Day 2 AirVenture began with “rain that went sideways,” according to one vendor. After a late night cranking out a report, I was grateful for an excuse to get another hour’s sleep. The overnight rain gave way to another beautiful, if hot, day in Oshkosh. Tuesday, I hiked up to the north side, where the main displays are located. Most of the higher end Light-Sport Aircraft are located in this high-traffic area. Several LSA companies have jockeyed for years to find what they consider to be the optimal location for their exhibit. Being near the main foot-traffic road is very alluring to vendors. In almost two decades of Light-Sport Aircraft (the then-new rule was announced at AirVenture 2004), LSA have integrated themselves into mainstream aircraft manufacturing …and not simply because of the aircraft offered. As late-night TV ads once said, “There’s more!” LAMA board of directors member Phil Solomon — active in the flight school business and a former importer of Tecnam — expressed that the sales of LSA and the growth and development of the industry is only one of its successes.
More than Distance"Along the way, the team has also broken other world records for electric aircraft," Coates reported, "including longest over-water flight (30.8 kilometers); furthest distance in a 24-hour period (330 kilometers); and fastest speed between waypoints (177 kilometers per hour ground speed)." Barrie reported he and his team battled strong winds and rain as well as below zero morning temperatures to achieve the record. (Australian's seasons are roughly reversed from America's; this is not summer in Australia.) “It’s been a mammoth effort by everyone involved to achieve this incredible feat," Barrie said. "The weather hasn’t exactly been on our side. We had ice on the wings one morning and were grounded in Port Lincoln due to an intense low pressure system.” One of the criticisms leveled at battery power is a loss of energy in cold conditions so the Eyre to There has been doing additional proving of the propulsion concept. “On the plus side, the aircraft and the recharging systems have held up incredibly well, said Barrie. "It has gone a long way to proving the endurance and reliability of the Pipistrel Alpha Electro plane." “Because we can only fly about 125 kilometers (78 miles) before having to recharge, we’ve been landing in some pretty remote locations." As reported earlier, Barrie said Pipistrel Alpha Electro is the first and only serially-produced electric aircraft currently approved in Australia for flight training by the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (Australia's FAA counterpart). “This record attempt will further demonstrate the overall viability of this aircraft," Barrie added. “Electric aircraft are cheaper to buy, cheaper to run, significantly quieter and don’t rely on fossil fuels. They are ideally suited for short range flight training activities." Eyre to There Aviation anticipates one day setting up an assembly line of Alpha Electros in Adelaide producing up to 40 aircraft per year, Barrie said. The team will continue but from here forward, with one record claim in its logbook, Electro will be adding to its achievements. You can follow the flight on Eyre to There Aviation's Facebook page.
“WE DID IT!” boasted the team from down under! “We are thrilled to announce that this afternoon we achieved a World Endurance Record for an electric aircraft, breaking the previous mark set in Germany last year.” (Note: Official recognition always takes more time.) Pipistrel distributor Michael Coates, wrote, “South Australian-based Eyre to There Aviation … Flying a Pipistrel Alpha Electro plane, arrived in Port Augusta late yesterday (Friday June 25) after breaking the previous mark of 750 kilometers on the leg between Shoalwater Point Station and Whyalla.” Lead by Eyre to There Aviation Managing Director, Barrie Rogers, the team will continue to Adelaide aiming to fly 1,350 kilometers by the end of the journey. More than Distance “Along the way, the team has also broken other world records for electric aircraft,” Coates reported, “including longest over-water flight (30.8 kilometers); furthest distance in a 24-hour period (330 kilometers); and fastest speed between waypoints (177 kilometers per hour ground speed).” Barrie reported he and his team battled strong winds and rain as well as below zero morning temperatures to achieve the record.
Does Alpha have the tiny little motor that could?
Article updated 6/22/21 —DJ
That sounds like an old childhood story ("The Little Engine that Could…") but here we are in the new millennia with electric cars, huge wind farms, vast solar collector projects, biofuels, and more. Subsidies are pouring in to electric projects around the globe. Hundreds of developers building "urban air transport" multicopters are raising millions of dollars.Will human-flown conventional aircraft join the electric parade? One company has pursued the electric dream further than most. This story is about a group in Australia that aimed to set a new world record, one of a rather different sort. In this case the team plans a "record attempt flying a Pipistrel Alpha Electro plane," Australia and USA Pipistrel dealer Michael Coates wrote. "[The flight] will start at Parafield Airport at 7:00 a.m. on Saturday June 19, 2021." Total distance, Michael added, will be 1,150 kilometers, which "will shatter the previous record of 750 kilometers flown in September 2020 in Germany." This project hopes to break the previous distance by more than 50 percent. Whatever the outcome, many will admire the effort to fly an electric airplane a lengthy distance. How will they handle the "range anxiety" about which we hear so much? FYI: The two distances — 1,150 and 750 kilometers — equate to 715 and 466 statute miles, respectively.
