They appear like over-sized eagles soaring over Mount Dora, Eustis and Tavares.
These light sport aircraft are called 'air trikes' in reference to the vehicle's three-wheeled landing gear. Unlike ultralights, these planes can have two seats, fly faster and carry more fuel.
"We get all kinds of names for these trikes," said Rick McEntee. "The majority of people call them powered hang gliders."
McEntee has been flying since his high school days. The past three years he has been flying his trike out of the Mid Florida Airport in Eustis. The airport has a hanger housing more than eight trikes owned by a group of weekend flyers.
"Our group loves to soar with the birds," he said. " There are times we're 2000 feet in the air and other times we'll skim a open field at fifty feet off the ground."
McEntee's trike is not for the faint of heart. Its open-body design can seat the pilot and one passenger under its high-performance fixed wing. It weights 550 pounds and has a maximum carrying weight weight of 1100 pounds. Although the trike cruises around 55 miles per hour, it has a maximum speed of 65 miles per hour. That's fast enough to give the birds a run for their money.
"I can probably get 4-5 hours of flying time if the wind is with me," McEntee said of the 12 gallons of gas in a tank under the seat. "It's the perfect aircraft for flying. It's fast enough to handle unexpected wind, and slow enough to enjoy the view."
Although, ultralight-type planes date back to the early 1900s, the first modern ultralights were low-powered hang gliders. Later they became fixed wing aircraft and in 2004 the FAA introduced the 'Sport Light' aviation category.
Flying an air trike isn't just a matter of buckling up in the cockpit. Pilots are certified and follow specific FAA regulations.
"Trikes are no more dangerous than any other aircraft," McEntee said. "You have to pay attention and take it seriously just as you would a car or motorcycle."
"A scary moment can occur very quickly. Last week over one of the lakes, my engine started sputtering--you have to have a cool head about you," said McEntee.
McEntee flies three to five times a week to satisfy his addiction. Around 3 o'clock everyday he gets anxious and feels the need to fly. Stress blows away with the wind at 1000 feet.
"I just fly enjoying the fresh air and the beauty of flying," he said. "You realize the beauty in this world it seems more so than when your feet are on the ground."
By Sharon G. Nichols
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