At the recently concluded Palm Springs Expo, a keynote address was provided by George Bye, the man behind the Sun Flyer project that aims to put electric two seaters into flight schools. Pipistrel is already selling into this market with its Electro (video) and while only a small number of aircraft are in use, the race is on for more … much more. Airbus made big news back in July when a race developed to see who would cross the English Channel first in an electric powered airplane. Of course, the whole thing was a bit moot because it had been done years before. Longtime electric pioneer Eric Raymond of Sunseeker Duo noted, “It was already done in 1981 by the Solar Challenger, which flew from Paris to London at 14,000 feet. [Famous hang glider pilot and manufacturer Gerard] Thevenot even flew an electric trike across.
Pipistrel LSA s.r.l.
Phone: (0481) 522-000Gorizia, -- 34070 - Italy
When discussing big versus small, you cannot go much further than comparing a Light-Sport Aircraft company to Airbus. This story speaks to LSA builder Pipistrel, the goal of their French dealer, and nearly identical plans of the giant corporation. In a fascinating development, it turns out that an even smaller entity, a single individual in a miniature flying machine, managed to best the jet airliner producer at its own game. Here’s the story as I understand it although I readily admit I am relying solely on second-hand information. Pipistrel makes the Alpha Electro (formerly known as WattsUp as our video at the end notes). They’ve already seen some success with this aircraft the factory model of which has been powered by a Siemens motor supplied by the huge Germany company. As everyone who follows reporting of electric propulsion of either airplanes or electric cars surely knows, “range anxiety” is a consumer problem to be overcome and taking flights demanding courage is one way to assuage those concerns.
Aero is such an interesting event for many reasons. Among the most significant of these are the large number of aircraft introductions or the newest development projects one discovers in the vast gymnasium-sized halls … eleven of them in total. It can be hard to cover all the square meters, which although not as enormous as giant outdoor American shows, are nonetheless so packed with aircraft that one gets sensory overload before you’ve seen them all. The world premiere of BlackWing was such a project. Here is the first light aircraft I’ve seen from Sweden; others may exist but I’m not aware of them. This sleek speedster uses the ubiquitous Rotax 912 to achieve what they state as stunning speeds up to 400 kilometers per hour (250 mph or 217 knots) and this from only 100 horsepower! Of course, this won’t work as a Light-Sport Aircraft but BlackWing is LSA in size and concept other than its blazing speed.
Electric aircraft continue to develop rapidly and the most visible actions are on ultralight aircraft such as Zigolo, eSpyder, or Light-Sport Aircaft (Evektor EPOS) as these are the lightest and therefore most workable candidates for electric power today. At Oshkosh we heard more about the two-seat SunFlyer in development by Bye Aerospace and those who visited the Fun Fly Zone (the place formerly known as the Ultralight Area) saw electric aircraft regularly flying as they have for several years. Now, one of the leading creators of electric airplanes is making a bigger push to offer a training-capable aircraft. As with several Pipistrel models the name is a bit unusual but WATTsUp is a two-seat electric trainer based on Pipistrel’s Alpha (video). WATTsUp took its maiden flight on August 22nd. The Slovenian company unveiled the new aircraft on August 30th at a popular recreational aircraft show south of Paris called Salon du Blois.
One of the top LSA manufacturers and a coming producer of four seaters is Pipistrel, which I visited last year. Recently the company announced that it completed and delivered its 600th aircraft, after which they shipped it halfway around the globe to Australia. The down under country, presently in its summertime (a warm thought while the Eastern USA digs out from yet another heavy snowstorm), fully accepts ASTM standards. On the occasion of its production of Pipistrel number 600, the Slovenian company with an LSA facility in nearby Italy, also celebrated its 25th anniversary. The twin achievements gave an opportunity for the Pipistrel team of 80 members to pose with aircraft number 600. Regular factory visitor and Australian distributor (also the rep for the United States), Michael Coates joined the photo. Michael has been a Pipistrel distributor for over 15 years and was chosen as the “Distributor of the Year” in 2012.
After Germany’s Aero 2013 event, we traveled to Pipistrel. It was our first visit to Slovenia, a country of four million with a section of the Alps running through it and a lovely route called the Emerald Trail to view the tall mountains. Slovenia proved a beautiful country that we’d love to visit again, but a leading reason to repeat is the presence of Pipistrel. This summer, the LSA and self-launched glider producer is in the news with their exchangeable wingtip Sinus Flex that transforms the long, shapely motorglider wings from a 50-foot span to a more hangar-manageable 40 feet. Using a single bolt, the change is said to take only five minutes and the unused tips can be stored in leather bags; the option price is $5,200. Buyers get both “a long range super-economic cruiser” and a “training aircraft,” noted Pipistrel. Sinus offers dual flight controls and a choice of either tailwheel or nosewheel gear, though the latter decision must be made at purchase.