Team Alpha Goes the DistanceThe attempt to set a new record is being led by Eyre to There Aviation Managing Director, Barrie Rogers, who undertook the first ever electric flight in South Australia in 2020. Pipistrel Alpha Electro, which the down-under gang has dubbed the "Tesla of flying," currently has a flight time range of about one hour and cruising speed of 85 knots (98 mph or 157 kph). With this in mind, Barrie said, "We’ve had to very carefully plan each stop and build in contingencies for weather such as strong head winds.” Barrie clarified that the record attempt flight team and support crew "will include three pilots, five on-the-ground support crew, a second support (petrol-powered) plane, and two vehicles carrying recharging equipment for the aircraft." While a strong and notable effort, the attempt and the support it requires puts battery-electric propulsion in perspective. Several current, gasoline-powered Light-Sport Aircraft could fly the entire 1,150 kilometer distance on a single tank (or tanks) of fuel without any need to stop and with no support crew. Let's be fair: Electric airplanes are relatively new and they will only get better. It is not reasonable to expect them to perform equally with fossil-fuel-powered aircraft that have been developed over many decades and with billions of dollars invested to help them achieve the high state-of-the-art they possess today. Yet what this observes once again is that batteries are the weak link in the electric propulsion chain. Energy contained in batteries is a small fraction of that contained in a similar volume or weight of gasoline. That gap is narrowing but the pace seems glacial compared to forecasts of electric enthusiasts. Battery improvements of a few percentage points per year means decades before batteries match fossil fuel in energy per pound. Give batteries some magical breakthrough to equal fossil fuel energy and the betting will end. Electric propulsion will push out fossil engines quickly — but that day is not here now. It may be years in the future.
FAQs About Alpha ElectroPipistrel Alpha Electro started development in 2014; it was released to the public in 2017. "Electro was an immediate success with more than two-dozen orders after its initial 2017 release," boasted Slovenia-based Pipistrel. "Electro has been designed as an entry level circuit training aircraft perfect for flight schools," How long will the aircraft fly at cruise/cross-country? — Answer: "45 minutes at 18kW (reduced power) and 75 knots indicated airspeed" How long does it typically take to charge the batteries with different chargers? — Answer: "Six hours with a 3kW charger; an hour forty with 10 kW charger; an hour and five minutes with a 14 kW; or 45 minutes with the 20 kW charger." How heavy are the batteries and can I swap them myself? — Answer: "Each battery pack is 53 kg (117 pounds). Yes, you can remove the pack with no extra help." What is the luggage capacity the aircraft? Answer: "There is no luggage compartment. Convenience luggage can be stored in the side pockets on the instrument panel."
Technical Specifications Pipistrel Electro
- Powerplant — 50+ kilowatt (≈67 hp) electric motor running 2100-2400 rpm
- Maximum Takeoff Weight — 1212 pounds (550 kg)
- Basic Empty Weight with Batteries — 811 pounds (368 kg)
- Typical Empty Weight without Batteries — 563 pounds (256 kg)
- Baggage Allowance — None
- Payload — 401 pounds (182 kg)
- Battery Capacity — 21 kilowatt hours
- Wing Span — 34 feet 6 inches (10.5 m)
- Wing Area — 102.4 square feet (9.51 sq. m)
- Stall with Flaps — 38 knots, calibrated
- Stall without Flaps — 45 knots, calibrated
- Cruise Speed at 75% power — 85 knots, indicated
- Never Exceed Speed — 135 knots, indicated
- Max Climb Rate — 1,220 fpm
- Glide Ratio — 15:1
- Roll Rate — 45°-45° in 2.6 sec
- Cruise Endurance — up to 60 minutes (plus reserve)
- Endurance in Airport Traffic Patterns — 60 minutes (plus reserve)
- Cruise Range at 80 knots — 70 nautical miles (130 km)
- Takeoff / Ground Roll at Gross Weight — 492 feet (149 m)
Here are two videos about Pipistrel Alpha Electro. The first is from a reporter in Australia focused entirely on the electric-powered Alpha. The second is my review with U.S. representative, Rand Vollmer, covering the broader Pipistrel line. https://youtu.be/uMrLHeKJA80 https://youtu.be/ZmnlSaXHGWQ
Does Alpha have the tiny little motor that could? Article updated 6/22/21 —DJ That sounds like an old childhood story (“The Little Engine that Could…”) but here we are in the new millennia with electric cars, huge wind farms, vast solar collector projects, biofuels, and more. Subsidies are pouring in to electric projects around the globe. Hundreds of developers building “urban air transport” multicopters are raising millions of dollars. Will human-flown conventional aircraft join the electric parade? One company has pursued the electric dream further than most. This story is about a group in Australia that aimed to set a new world record, one of a rather different sort. In this case the team plans a “record attempt flying a Pipistrel Alpha Electro plane,” Australia and USA Pipistrel dealer Michael Coates wrote. “[The flight] will start at Parafield Airport at 7:00 a.m. on Saturday June 19, 2021.” Total distance, Michael added, will be 1,150 kilometers, which “will shatter the previous record of 750 kilometers flown in September 2020 in Germany.” This project hopes to break the previous distance by more than 50 percent.
