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A Convertible Buckeye Powered Parachute
A Powered Parachute Leaders Seeks To Broaden Their Market
by Dan Johnson

In a calculated move planned for over a year, powered parachute leader Buckeye Industries introduced their new trike line at AirVenture '98. This marks two points of interest to EXPERIMENTER readers.

The first point is a significant entry to the trike market, a segment of ultralight aircraft that has finally shown real growth potential after many years of effort by trike makers. Though European companies threw open the door with persistent marketing efforts mimicked by a few Yankee builders, Buckeye's entry to the field could increase the number of trikes sold by a good margin. Secondly, as a widely acknowledged sales leader among powered parachute builders, Buckeye is making something of a statement to that community of aviation enthusiasts. Powered parachutes deserve a follow-on aircraft and Buckeye has decided (logically, to my view) to make that successor a trike.

And, Why Not?

If you owned Buckeye and already made a slick, wheeled carriage for your powered parachutes, wouldn't you also leverage that design to work for a trike? It seems quite a natural decision. Three-axis airframe makers do likewise; examine the line up of Kolb or RANS aircraft, with several models based on the airframe of another model.

Another great reason for Buckeye to do this is the old salesman's truism: Your best chance for a NEW sale is from your EXISTING customers. Why shouldn't Buckeye go to those who have already bought from them and try to sell them more air stuff? Owners aren't taken advantage of by this effort. In fact, they're being offered a chance to make a whole second aircraft for about half what they paid for the first one - sort of, buy one and get the second one for half off. So, let's say that you've already bought or are interested in buying a powered parachute. First, you have several choices in the USA, but only one other brand (that I'm presently aware of) offers such exchangeability. The other possibility is the Para-Ski from Covering the World of Ultralight Aviation, though this is quite a different looking bird. Buckeye is certainly matched in many ways by competitors like Six Chuter, Harmening, Paraplane, Parascender and others, but Buckeye has one big advantage. It is perceived as the market leader so it tends to be viewed as a"safe" purchase by those looking among the field.

Evidently Sun 'n Fun and AirVenture judges see it this way, too, awarding Buckeye medal after medal for their craftsmanship in the past. If you choose to buy American, then Buckeye is certainly one of your best choices AND it can offer you new horizons. You can stick with the powered parachute forever or you can add a trike wing at a later time. Once you've made that conversion, you can also change wings to get different flying characteristics. Of course, your aircraft will always be a single seater or two seater as originally purchased but, other than the carriage specifications, you have several choices.

Numerous Choices to Make
Like most airframe makers, Buckeye offers choices of powerplants: Three for their single place trike plus two on the two-place machines.

The single-seat Eagle carriage can have the 447, 503, or 582 engine (climb is pretty awesome with the latter choice), and the Dream Machine two-seat carriage can employ the 503 or 582. Buckeye put some time into the new HKS 700E engine, but has not made a commitment to offer the four stroke powerplant at this time. You may also have more than one wing in the trike version. Buckeye is presently listing the Fun 18 (187 square feet) or the XP15 (167 square feet) for their Dream Machine two seater. In current literature, the Eagle single seat carriage is only fitted with the Fun 18, but I know wing (and trike) supplier, Air Creation of France, has a wonderful version of the double surfaced XP series called the XP11. I've experienced this smaller but double surfaced wing and believe it could be highly appropriate for the Eagle.

On top of the main decisions about powerplant and wing, Buckeye further serves the customer - or makes a purchase more challenging, depending on your viewpoint - by making several options available. Electric starting is one choice, though for the $1,200 Buckeye asks for the E-box drive and starter assembly, you might think pull starting sounds all right after all. Indeed, I found it reasonable to start the Eagle 447 while belted and seated for flight.

A strobe light will add $158, a spinner will add $47, and you could color match your prop to your Crayon-colored trike carriage for another $60. However, the biggest option I'd recommend strongly doesn't even have to be bought if you go direct to the trike line. Buckeye includes their electronic flight deck and mount (worth $818 as an option) on all trike aircraft as part of the base price.

Another option still in development is an emergency parachute for the Buckeye. The company is pursuing this accessory but testing has not yet been completed. A well-equipped Buckeye runs like this: Fun Eagle 447 single seater for $12,379, a Fun Eagle 503 for $13,207, a Fun Dream Machine 503 two seater for $14,663, and the Dream Machine 582 for $18,342.

If you buy the Eagle powered parachute first, you'll have to add $6,500 for the Fun trike wing and conversion hardware, however, the Eagle 503 powered parachute is only $9,570 so having both wing types will add up to $16,070.

Buckeye makes no mention of a powered parachute conversion if you first buy the trike wing. Since Buckeye is principally a powered parachute manufacturer, this may seem odd, but it is also clear they aren't prepared for trike-first buyers who may THEN decide to add powered parachutes.

Mighty Nice View
When I flew the Buckeye single seat powered parachute a couple years back, I discovered one clear reason why people enjoy these rigs. The view with an open-style cockpit and a wing twenty feet over your head means nearly unobstructed view in all directions. It's really quite fantastic.