We paid two memorable visits after Aero ended and I’ll tell you a little about each one … but first … While I was at Pipistrel in the office of boss Ivo Boscarol, he received word that Matevz Lenarcic had reached the North Pole on his flight reported earlier. Congratulations on this achievement; a long flight across the North Atlantic remains. Godspeed! ••• The two visits were to Rotax Aircraft Engines and to Pipistrel. These two are not geographically far apart and work closely. Each spoke highly of the other and both companies are highly impressive places to visit. BRP-Powertrain is the parent behind Rotax Aircraft Engines. Though occupying a sizeable amount of real estate in the immense BRP-Powertrain factory, the aircraft engines are the “hand built” portion of the production. Fast-paced, largely-automated, robot-assisted assembly lines manufacture many thousands of engines each year for such products as SeaDoo, BMW motorcycles, and other well-known brands.
Matevz Lenarcic is in the air again. Lenarcic is the daring pilot who has already flown around the world … twice! Some pilots simply don’t know when to rest on their earlier achievements. Indeed, today Matevz embarked on a solo flight over the North Pole in his specially configured light aircraft. His mission (besides an audacious long distance flight): recording black carbon readings over the Arctic. He’ll cross much of Europe, pass over the North Pole, continue to Canada and return to Europe crossing the North Atlantic from Newfoundland to Ireland flying parallel to Lindberg’s record flight from New York to Paris (map). He will capture the Arctic with aerial images and if you’d like to vicariously join his adventure, you can follow Matevz’s North Pole flight. A biologist and photographer, Matevz is again flying a Pipistrel Virus SW that has won NASA’s efficiency competition; the company pocketed prizes of more than one million dollars.
Patty Wagstaff and LSA? This week brings the start of the Sebring U.S. Sport Aviation Expo and excitement is high. Following are some news items to those who follow this event and the light, recreational aircraft space. On Friday, January 18th, Sebring EAA Chapter 1240 is sponsoring a dinner featuring aerobatic expert Patty Wagstaff who will perform at the event … with such an airshow being a first for Sebring. Proceeds will support youth aviation education programs. •• The Sebring EAA chapter has engineered a rare partnership between the chapter, the airport, and the local school board to provide educational activities for kids. This sufficiently impressed aviation philanthropist James Ray that he ended writing a check for the entire structure, a new 60 x 70-foot building at the Sebring Airport with classrooms and facilities including a large hangar space where high school children are involved in restoring two aircraft.
Known for their several lucrative wins at the NASA Challenge events, Pipistrel also logged market successes in the USA and around the world during 2012. The manufacturer with a range from weight shift trikes to electric-powered gliders to Light-Sport Aircraft to their four-seat Panther in development has become a company to watch. At the end of the year, the Slovenian company with a production facility in Italy had plenty to discuss. Most notably, the company built their 500th aircraft from the Sinus/Virus family. These sleek machines include the Sinus (“Seen-Us”) motorglider, the Virus (“Veer-Us”) lightplane and shorter-winged version called the Virus SW. The company proudly announced, “Together with the other models and the powered-hang gliders, this means we have made well over one thousand flying devices!” Aircraft number 500 buyer was Charles Dalglish from Australia. The aircraft was handed over to distributor Michael Coates whose organization includes U.S. sales.This year Coates recorded his 100th delivery.
My European associate and friend, Jan Fridrich, coined a phrase a few years ago: “Global LSA,” he said, meaning the ASTM standards set could be used in any country and thereby create a worldwide market for recreational aircraft. Already a few accept the standards and many are considering or are already using some variant. So, in this post, let’s review some international successes for LSA. Tecnam is one of the most prolific of all LSA producers and not just because they have multiple approved models. Recently, they sold a pair of P2008s to New Zealand. Waikato Aero Club CEO Richard Small said, “The new planes have a number of advantages over traditional aircraft. Manufactured from modern materials [Tecnam] planes are more fuel efficient and quieter. They also have full electronic flight display screens. Our pilots are thoroughly enjoying the upgrade.” Pipistrel has logged sales globally as well and booked four orders for their new Alpha Trainer into Russia.
