Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Pipistrel Virus: Triple Your Pleasure

Soar, tour, train: With this baby, you do it all!

Anatomy Of A Motorglider

Consider the advantages of the wonderful motorglider design: You can skip all those expensive, time-consuming air tows to altitude that sailplane pilots traditionally endure. Simply motor up, switch off the engine, feather or stow the prop, and soar. When you get low, relight the engine, climb back up and do it all over again: It's the soaring pilot's verson of lather, rinse and repeat.

For landing, rather than search for farmers' fields or try to glide to an airport, just crank up the engine and head for home.

A motorglider is by definition a fixed-wing aircraft equipped with a propulsion that can sustain soaring flight without thrust from that source of propulsion.

Most motorgliders have props that are fixed (a bit draggy), can feather like the Virus, have a fuselage-retractable prop on a pylon like the Taurus, or fold back to streamline with the fuselage.

Likewise, engine power can be minimal to robust. Here's a quick breakdown of the basic types:

Touring motorglider. Like the Virus, TMGs launch and cruise like an airplane and soar with engine off.

Sustainer. Towed up like a sailplane, they carry a small engine to extend flights or make slight altitude gains. The engine typically starts by windmilling, and doesn't carry alternator or starter.

Self-Launching. Either self-launches or tows up, has starter, battery and alternator and typically a belt-reduction drive. Some self-launchers have single-blade props to minimize stowage complexities.

Other types of motorgliders include crossovers that allow some touring along with optimal soaring potential; electric-powered models like the Taurus Electro G2; and even jet-powered sustainer and self-launchers.
My introduction to the cockpit suggested an airplane that becomes a part of you in flight, rather than something you pile into to travel somewhere. The Virus doesn't try to be a luxury airplane so much as a tastefully appointed craft harmonized for multiple missions.

The plane is certainly comfortable and very nicely finished. The tidy instrument panel, weight-optimized controls and attractive upholstery contribute to a well-integrated, lean/mean/fun-flying feel.

That optimized functional ethos is further exemplified in the rudder/toe-brake pedal assemblies that so easily adjust with a simple knob pull, the overhead air-brake lever and the throttle/choke lever group between the seats. The pedals and throttle/choke evoke the designer's mindfulness for minimizing pounds.

Only two minor squawks: seat padding that felt a trifle thin, and discomfort working the flap handle that felt a bit too close to my body.

Climbing aboard under the long (almost 41 feet), high-aspect wing, the cockpit fits my 5'11" frame just fine. A strapping Texican if ever there was one, Dave White is a good two inches taller, yet there's plenty of room, thanks to 43.3 inches of cabin width.

A GRS ballistic chute lives onboard, along with something else most LSA don't carry: a Schempp-Hirth sailplane-style air-brake handle that raises vertical fence-like spoilers up from the wing top surfaces: vital for precise glideslope control during landing.

The push-button flap handle brings full-span flaperons into play. They reflex up to a -5 degree setting for high-speed cruise, and down to 9- or 18-degree settings for landings and soaring.

Mr. Dave talks me through the drill as we taxi down the very narrow runway at Brennand Airport's lovely airpark. Nosewheel steering and toe brakes make for an easy ride, even on that 10-inch golf-cart-wide strip.

Scanning the carbon-fiber-weave panel shows we've got everything we need: a Garmin 496 GPS, Dynon's do-it-all FlightDek D-180 EFIS, Garmin's GTX327 transponder, a round, compact XCOM VHF transceiver, some steam-gauge backups, and every soaring pilot's best friend: a total energy-compensating variometer to call out rising or sinking air.

Takeoff is a snap even with the 80 hp Rotax 912. Before long, as we're climbing up at over 1,000 fpm (yep, on 80 hp!), Virus proves so sweet in handling: light on the controls, quick and easy to turn and well-balanced in pitch and roll—a real delight to fly.

And it's slippery! "Yep," says Dave White, "she's a glass slipper, and you have to be attendant to that." A couple of times, my attention wandered, and we approached the Vne of 120 knots (an LSA-glider-imposed limit). You don't ham-hand this airplane around the sky.

We cruise climb at 100 knots at 400 fpm and 5,300 rpm—500 rpm or so below full throttle. In level cruise, I see 112 to 115 knots of cruise at 2.9 gph, and it feels like the engine is hardly working: ample tribute to the super-clean airframe.

That 40-plus feet of high-aspect, tapered-tip wing handles more like 30 feet of span. Turns require so little rudder my Piper Cub-conditioned feet tend to over-yaw the nimble bird.


Add Comment