Pipistrel is One of the Leaders"Serial Number 900 leaves the factory headed for Australia," glowed Michael Coates, the longtime distributor for Pipistrel aircraft in Australia and the United States. "It’s hard to believe that the time passes so quickly and here we are shipping number 900 from the Sinus/Virus family to a very excited customer in Australia." In Virus (yes, I've heard most the jokes about the name) Michael refers to the best seller of the comprehensive Pipistrel line. The reference here is to Virus SW. While the company has succeeded with a number of their other models, Virus SW — the shorter wing span and higher cruise speed variation — is the clear front runner among their production. Pipistrel started with weight shift trikes, way back in the days of Soviet-controlled eastern bloc countries. Founder Ivo Boscarol had to sneakily build his first and fly it only in the evening when few might notice. After the Berlin Wall fell and freedom came to these countries Boscarol was able to embark on an ambitious plan to build his company into the light aircraft powerhouse it is today. This is a man who can barely sit still long enough for an interview as he is managing a number of activities and appears always thinking of the next thing. Coates observed that the 900 aircraft does not include motorgliders Taurus or Apis, GA candidate Panthera, nor does it include 200 Alpha Trainers delivered to the Indian armed forces and or other government aircraft.
Pipistrel from India to Oshkosh"We achieved another significant success," added company spokesperson Taja Boscarol. "A Pipistrel Sinus 912 aircraft was certified in India as the first aircraft in the LSA class, ever," she added. This particular airplane — nicknamed "Mahi" by its owners — is part of the WE! Expedition project, in which two female pilots, a mother and daughter, intend to fly around the world. Pipistrel will no doubt promote that voyage as they've done other global circumnavigation flights. If you want to check out the Pipistrel line, you have a great chance coming soon. "This year is going to be our biggest yet," boasted Coates, "with a strong emphasis on electric aircraft and virtual reality flight Training" He said his display will include the following:
- Alpha Electro
- Taurus Electro along with the Pipistrel Solar Trailer
- Taurus 503
- Virus SW
- Sinus MAX
- X-Alpha Virtual Reality Simulator, and…
- several trailers to show how you can hanger your aircraft at home
In the world of Light-Sport Aircraft, we have more than 90 manufacturers and 145 Special LSA (see our whole list) accepted* by FAA. This huge diversity of design has given recreational pilots around the world a large number of ready-to-fly aircraft choices beyond anything we have seen in aviation since the beginning. However, the old 80/20 rule still applies where (approximately) 80% of the aircraft sold are built by 20% of the manufacturers. It is a credit to this 14-year-old industry that even the smaller companies can remain viable enterprises. Very few of the 90+ manufacturers have left the business. However, most of the airplanes are made by a few top producers, which you can see in our market share charts. Pipistrel is One of the Leaders “Serial Number 900 leaves the factory headed for Australia,” glowed Michael Coates, the longtime distributor for Pipistrel aircraft in Australia and the United States.