Two days ago, Aero-News Network was first to break a news story (“Stupid Fed Trix”) about FAA blocking Pipistrel from the ability to get Airworthiness Certificates for aircraft awaiting customer delivery. The problem was not a new model FAA had never seen. It was for models already in the country and flying with typical LSA approval. The problem? FAA didn’t seem sure where those LSA were made and in the arcane world of federal government approval, a LSA cannot be built in a country where FAA does not have an understanding with local aviation authorities called the Bilateral Safety Agreement (BSA). Bored yet? *** Maybe… but if you were one of the customers who paid for an aircraft that you could not fly, you wouldn’t be bored. You’d be mighty unhappy. You paid for it. The aircraft has no problems except for the BSA issue (which cannot make an existing aircraft any safer).
In the near future, we’ll present fuller stories of some of the following short bits from Oshkosh 2012. With UltralightMews, we shot videos on most of the following, too, so watch for those as we can post them. Enjoy! CESSNA & PRIMARY CATEGORY Early on in the week, Cessna announced they would transition their LSA Skycatcher to Primary Aircraft status. That requires a Type Certificate and FAA production approval but the Wichita giant can do this handily even if will add some cost. More on in a later article. However, here’s a way Cessna can recapture some 80 orders from Europeans cancelled earlier this year. On a more fun note, it was a pleasure to meet all nine of their youthful ambassadors that worked in the Discover Flying Challenge program. We shot a video featuring each participant and we’ll post that as soon as possible. (In the near future, we’ll feature a brief review of Primary Category versus LSA.) AHOY, AKOYA!
I have several targets on my radar for follow-up at the big show that starts July 23rd. Here’s a beforehand review; details will follow. |||| *** LSA seaplanes will generate plenty of interest, I think, with Icon‘s latest announcements and the dreamy new Lisa Akoya (photo). Both are superslick but not to be outdone by the SeaRey, which already has nearly 600 flying. SeaRey builder Progressive Aerodyne is hard at work on SLSA status. Adding the SeaMax into the mix, LSA seaplane enthusiasts have lots of great choices… and then come the floats for other planes. Lotus is back and Zenith is a trusted supplier of many years. You’ll be able to see both sets of floats in the LSA Mall. While you’re in the LSA Mall, you can check out AMT’s air conditioning for LSA plus the Belgium D Motor.
Engineers at Pipistrel must not sleep in too often. This company, which won the NASA efficiency challenge several times — in 2011 taking home a $1.35 million cash prize! — just unveiled a full-size version of a sleek four seat design called the Panthera. Now on the other end of the spectrum comes their Alpha Trainer, a reasonably priced LSA model aimed at the flight instruction market. Their range of models is broad running from powered sailplanes to multiple LSA models. *** “Pipistrel is proud to announce the successful conclusion of the test flights program and the release of our new aircraft, the Alpha Trainer,” announced the company, which operates production facilities in Slovenia and Italy. Developed as a basic military aircraft trainer at the request of certain countries, Alpha is supplied in nosewheel-only configuration, part of a slate of decisions to hold down the price.
Just in time for this year’s AOPA Summit, welcome to a pair of Special Light-Sport Aircraft, numbers 121 and 122: the first, the formerly named NG 5 LSA, rebadged as the Bristell Fastback by importer Liberty Sport Aviation of Pennsylvania; and the second being the fourth approval for Pipistrel, specifically for their Sinus motorglider (previous Pipistrel approvals included the Virus, Virus SW, and Taurus). *** NG 5 LSA was not previously offered in the U.S. though it was sold in Europe as the NG 4 from Roko Aero. When Roko closed its doors production stopped for the NG 4. It became NG 5 as the company reformed into BRM Aero. Changes occur in any industry but Bristell Fastback designer, Milan Bristela, is a steady hand on the joystick known for his foundational work on the SportCruiser (for a year known as the PiperSport) that is presently ranked #2 in U.S.
Question: What looks like two motorgliders flying in really tight formation sharing an engine… er, a motor, literally between them? Can this Burt Rutan-looking aircraft (photo) win the big dough? And I mean seriously big money with a purse of $1,650,000! *** Called the Pipistrel Taurus G4, the prize-seeking aircraft rolled out of the Pipistrel factory in Slovenia for the first time recently. After posing briefly for the camera, G4 taxied away quietly under electric power for the start of the flight testing program. *** Pipistrel previously won a big NASA check with their Virus SW but the company has now taken a wholly different approach, based on rules which give seat-mile advantage to four seater models. *** “This aircraft is the first four-place electric aircraft to be flown in the world,” stated Pipistrel. Their Taurus Electro claimed to be the first two-place electric aircraft to be flown in the world four years earlier.
