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First flight 05 August 1973
Photo: Courtesy Jeff Dean

The Trigull Story

In California in the mid-1960s some design work was done on a modern amphibian to serve as a replacement for the Republic Seabee, of which more than a thousand had been built in 1945 - 1947.  However, the project lapsed until taken over in 1969 by entrepreneur David A. Hazlewood and C. S. Newton in Canada.

Trident Aircraft Ltd. was founded in February 1970 to handle design and production at Vancouver, where Canadian Aircraft Products, a shareholder, later built two flying prototypes and a structural test airframe.  Actual design work began in July 1971 and the amphibian was then known as the Trident TR-1 - later it became the Trigull L300.

The prototype, registered CF-TRI-X, was first flown by Canadair test pilot Paul A. Hartman and engineer Chuck Herbst on 5 August 1973.  270 hours were logged before it was grounded for modifications and pre-production changes.  During the test program Hartman had set an unofficial class record with the TR-1 by climbing it to 25 000 ft (7 620 m).

Photo: Jim Newton

It was planned to rebuild the prototype to production standards with six seats and replace the Continental Tiara engine with a Lycoming.

Up to the time the TR-1 flew, the design and development work cost about $ 1 million and by early 1975 this had doubled, with $ 1 350 00 coming from the Federal Government in grants and loans, including from the British Columbia Development Corporation (BCDC), which later promised more money contingent on further Federal assistance.

The second flying prototype, C-GATE-X, made her first flight in the hands of Norm Ronaason on 2 July 1976 and became the company's demonstrator.  Canadian DoT certification was obtained on 28 October 1976, followed by FAA certification on 16 December same year.

Production was then delayed while attempts were made to obtain additional necessary finance.  In 1975 the company failed to raise capital by its own efforts from private sources and the entire program had to be reduced to a tick-over while awaiting further assistance from provincial and/or Government sources.  For a time, a move of the company to the USA was being considered.

After several years of financial uncertainties and consequent delays, the signal for production go-ahead of the Trident Trigull four/six seat single engine amphibian came in June 1978 when the Canadian Minister for Industry, Trade and Commerce announced that Federal assistance for the project would be forthcoming.  This decision had followed earlier, unfulfilled, expectations of Government support was eventually based on firm orders which had by then been placed.  These consisted of deposits of $ 10 000 each for 43 aircraft and lesser deposits for reservations on 25 others.

The financial assistance, spelt out, consisted of a direct loan of $ 4 million and a 90 percent loss-insurance, under the Enterprise Development Program, for an additional loan of $ 2 million.  By January 1979 there were reported to be 46 firm orders - 15 from Canadian and the remainder from US buyers - and options on 20.  The first production aircraft - from a new factory at Victoria International Airport - was then expected to be completed about mid-1980.

Before the final go-ahead came, the project had been helped by the British Columbia Development Corporation (BCDC) and had been tacitly supported later by Canadair, which provided technical and sales assessments, and by the Grumman Aerospace Corporation which had provided technical and sales help, proposed to invest in the project and expected to become a distributor for areas outside Canada.

Despite these promising developments and a start on series production, the company again ran into financial difficulties early in 1980.  Production work ceased and the staff of more than 100 were laid off.

The Trigull is an all-metal stressed-skin cantilever-wing aircraft with a single-step hull and boom-mounted tail.  The prototypes were powered by Continental Tiara fuel-injected flat-six engines, but production aircraft were to be powered by Lycoming IO-540-M1A5 engines in the Trigull L300, or by a turbo-charged version of this engine for the TL350.  The single-slotted flaps, tricycle landing gear and retractable wingtip floats are hydraulically powered.  The water rudder, an extension of the air-rudder system, is retracted manually.

The cabin, forward of the engine pylon, is of glass-fiber construction, with access through hinged doors on each side.  Five passengers, plus pilot, are accommodated on three pairs of seats.  There is dual control for use when a second pilot is carried, or for instructional purposes.  Fuel is carried in a bag-type tank in the lower hull, and has a usable capacity of approximately 100 US gal (378 litres).  Baggage is stowed at the rear of the cabin, below the floor.



Notes from R. W. (Bill) Walker!