Why Pipistrel?“We have been looking for a suitable LSA [basic] trainer for our flight schools in Florida and California for quite some time," stated WWW principal, Naushad Imam. "The old Cessna and Piper [aircraft] still being widely used by most flight schools in the U.S. did not fit our profile for a host of reasons." WWW considered SportCruiser, Tecnam, Skycatcher, Flight Design, Evektor, Pipistrel and a few others. "We leased and put some of these airplanes to work in our training environment," "This provided a very good understanding of their suitability in terms of safety, performance(s), maintenance, handling, durability, serviceability and up times," the school indicated. "Feedback from students was also very helpful." Earlier, the Pipistrel factory sold 200 Alpha Trainers to the Indian military. "Their feedback on the aircraft durability was a consideration," observed WWW. Another factory affective the sales was a report of a Pipistrel Alpha Trainer in New Caledonia that recently surpassed 4,000 hours of training in a challenging tropical/marine environment; the aircraft has not reported problems. Deliveries from Pipistrel's Italy production facility will start later this month, with delivery and commissioning in San Bernardino scheduled for the first week of June, 2018. More than 300 Pipistrel Alpha Trainers have been produced and are flying in 35 countries including almost 50 in the USA alone, reported Coates.
One bone of contention among LSA sellers is that legacy flight schools — the sort that typically uses Cessna or Piper trainers — sometimes disregard LSA as trainer aircraft. “They’re built too lightly.” “The nose wheels are too weak.” “My mechanic doesn’t know the Rotax engine.” Some may have even more creative excuses. I’ve interviewed many producers that are frustrated with this outdated response. Several have cited specific aircraft that have done flight school duty for thousands of hours and tens of thousands of landings. Yet the ill-informed attitude of such school operators has not stopped sellers from trying. One such dogged entrepreneur is Michael Coates, the Australia-based largest dealer for Slovenian LSA producer, Pipistrel. “After months and months of evaluation, writing proposals, flight tests and endless emails,” Michael wrote, “I am very proud to announce our single biggest order into the USA flight training market.” He referenced an order for 15 Pipistrel Alpha Trainer aircraft with instrumentation configured for IFR training (photo) ordered for delivery to San Bernardino, California.
Congratulations, Pipistrel!As a Slovenia-based company, Pipistrel been a leader in electric propulsion, winning (literally!) millions from NASA for their success with electric propulsion. However, they cannot sell an electric-propelled SLSA in the United States. They can in Australia and Canada. Recently the down-under country approved Electro for use by a flight school. This Alpha Electro "is a normal production Pipistrel Alpha Electro and was commissioned on January 2nd 2018," wrote Coates. "The aircraft was awarded an SLSA certificate by CASA and it is used at the fifth busiest airport in the southern hemisphere, mostly for flight training. The operators now have around 70 hours in temperatures above 35°C (95°F). Michael explained, "The Australian aviation standards do not have the word 'reciprocating' when describing the engine system of an LSA aircraft so the plane can be registered as a 'certified' LSA for flight training in Australia, unlike the USA." In normal pattern flying the fight school is logging 60-minute flights and completing between 8 and 10 takeoffs and landings per training session. Recharging is taking between 45 minutes and 1 hour 15 minutes depending on the temperatures. Michael said that when the temperatures rises above 35°C charging slows down to keep the batteries under their maximum temperature.
Canada, Too!According to a recent report by Flying online, "Transport Canada [approved] Pipistrel’s Alpha Electro earlier this month." Writer Rob Mark continued, "In Canada, the Alpha Electro was certified as an Advanced Ultra-light, a category that doesn’t exist in the USA. Electros are flying in America, but under a Experimental LSA certificate that makes them ineligible to be used for hire." As Rob reported, "Electro is powered by a 60-kW electric motor equivalent to an 80-horsepower gasoline engine. Roughly the size of a Cessna 150, the Alpha Electro weighs considerably less, just over 1,200 pounds. At cruise, Electro tops out at 85 mph." The Southern Hemisphere flight school got a rush of news coverage in Australia. Here's a series or reports that also shows the aircraft in flight. You can hear it as well. https://youtu.be/xPN5VDHzPNo
One word can make a huge difference. This unassailable logic was recently put forth by Michael Coates of Australia regarding the LSA regulation. The offensive word? —Reciprocating. It sounds so innocent until you consider what that word prevents in the USA. Like so many laws and regulations, the original idea didn’t work out anything like what was intended. In its ground-breaking — I’m tempted to write “daring” — Sport Pilot / Light-Sport Aircraft regulation of 2004, FAA specified that all LSA must use only a reciprocating engine. Their stated goal was to avoid turbines that were thought too complex for the “simple aircraft flying in simple airspace” mantra of the day. (For the record, numerous airline pilots I know confirmed that turbines are far simpler than any reciprocating engine. They do require different techniques that are not familiar to recreational-only pilots but they are actually very easy engines to operate, say these professional pilots.) Regardless, FAA’s word choice not only prevented turbine engines but unknowingly prevented electric propulsion as well.