Now, when you lower the wing down to more normal proportions - as on the trike conversion - the upward view gets a little more blocked. Yet the Fun Eagle 447 afforded a great way to see the southern half of AirVenture as we cruised the large ultralight pattern.

When I took the Fun Eagle out of the pattern, I was able to deviate from the strict system used to assure safety while 50-75 light planes zoom around the sky below 300 feet.

The Fun is the same flying wing it is on any Air Creation trike. It's a large wing (187 square feet) so it flies slowly cruising in the low 40s, a speed I happen to enjoy along with many other ultralight pilots. The big wing won't handle quite as crisply as the French company's Fun 14 wing, but it's still a lot better than the majority of two seat wings flown on trikes.

The big trike wing not only gives a slow ride, but has reserve strength. After all, both Buckeye and Air Creation use the same wing on two-seat models as well (in Buckeye's case, their Dream Machine).

Rolls in and out of turns are only modestly quick (what many pilots want, though) in the Fun 18 Eagle trike. But once in the turn, the Fun wing loves to settle comfortably. You could go round and round with little input.

Stalls are very benign affairs. The glider can be pushed to actually stall break, but it takes some doing, especially due to the front support tube limiting the maximum push out you can give. FOR THOSE UNFAMILIAR WITH TRIKES, PUSHING OUT ON THE CONTROL BAR HELPS YOU MOVE YOUR WEIGHT AFT WHICH CAUSES THE AIRCRAFT TO SLOW, JUST LIKE BACK-STICK IN A THREE-AXIS MACHINE.

Landing in the Fun Eagle is like most trikes, easy as long as you've lined it up right with the runway and wind. Trikes fly around with the rear wheels lower than the nose, so a gentle descent to the ground will generally turn out well even with little effort from the pilot. As you near the ground, you move aft smoothly but firmly and the trike will slow down and touch down gently, almost birdlike. Trikes are weak in crosswinds, although with slow flying wings one option is to land slightly across the runway. A tough gear means you can land in unimproved fields without much concern.

You can get into trouble one way landing a trike. If you steer abruptly to one side or the other while still speeding along just after ground contact, you can cause a trike to flip over in a rude trike equivalent of a ground loop. This possibility coupled with the so-called "wrong way" steering of trikes may make the situation worse than it needs to be. The steering problem on landing is easy to fix: Keep your feet on both foot pedals and lock your legs so the nose wheel stays straight. You can start steering when you slow and before then, like any aircraft, the Fun Eagle is still responsive to aerodynamic input.

The throttles may also throw pilots who only have conventional experience. Most trikes employ a foot throttle as the weight-shift pilot has his hands busy during takeoff and landing. Most trikes also offer a hand throttle which overrides the foot throttle allowing you to switch once you're at a safe altitude. That's all fine, but Buckeye naturally uses their powered parachute throttle since this trike is based on that carriage. On the 'chutes, they have a throttle which they've rigged to act more like a joystick. You move it BACK to go up, except that this means adding power. For most pilots, throttle aft means go to idle thrust. Be careful at first.

To swap the Buckeye from powered parachute to trike wing, plan on a couple hours say company officials. Leaving all controls where they are speeds the process and that's why the powered parachute hand throttle stays on the trike.

Keeping change to a minimum means removing the three tubes which support the canopy on each side of the carriage. In addition, you'll strip the 'chute's foot bar control and replace the hardware with foot pedals and linkages to the nosewheel. Since you'll need your hands to fly and since you'll now steer by foot, the powered parachute's left stick steering control comes off as well. While the conversion is a little time consuming, common bolt holes make a process that can be done whenever you like.

New Plans on the Horizon?
This fall Buckeye was visited by their canopy provider, Apco of Israel. A long-time supplier to the hang gliding and paragliding flight communities, Apco is well equipped to provide both types of wings to Buckeye. In fact, because of Israeli manufacturing efficiencies, they boast very modest prices. Switching from Air Creation wings to Apco wings will be no more traumatic to recent buyers than Buckeye's former switch from Cosmos wings to Air Creation. All these major players have a line of trike wings and all have proven their ability to make high quality, airworthy structures.

In fact, as of early-October, Buckeye was expecting delivery of their first Apco trike wing for trial fitting. While it remains to be seen if this is a choice Buckeye leadership feels good about, the answer should come soon. Given their current buyer/vendor relationship, I'd give the Israelis a good shot at gaining more of Buckeye's business.

Regardless, the Indiana company has built and sold many aircraft with few problems reported so they're obviously able to do a good job. Certainly if you are a powered parachute enthusiast who can see toward a time when you may want more versatility from your aircraft, then Buckeye is an excellent choice you should investigate further.

Those who haven't ever bought into the light aircraft phenomenon should consider this fact: Buckeye claims 70% of all sales go to first-time pilots who've never flown anything before. Of course, these are powered parachutes but simply knowing you can exchange wings at some future point makes the purchase decision easier. After all, if it's good enough for a famous rich guy like John Kennedy, Jr., it may be good enough for you, too.



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