Airplane Pilot to Trike Pilot – Transition Training

So you are an airplane pilot and want to become a trike pilot?

This is commonly known as “transition training” and you will be “adding the weight-shift control trike category” to your pilot certificate/license.

It is simple and easy to add the weight-shift control (trike) category at the sport pilot level to your privileges. Per FAR Title 14 CFR 61.321, you must be trained by one trike CFIS and take a proficiency check with another trike CFIS to receive a logbook endorsement to fly the trike at the sport pilot level with the privileges and limitations per 61.315.

No knowledge test or checkride from an FAA examiner (DPE) is required. The proficiency check is similar to the checkride with all the same oral and flight tasks, except it is performed by a Flight Instructor (CFIS) rather than an FAA Examiner.

Adding private pilot trike to your private pilot license

If you want to add Private Pilot trike to your private pilot license, you must meet all the requirements of the private pilot WSC per 61.109(j), which includes 20 hours of dual trike training by a qualified Private WSC (weight-shift control) instructor, 10 hours of WSC solo, and a checkride with a private WSC DPE.

If you already have a private pilot certificate, you do not have to take the weight-shift control knowledge test. It is almost like starting from scratch with an airplane or adding a new category such as a helicopter rating onto a Private Pilot license. Because of this extra burden, many will only get the sport pilot privileges since it is so, it is much easier for a private pilot airplane to achieve.

Oh my gosh...the controls are backwards!

Whether you are going for the sport or private WSC trike license, pilots pick up the reverse control inputs differently. Everything is backwards. In an airplane, you pull the stick back to raise the nose, in a trike you push forward to raise the nose. In an airplane, you move the stick in the direction of the turn to roll the aircraft, in a trike, you move the control bar in the opposite direction of the turn. You are actually moving your weight in the direction you want to go. And finally, on the ground, the steering is also opposite.

At first, this is confusing and disorientating, but within an hour of calm air usually, the feeling of the flight controls is understood, and the confusion turns into fun flying. Some pick it up right away, some it takes a while.

How long will it take?

For details of transitioning from Airplane to WSC Trike see Transitioning to WSC Trike Time and Cost.

Some industry averages: it takes about 5 hours for a private pilot to fly comfortably in calm air, but still having to think about the movements. After 20 hours the airplane pilot will “feel comfortable and relaxed”.

There are a couple of ways airplane pilots are taught to get used to this reversed control:

  • Driving a car with your hands on the bottom of the steering wheel.
  • Realizing that you have the wing in your hand and not operating controls.
  • Lean into it for turns like a bike or a motorcycle, sit up with your arms forward for slow flight, pull in and get low for fast flight.
  • Think of the stick like the king post on the top of the wing.

After you get used to a trike it is easy to go back and forth. Many people do it all the time.