The Airborne XT and cross-country adventure by Larry Jones
People fly trikes for all manner of reasons, some are happy just cruising around their local area, maybe taking family members or a mate for a flight. For the man on the land it may be more of a workhorse used for spotting stock and mustering or for checking fences and watering troughs. Still others may have a desire to head off and see a bit of the country, camp out and put a bit of adventure in their lives. Trikes are well suited to all the above applications, however the type of trike you have and the way you prepare it can have a big influence on your enjoyment of flying. I have always enjoyed cross-country flying in my trikes and have been lucky enough to be involved in many successful adventures in and around Australia.
There are really two types of cross-country flying, one is an organised group flight with ground support to help along the way and the other is to venture off totally self-sufficient. An organised group flight is a great way to get involved for your first cross-country adventure and many flying clubs around Australia organise such flights, ask your local instructor for contacts. In an organised group flight there is generally a mix of new pilots through to very experienced pilots and plenty of help and good advice. A ground support vehicle can carry camping gear, food and supplies, fuel requirements and look after your every desire. There is little need for you to carry much at all in this type of flight, however I would advise you use a flight like this to practice loading your trike. Try to be independent, learn what to carry and how to carry it, plan your fuel stops and use this flight as a stepping stone to future flights for which you can be totally self-sufficient.
Over many years of cross-country adventures I have learnt ways to load trikes efficiently and carry all I need to be happy, safe and comfortable. What you decide to carry is up to you but the obvious things are tent, sleeping bag and mattress, food and water, a few spares, tools and first aid kit, safety aids like a radio and EPIRB, personal items, cameras and the list goes on. I could easily write a complete article of the type of things I carry; however it does change depending on the type of flight being planned. For instance a flight out into the remote parts of Australia or across a large stretch of water or a flight along a well-populated route all would require different planning and different items to be carried. Once you have decided what you need to carry you are then left to ponder, how the hell am I going to get all this on my little trike!
Of course if you are flying solo then the back seat is a great place to load a big pack and for many flights this may indeed be sufficient. If, like me, you enjoy taking a passenger along then not only is the back seat no longer available for your gear, you also have an extra mattress, sleeping bag, food and personal items to find a place for. This is where things can get tricky; you must have the right gear. Small lightweight tents, sleeping bags and camping gear is readily available from adventure and outdoor shops. The good gear will cost a little more, but look around and choose carefully, as it will make a big difference to the comfort and success of your flying adventures. The advantage of buying quality camping gear is that it will generally pack up a lot smaller and weigh a lot less than the gear from the discount store, it will also function better, keep you warmer and will last for many years. Speak with other adventure trike pilots, see what they use. There is some really great lightweight gear available.
Air Hog is a small business who make a range of microlight accessories including some great cross-country gear suited to the Airborne Edge, Edge E and Edge X series trikes. This gear has proven itself invaluable to me and other trike pilots over many years of flying in and around Australia. Of course I should point out my bias here as I have a close association with Air Hog and have designed and tested many of the items manufactured by them. With the release of Airborne’s XT series trikes it was time to take a good look at these new aircraft and come up with the best way to set them up for some long cross-country flights. Once again I teamed up with Air Hog and set about designing and flight testing a number of ideas that I thought would enhance the cross-country ability of these new models. As a result Air Hog have now added several new products to their growing list of microlight accessories. Some of these are completely new and specific only to the XT series trikes, while others are an updated version of earlier products.
So just how does one pack their XT for a cross-country adventure and what accessories are needed. Lets start at the top, the wing. It is customary for pilots to load gear and in particular, bedding into the undersurface of their wing. This is not something that I am real keen on; as adding weight to the wing will at best make the handling heavier and at worst can have a negative affect on the stability of the wing. I have often seen pilots stuff sleeping bags, mattresses and pillows in their undersurface, so much gear that it bulge’s out the undersurface and changes the shape of the aerofoil or restricts the movement of the cross-bar. The end result is a wing with heavy handling or a bad turn or possible even poor pitch stability, not much fun on a long flight. The wing is always my last resort and I rarely need to use it for storage. If I do need to use it then at most I will pack two Themorest mattresses, deflated, rolled up, placed inside the undersurface and secured to either side of the keel so as not to interfere with the shape or operation of the wing. I use the ultralight version of the Thermorest mattress, which rolls up to about half the size of the regular self-inflating type mattresses.
