Whether you need a license or not, you still need to learn to fly. To teach you, we’ll take you up in a two seat trike. You will start out riding in the back, observing and taking the controls as the instructor eases you into flying. Soon you will be up front ‘in the drivers seat’ with you doing most of the flying, and your instructor just saving your life every once in a while. After you are really doing all the flying without your instructor’s help, one day when conditions are perfect, your instructor can step out of the aircraft and let you solo it. The instructor endorses your student pilot certificate (the FAA calls a license a certificate), puts some endorsements in your log book, and you are legal to fly solo in that two-seat FAA registered aircraft.
IT REQUIRES LESS TRAINING TO SOLO THE TWO-SEAT AIRCRAFT THAN TO SOLO THE ULTRALIGHT!
Here’s why: When you solo the two seater, it is the same aircraft you have been training in. Same seat, same view, same controls, same engine sounds, same wing feel, same foot pedals and steering. Everything is the same except the aircraft gets 20% lighter when the instructor gets out. If the trike weighed 1000 pounds with you, your instructor, and fuel, it will weigh 800 pounds when your 200 pound instructor gets out. Your instructor will explain how the aircraft will feel when it is 200 pounds lighter so you will be prepared for quicker takeoff, better climb rate, slower landing speed, etc.
BUT, what if instead of soloing the two-seater, you want to solo in the ultralight? Now you would be hopping into an entirely unfamiliar machine with a different seat height, different view, different feel, different wing, different controls, different engine, etc. Instead of going from 1000 pounds to 800 pounds, you drop directly to a total weight less than 600 pounds. This aircraft will feel radically different. You have never been in the air with this machine before. Good luck on your solo! It’s not that the 103 is harder to fly (it’s actually really easy), just that the student must be very prepared because all the aircraft characteristics will be slightly different than in the two-seat trainer.
We can talk about how the ultralight will feel different while taking off, flying around and landing. But since it is a single seater, you will have to be a good enough pilot to be able to quickly adapt and adjust to the new aircraft characteristics. It is a great experiment to see how well you adapt to unfamiliar equipment while under the nervous excitement of your first solo flight. With so many aircraft variables changing, we really need perfect weather conditions to give you a fighting chance in this experiment. It will be easy enough if you are properly prepared, but the whole point is you need more training to solo a new unfamiliar aircraft than to solo the two-seater you have been training in and are comfortable with.
I hope you now understand that you really need more training and experience to safely solo an unfamiliar light weight single seater than to solo the two-seater you have been training in and are familiar with. So from a flight training standpoint, it is better to get your student pilot certificate (typical cost $50) and get some solo experience in the two-seater. Your solo endorsement is good for 90 days. Your instructor can renew it over and over again for additional 90 day periods.
Sometimes people have the notion that you start with a single seater and ‘work your way up’ to carrying a passenger. The opposite is true. You start in the two-seater, and your first ‘passenger’ is your instructor. You work toward flying solo.
COMPARISON OF SINGLE SEAT vs. TWO SEAT TRIKE FLOWN SOLO
Part 103 Ultralight Trike Two-seat trike flown solo
No FAA registration FAA registration fee ($5)
No annual condition inspection Need annual condition inspection ($500)
No license required Need minimum of Student Pilot license ($50)
How to learn to fly it? Save money by training in your own aircraft.
5-gallon fuel capacity limits endurance and range 17 gallon fuel capacity gives expands range
(2 hours, 80 miles) (5+ hours, 300 mile range)
Speed limited to 63 mph Speeds over 100 mph possible
Limited weight allowance restricts engine choices Multiple engine choices to over 100 hp
No room for luggage Duffle bag in back seat holds a lot of gear
Flight time does not count toward license Time counts toward Sport Pilot, Private Pilot
and Instructor ratings
There are pros and cons to both approaches. For local flights both work well. But for cross country flights, a two-seat trike has a huge advantage. For those who really want to trike cross country, a two-seater works better because there is no fuel quantity limit imposed by the FAA. Some trikes hold 17 gallons or more, so you can fly 4 hours or more on one tank, while going faster than most single seat trikes. Second, the two-seaters are usually much faster than the singles. And when flying solo, the rear seat gives you a place to stuff a big duffle bag with luggage and supplies.