Sunday, July 29, 2007

Let's Go Fly a Trike!


As I was finishing yesterday's post at the Sewanee Airport, where my wife works, a young man came in to check the weather on the computer next to me. from the fact that he was checking the weather alone, but referring to a "we" who needed to avoid the rainclouds, I assumed he was a charter Pilot. In his musical accent, which I presumed was Indian, the young man told me how he had been flying all the way from Chicago, through some less-than ideal weather, and was headed, ultimately, to Florida.

As I told him a little about our little town, in walked the other half of the "we" he had mentioned. Not what I expected from a charter passenger, the second young man had a bit of a Rock-Star, devil-may-care feel about him. Wearing something on one leg which was either a brace or a prosthetic, with a stylized Skull-and Crossbones logo on it, he was moving like someone who had been sitting in a car for hours, stretching tired muscles and talking a bit too loudly. The guys talked about their plans for a few minutes, getting their bearings on how far they had come, how far they had left, where they could stop along the way. The first guy mentioned thunderstorms that might be in their way.
"That's OK, said the second, "We'll just fly over them!"
As he looked over at me to see what reaction that remark would get, I decided to play along with the joke.
"I sure hope you guys have a pressurized cabin!" I said.
"We don't have any cabin" was the reply. "We're in an open cockpit"
Well, that explained their concern about the weather...

They hung out for a while longer, taking a great interest in the unique local geography and businesses, and I answered their questions as best I could, and eventually offered them the airport's "courtesy car" in case they wanted to go check out the beautiful Sewanee campus while they waited for weather to clear between them and their destination. As I walked out to the front to get a campus map for them I saw the craft they had arrived in, and was completely taken aback. It was unlike anything I had ever seen before. "Open Cockpit" was a bit of an understatement; what they had been flying from Chicago in looked, as much as anything, like an expensive Italian motorscooter with a hangglider attached to it. It was one of the coolest looking aircraft I have ever seen.

Seeing my reaction, The first weather-checker, whose name I soon learned was Abid, asked if I would like to go for a ride in it! The part of me that was thinking how awesome this vehicle was said "Yes" before the part of me that knows that I am a complete coward could think about it. As they say, it seemed like a good idea at the time.

I missed a lot of what Abid told me about the craft, but the "Trike" was basically just what it had looked like at first glance; a three-wheeled body smaller than some motorcycles I've seen, with a great big two-bladed propeller on the back, and, mounted on a mast several feet above, a large fabric covered wing that looks and acts like a hangglider. The steering is via a Glider-style bar in front of the pilot, which pivots the wing against the weight of the passenger compartment below.

This model had a very high-tech "Glass Cockpit", which is just a fancy aviation term for having your flight instruments display on a monitor instead of a bunch of little dials. The technology has caught on wildly only within the last 3-5 years, to the best of my knowledge, and pretty soon only "old fashioned" planes will have the vacuum-driven instruments that have dominated the aviation world so far.

After explaining every feature of the aircraft, as if he expected to sell me one, Abid said "OK, we'll go get Matt, and see if he'll take you up". Matt was, of course, Guy number two, the Rock Star, who had made some comments about liking to fly upside down, in addition to the comment about flying over thunderstorms, that caused me to worry a little. They *were* just jokes, right?

I was given additional cause for fear when we walked back in to see Matt,and Abid said;
"Matt, Frank here thinks he's got big enough balls to go up in the trike."
Soon, Matt the Rock-Star was giving me instructions on how to get in the darn thing, adjusting my flight helmet, and then... we were off! I was amazed. It was a completely different sensation than anything I had ever felt before. I had an opportunity to go hanggliding last October, But I missed it. I am sure that a glider on your back is the closest parallel to what we did, but we had the added element of POWER.

True to my suspicions, Matt was not at all meek once in the air, but flew like an adrenaline junkie who desperately needed his next fix. We stayed very near the runway, looping and reeling like a bird, waving at people fishing in the pond below, doing maneuvers that the best rollercoasters in the world are a pale imitation of, before Rock Star Matt decided to really show me what the trike would do. What it would do, it turned out, was around 100 Miles Per Hour, in a dive that felt exactly like I have always imagined the last few moments before a deadly crash would feel like. It felt like being strapped to a falcon which had just spotted a particularly yummy looking mouse in the forest below. To my great relief, we managed to avoid the part of the crash where you actually hit the trees and die, before bringing the trike down on the runway in a much gentler landing than I would have thought possible in such a lightweight thing.

You can check out more about these crazy "Airborne Jet-Skis" here

We didn't have a real camera handy, but We got a few pictures with my wife's dinky little six-year old Camera phone.

Here is a better Picture of the "Delta Jet". It isn't the exact one I went up in, but it is the same model, and the same color.

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