without oversized components.” Pitch resistance of Super D-16 wing inhibits sharp deceleration if desired. Less energy retention as single-surface wing bleeds speed faster. Challenged by much wind or much crosswind (the latter like most trikes).
Quality and quantity for: Coordination; Authority; Pressures; Response; and Coupling.
Pros – Within normal operating range, control feel is reasonably light and pleasant (see Cons). Trike wings don’t have much adverse yaw and no control cables or surfaces to bind. Precision turns went well. Overall, very predictable handling; should be good for instructional use.
Cons – The Super D-16 is not the lightest handling single-surface wing I’ve flown. Roll rate is only moderate. Pitch resistance – in full push-out situations – may frustrate some pilots (though those pilots probably bought higher-performance wings).
Climb; Glide; Sink; Cruise/stall/max speeds; Endurance; Range; Maneuverability.
Pros – If you like slow flying ultralights – as many do – you’ll love the TC Trike. Climb rate with Rotax 503 DC was vigorous (no altimeter on board to measure, however). No ASI either, but speeds certainly felt slow by most measures – great if that’s what you like. Engine ran beautifully and had very little vibration, speaking well of engine mount. Great low-over-the-fields flying.
Cons – You won’t fly the Super D-16 wing in much wind as it has a limited speed range. Returning to base in a strong headwind will take extra time (compared to faster double-surface trike wings). Not for cross-country flying unless you have lots of time. Glide and sink rates are modest.
Stall recovery and characteristics; Dampening; Spiral stability; Adverse yaw qualities.
Pros – Blyth is so serious about safety that a BRS parachute is “mandatory equipment,” or he’ll install a customer’s chute for free. Stalls were very mild and couldn’t be entered precipitously due to pitch stability. Virtually no adverse yaw (like most trikes). Lateral stability is better than higher-performance wings.
Cons – Usual power problem in trikes that won’t let you dive under high power as thrust pushes nose up. Lap belts are insufficient for major upsets (BRS engineers recommend shoulder belts for chute use) – pay for the optional shoulder belts. All trikes have some overbanking tendency, though it is modest on the Super D-16 wing.
Addresses the questions: “Will a buyer get what he/she expects to buy, and did the designer/builder achieve the chosen goal?”
Pros – Articulated mast breakdown for transport or storage is fast and leaves engine well supported in normal position. Though simple, this is a well thought-out trike that mostly has what’s needed. Optimized for training use based on owner’s long experience at giving intro flights in a tourist location. The TC Trike is sold fully built and test-flown.
Cons – New company with undetermined long-term track record. Factory says single-seat operation under Part 103 is possible, but it appears challenging to remain within weight. Little dealer support available.
Brad Mills says
Hey there! My name is Brad Mills. I am in Oklahoma. I own a TC trike and I would like to talk to you about it. Look me up on Facebook. Thanks!
Dan Johnson says
Brad: I don’t know what help I might be regarding TC Trikes, which has been out of the business for several years. Perhaps one of the Facebook groups might be helpful?
Dan, Chris died in May 7, 2011 from health issues; possibly the business ended with him. He was from Hampton VA.
Dan Johnson says
Hi Jeff: Thanks for the info. Sorry to hear of his passing some years ago. That explains the situation, regretfully.
Lee winters says
I have a TC trike it needs a gas tank any idea were I can get one?
Dan Johnson says
Hi Lee: I regret I cannot help you with that request. The company, as you probably know, is long out of business.
Brad Mills says
Hi there, my name is Brad Mills. I live in Oklahoma. I have a TC trike would love to talk to you about it.
Dan Johnson says
Brad: Regretfully, TC Trikes left the business many years ago. I might give you a further resource but you did not say what your need is.
alex buatois says
What is the weight of the wing? Brand and model please? It looks like very light.
I need info for my project.
Dan Johnson says
Hi Alex: I regret that the TC Trike company has left the business. However, they used North Wing brand wings and that company is still very alive and active with new products. North Wing is the top seller of trike wings to other carriage producers and have their own refreshed line of trikes. Please check them out.
Looking for inexpensive trike. Please call me (561) 929-3320
Dan Johnson says
Sadly, I do not believe you will be hearing from TC Trikes. However, you have other great choices such as: Evolutions Trikes and North Wing.