Happy to hear the Tri-Gull is going into production.  As you may know, Spence Spencer and his son in law, Chuck Herbst did most of the design and engineering on it when the project was in Torrance, CA over 30 years ago.  Bob Dent in Seattle had commissioned them to design and build it.  They called it the Tri-Dent 320 at that time since there were 3 of them and the 320 came from the 320 horsepower Cont. Tiara engine it was designed around.  I heard about it then and followed the project for some time until they ran out of money and were putting it up for sale.  By that time I had the Seattle Seabee Club established and had Bob Dent come to one of our meetings to tell us about it.  Dave Hazelwood, who was the head of the Vancouver Seabee Club at the time was there with several other Vancouver members.  Over a short period of time they put together a program to build it in Vancouver.  Chuck Herbst joined them as Chief Engineer.

Over the next 10 years, development costs ran up about triple what they had originally estimated them to be and they put much of the blame on Chuck Herbst for constantly changing the design.  They let Chuck go.  They produced 3 aircraft, which were now named the Tri-Gull because the British firm that produced the Trident jet transport objected to the name.  I was invited to come up and fly one of the prototypes and wrote an article about it that came out in one of the aviation magazines (can't remember which one right now but I think I have a copy of the article).  It flew very well and I was very impressed with it.  Unfortunately, Continental was unable or unwilling to certify the Tiara engine for 320 horsepower and didn't produce it.  They installed a 300 horse Lycoming then but had propeller matching problems and it never performed well after that.

They did get a production certificate for it, however and were buying tooling to produce it in Victoria when the Canadian Government, who had put in 51% of the funds changed hands and the new officials pulled the rug out from under it and it was sold on the auction block to Clay Villas, a wealthy auto dealer from San Jose who had the US marketing rights for the plane.  I lost contact with the Tri-Gull after that until your article in this newsletter. 

The turbine engine they are going to power it with should certainly take care of the power plant troubles it used to have.  It should be a fine amphibian but way beyond the budget of the average private owner.  On the other hand, so is the top of the line Lake Buccaneer but it is still selling airplanes.

The flight to 31,500 feet was indeed flown in serial number 3, C-GATE. The pilot was Jerry Westphal. Jerry, an ex-RCAF test pilot, replaced Norm Ronaason when Norm went to Canadair for the CL-600 program. Ironically, Jerry went to Canadair after Norm died in the CL-600 crash. The last I heard, he was retired in the Montreal area.

Photo: Randy Komko

The picture captioned "CF-TRI after getting a new paint scheme..." is actually C-GATE. When I first looked at that picture, I thought, "I know where that was taken". My next thought was "hey, I had shirt just like that". Finally, it sank in. That's me, with the beard, standing by the nose of the plane. C-GATE flew for about 2 years in primer, before it was painted in the blue and white. The first attempt at painting resulted in half the paint peeling within a few flights. I helped strip the rest, before the next attempt. I remember oh so well spreading stripper on the wing. Ah, the romance of aviation. That might be Jack Scagel looking in the intake, but I can't be sure. I'm quite sure that this is C-GATE. CF-TRI received a similar paint scheme in about 1979/1980, but had not been fitted with interior panels (as seen on the inside of the door in this picture) by the time I left the firm in early 1980.

The caption is correct in stating that C-GATE was used extensively for cooling trials with the Lycoming. We tested 2 types, a turbo charged and a normally aspirated (both 540 cubic inch, I think). The turbo was a rocket, the other engine was a total dog, that we quickly dropped. While in primer, and fitted with the Tiara engine, C-GATE did most of the type certificate testing in 1976 and 1977.

Photo: Randy Komko

The other picture of CF-TRI, in red and brown paint, is really CF-TRI. The original sheet metal cabin has been removed, in order to received the fiber glass cabin as used on C-GATE. It's hard to be sure, but I think the guy in the background without a shirt is Ken Horten. At that time, Ken was the chief composite engineer, and was almost single handedly responsible for all the composite parts. He designed them, built the tools, and then built the parts. Ken briefly became Chief Engineer at Trident, after John Galizia left for de Havilland in 1980. The last I heard, Ken had returned to his native Australia and was making a nice living making wind surfers in his garage.

E-mail from Robert W. Walker

Photo: Please tell me!

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Updated 2020-02-08

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