Now moving down to the trike base and it is time to add our first accessory, the famous Larry Larder. The Larry Larder is a triangular shaped bag that attaches at the top of the trike in the apex between the mast and front pole. This is a product that I designed back in the 1980’s and have been using with great success ever since. The Larder has been redesigned and released as the Deluxe Larder for the XT trikes. It is larger than previous models and includes a removable shelf, allowing it to carry more than the standard model. As the name suggests the Larder is an ideal place to store some food. I generally carry a small bottle of drinking water, something easy to grab on a quick rest stop. I also like to carry some fresh fruit and containers of things like nuts and sultanas, maybe a sandwich, some dry biscuits and the like. I try to avoid the junkie snack foods but somehow whenever I go to my Larder it seems as though a big block of Cadbury’s chocolate has managed to find its way there. Do not overload the Larder with heavy or bulky items (like cans of food) once again any extra weight is best kept low. Use the Larder as intended and you will find it a great asset to your cross-country adventures.
Moving down into the cockpit you will find some space under the rear seat and this can be used in a number of ways. Whatever you decide to stow here make sure it is secure so it can not move around or work it’s way out of the trike. On flights into the outback where water is a concern I choose to carry a flexible bladder of water in this place along with a bag of odds and sods and a few personal items. If water is not such a concern, then a couple of sleeping bags can easily fit in this place. Once again purchase good quality sleeping bags that pack into a small compression sack, you will be amazed how small they pack. Work out what you want to carry here and experiment with the best way to pack and secure it. Under the front seat the XT has a bag either side of the base tube. I use one of these for a tool kit, spare parts, tyre pump, first-aid kit, EPIRB and the like. In the other I have a trike tie-down kit (Screw-its and rope), aircleaner covers, a lightweight trike cover (Air Hog Dust Cover) and a few other bits and pieces that help in securing the trike and setting up camp for the night. I always sleep better if I have first taken the time to secure the trike and cover it with a lightweight, water repellent dust cover. Waking in the morning to find everything covered in due or even ice, it’s good to know that at least your engine, seats and instruments are dry and ready to fire up for another days flying. I also carry a small Chamois to wipe any excess water off the wing before each morning’s departure. Never be tempted to take-off if your wing is covered in due or ice, it can spoil your day real quick.
Another thing I like to add to the cockpit is an Air Hog Map Bag. It attaches to the floor of the pod just under the base tube via Velcro. I carry in this all my documentation like my flight plans, maps and charts, aircraft logbook, navigation gear, paper and pencils etc.. I can easily remove it and take it with me if I want to head to the local pub, have a meal, a drink and study the map, plan or revise the next leg of the adventure. I know of pilots that have all manner of gear floating around the cockpit floor, I like to keep it clean with plenty of room for the passengers feet and no chance of loose items interfering with the throttle, brake or steering. The Map Bag is great to neatly utilise a bit of unused floor space and still keep it neat and tidy.
One of the great new Air Hog products is the XT Belly Bag. It is a slim pack storage bag that attaches under the belly of the XT trikes and has proven to be an essential item for cross-country adventure flying. It is in this bag that I will pack my tent, sleeping bag, towel, a change of clothes and other such items. If you are operating from gravel runways and finding propeller damage a constant problem there is also the option of a stone guard net that fits to the Belly Bag. I leave my Belly Bag and stone guard on the trike all the time, whether flying local or cross-country, its there if I need. Full or empty it looks good on the trike and has no adverse effects to the flying characteristics of the XT.