After a pause in new SLSA, Pipistrel burst onto the scene with multiple approvals, three at once reports Michael Coates, the importer for Pipistrel USA. We raced to get these placed on the SLSA List because it’s news, but also because FAA uses this list to verify new models before assigning them N-numbers. FAA Registration Branch checks to make sure company names and other info matches incoming applications; we had three calls last week from producers who requested minor changes to our SLSA List after the agency raised questions. *** Now that list swells to 118 models. Pipistrel, which makes long-winged models that soar well, got the Virus approved in both airplane and glider categories, no small achievement. They also gained approval for their Taurus motorglider. The Slovenian company — with production facilities in nearby Italy (partly an effort to adhere to the U.S. government’s bilateral agreement requirement… dull, yes, but important legally) — has been in the news for their electric airplanes and has announced a supersleek four seater, the Panthera.
|132 square feet
|6.1 pounds/square foot
|21 feet, 8 inches
|Payload (with full fuel)
|5 feet, 7 inches
|16 gallon (24 gallon optional)
|Fully assembled or Kit
|Rotax 912 UL
|Never exceed speed
|Rate of climb at gross
|Takeoff distance at gross
|Landing distance at gross
|Propeller: 2-blade, controllable pitch with full feathering.
|81-hp Rotax 912 (as tested), electronic instrument with ASI, VSI, altimeter, water temp, EGT, CHT, tachometer, fuel gauge, auto hours logging, fully enclosed cabin with gull-wing doors, removable wings, in-flight trim, flaps, remote choke, shock-absorbing gear, steerable nosewheel, hydraulic brakes.
|50-hp Rotax 503, additional instruments, and ballistic parachute.
|Composite airframe, wing, fuselage, and tail with steel components. Made in Slovenia; imported by Australian-owned company, distributed by U.S. business.
Cosmetic appearance, structural integrity, achievement of design goals, effectiveness of aerodynamics, ergonomics.
Pros - Elegant design, especially the long, lovely, and shapely wings that extend to almost 50 feet of span. Efficient performer should satisfy most soaring pilots. All composite materials using extensive sailplane-building technologies. Well "tested" by an around-the-world flight. Tricycle or taildragger, kit or finished versions available.
Cons - The Sinus cannot presently qualify as a light-sport aircraft because it comes from a country without the required bilateral agreement with the U.S., and because of its in-flight adjustable prop. Design is so optimized to its soaring purpose that it may not satisfy those whose interest in soaring is only occasional.
Subsystems available to pilot such as: Flaps; Fuel sources; Electric start; In-air restart; Brakes; Engine controls; Navigations; Radio; (items covered may be optional).
Pros - Well designed aircraft with a plethora of systems: electric starting, in-flight trim, flaps including a reflex range, adjustable pitch to full feathering prop, airbrakes. Panel is an easy reach as are all controls regardless of which seat you occupy. Easy engine access under cowling.
Cons - At least one system, the adjustable prop, knocks the Sinus out of the LSA category yet without it, the soaring performance would suffer somewhat. Fuel on top of wing may require a boost for access for some folks (though another system for refueling is also available; ask dealer). No trim or flap indicator other than lever position.
Instrumentation; Ergonomics of controls; Creature comforts; (items covered may be optional).
Pros - Adequate panel space for most instruments, though the standard Brauniger Alpha multi-function display uses space well and leaves room for more gauges. Both sides of panel have a roomy compartment for maps and other items you need in flight. A 40-pound baggage area is provided aft of the seats. Adjustable rudder pedals.
Cons - Cabin structure with a spar and steel components barely over the head of average-sized pilots, and may be a significant problem for tall pilots. Maximum pilot height stated at 6 feet, 4 inches. If the emergency ballistic parachute system is ordered, much of the baggage space will be used for this purpose.
Taxi visibility; Steering; Turn radius; Shock absorption; Stance/Stability; Braking.
Pros - The Sinus comes with toe brakes in both positions. Rudder pedals adjust for comfort and optimal control. Excellent lateral visibility through large windows in gull-wing doors. Ground maneuvering aided by differential braking, adding to direct nosewheel linkage. Adequate ground clearance for turf field operations.
Cons - With nearly 50 feet of span and a swept-back wingtip, taxiing in crowded conditions can be worrisome; you can't see the tips while seated. Turn radius also somewhat wide (though tighter than it appears). Forward visibility is limited by the high instrument panel, even in tricycle gear model.
Qualities; Efficiency; Ease; Comparative values.
Pros - Rotax 912 engine gives the Sinus more than adequate power, allowing takeoff in less than 300 feet (under 400 feet even with the Rotax 503). Landing visibility is good. Energy retention is, understandably, excellent. Making the landing field was never easier with Sinus' 28-to-1 glide and low sink.
Cons - The long glide and low sink rate of the Sinus demand that you are familiar with using the airbrakes (they help a great deal). Landings will require a slightly longer strip than takeoff. Flaps tend not to add much drag, by design. Crosswind landings aren't hard but watch those long wings.
Quality and quantity for: Coordination; Authority; Pressures; Response; and Coupling.
Pros - Controls felt nice and fluid at all speeds. Stick-and-rudder forces were modest yet offered feedback. No problem with precision turns. Harmony was surprisingly good for a sailplane-type aircraft (which are normally rudder dominated). Roll rate is a fairly snappy 4+ seconds for 45°-to-45° test.
Cons - Best to slightly lead with the rudder and follow with the ailerons, requiring relearning new techniques for most power pilots (though not sailplane or ultralight pilots). Adverse yaw is understandably significant given that the ailerons are far out from the fuselage. Steep turns require some high siding.
Climb; Glide; Sink; Cruise/stall/max speeds; Endurance; Range; Maneuverability.
Pros - Performance is one of the great strengths of this design; with a 28-to-1 glide angle (still 18-to-1 at 80 mph) and a sink rate of 200 fpm (the latter about what a modern hang glider achieves). Cruise is right at the upper end of the LSA parameters (134 mph), yet stall is low (40 mph). Fuel use at cruise is a low 3.5 gph. Climb is also strong at 1,200 fpm.
Cons - If you're not looking for a long glide and a low sink rate, the Sinus may not be your next airplane. No other performance negatives.
Stall recovery and characteristics; Dampening; Spiral stability; Adverse yaw qualities.
Pros - In all stalls tested, recovery was very quick and the airplane's response was benign. The Sinus can fly comfortably at just above stall (40 mph), no surprise since that's where most thermal flying is done. Longitudinal stability was good. Pitch response to engine changes were normal.
Cons - Adverse yaw is rather significant due primarily to the aileron's long distance from the fuselage. Slightly leading with the rudder is the right technique but pilots forgetting this fact will not have well- coordinated turns. No spins tested. No other negatives.
Addresses the questions: "Will a buyer get what he/she expects to buy, and did the designer/builder achieve the chosen goal?"
Pros - Former trike-building company made a clean-sheet design that most regard as very impressive looking; elegant and sleek. 'Round-the- world flight proves abilities as does winning microlight championship. Rotax 503 model is modestly priced and said to perform well. Nearly 200 flying worldwide.
Cons - The Sinus is built in Slovenia, which has no U.S. bilateral agreement, meaning the Sinus cannot presently be a LSA. Must build from kit (200 to 400 hours; see article) or fly under Experimental/Exhibition (which may be okay if soaring is your only interest). Kit instructions not examined. Few flying in U.S. at present.
Many Americans will agree the name of this aircraft is odd, and that may be a kind word for the common reaction to “Sinus.” Is the name that important? Sinus (pronounced Seen-us), the aircraft, is a sleek, slender machine capable of impressive performance. Any soaring-attuned pilot can easily live with the name Sinus for the 49-foot span and, get this, 28-to-1 glide performance! On first glance, except for its elegant, shapely, and thin wings, the Sinus looks like a proper light sport airplane. Pilot Matevz Lenarcic flew one around the world solo, in 80 days, and with zero ground or air support (see “Microlight Motorglider Flies Around the World,” April ’05 UltralightFlying! magazine). What’s In a Name After All? Let’s consider that name. U.S. dealer Robert Mudd says Pipistrel – the manufacturer – prefers to pronounce it “seen-us,” not “sighn-us.” They say this refers to a perfect sound wave or sine wave rather than a head cold.
We’ve all heard the line: To make a small fortune in aviation, start with a big one. Yet thanks to Comparative Aircraft Flight Efficiency (CAFE) Foundation and NASA, the laws of gravity seem reversed. A Pipistrel Virus (say: “VeerUs”) went home from the Personal Air Vehicle (PAV) Challenge event with four checks totaling (are you ready for this!?): $160,000. The money represents the biggest share of $250,000 awared for this first year of five contest seasons. Australian pilot and LSA businessman Michael Coates flew a modified version of the Pipistrel Virus owned by Vance Turner (photo, on right) of Rescue, California. Lots more details are available; read the rest of the story. *** Virus, sibling of the motorglider Sinus. (“SeenUs”), took the best overall prize ($100,000); efficiency ($25,000); short runway ($25,000); and second place in the top speed prize ($10,000).