In Australia it is now law that all powered aircraft must be secured when unattended to minimise the possibility of unlawful use thereby presenting a risk to public. This law does indeed include microlights and fines of up to $5,500- is the penalty for non-compliance. If you leave your aircraft unattended, be it at an airfield or in the middle of a farmer’s paddock, then it must be secured (locked) before you wander off into town or elsewhere. I carry with me a prop lock in a Prop Lock bag. The prop lock is a heavy-duty steel cable and padlock conforming to the prescribed Australian standards. Whilst in flight this is kept in a Prop Lock bag, which sits between the soft side, and the pilots seat and clips around the seat frame, just near the hand throttle. Once I have parked and shut down the engine, I place the Prop Lock bag on the dash and clip to the front pole, before removing the lock. Once removed from the bag the cable is wrapped around the propeller, gearbox assembly and secured with the padlock. The prop lock bag remains on the dash, it is bright red with large white printing which reads, REMOVE Prop Lock before starting. If you neglect to complete a proper daily inspection and jump in the trike to start it the Prop Lock bag is in your face reminding you to first remove the prop lock. Although it may seem unnecessary to lock a trike and I know many trike pilots are choosing to ignore it, with a system like the prop lock and bag it is no real hardship to carry and use. Besides it does give you some peace of mind when you head into town leaving your pride and joy sitting out in the open in an unfamiliar area.
For the vast majority of pilots the above outlined set up will leave you in a good position to log some quality cross-country flying adventures and camp outs. However for those wanting to take it to the next step, another item for consideration is fuel usage and availability along the way. Earlier model trikes in general had fuel capacities of around 40 to 45 litres and when heavily loaded with camping gear and a hungry 2-stroke engine, fuel could disappear at a frightening rate. We solved that problem with the use of sidesaddles that allowed the carriage of a 20-litre fuel container either side of the trike. This gave us an extra 40 litres of fuel to play with and hence a good range and also a couple of containers to carry into town to purchase fuel in once we landed for the day. The XT models now come standard with a big 70-litre fuel tank and coupled to the Rotax 912 4-stroke engine, fuel usage is minimal which gives a very impressive range without the need of carrying extra fuel or sidesaddles. Of course eventually that fuel will be spent and you will need to be able to refuel, so what are our options?
I personally like to run my trike on standard unleaded fuel and by preference would use only this, however it may be necessary to be a little more flexible during a cross-country adventure. Most of the larger regional airfields will have avgas available and it can be used in our Rotax engines. If you look in your Rotax manual you will find that the maintenance schedule is a little different if always running on avgas, but the odd tank full here and there should not pose too much of a problem. Of course avgas can be expensive, particularly if you have to call out the operator, which is often the case either after hours or at the smaller airfields. So that leaves us with the option of getting into the nearest town and petrol station, buying some unleaded and back to our trike to refuel. But just what do we carry to allow us to do this. The sidesaddles we carried on earlier models may seem the answer, but we do not need to carry extra fuel and these are a big and bulky item to be carrying empty. Also the XT relies on a clean airflow along the sides of the trike base for engine cooling. Fitting the conventional sidesaddles to the XT will see both the oil and water temperature rapidly rise to a dangerously high level, so for the XT models sidesaddles are not an option.
I have recently sourced some collapsible 20-litre fuel bladders which roll up to fit in a sausage bag that can be easily attached to the XT trike base. These fuel bladders are certified for fuel and can be legally filled at any Australian petrol station. These fuel bladders give you a few more options and a little more freedom. Walk or hitch a lift into town, fill up the fuel bladders and then back to the trike to refuel. Not always an easy task to handle a couple of 20 litre bladders full of fuel but you must remember this is not something that you will want or need for every cross-country flight. They do however provide another option that may prove useful for those of you who choose to be involved in the longer more adventurous flights. They are not intended for carrying extra fuel whilst in flight, just a couple of containers to help you get fuel to your trike for refuelling.
At the time of writing the fuel bladders and their carry bag are new items that I am still playing with and testing but believe they have worth and will update information on these as I develop the idea further. The remainder of the products and ideas mentioned throughout the article have had extensive flight testing and proven themselves to be a great asset to cross-country adventure flying. I hope you find this information helpful in learning more about how to equip your XT and what accessories you may need to expand your horizon in the world of microlight flying.
So there you go, a few ideas to help get you started, become involved in a group flight. Set yourself a short flight with an overnight camp out, work out what you need and what you don’t need. Invite some other local pilots along and make a long weekend of it. As your confidence builds and you become adept at loading your trike with all sorts of goodies start to venture off a little further afield. Before you know it you will be heading off on some great cross-country adventure flights of your own.
Go for it!