Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, November 6, 2012

The Alpha Bet

Is this the best-yet trainer for learning the ABCs of flight?

Late last November, Pipistrel founder, Brainstormer In Chief and head honcho, Ivo Boscarol, announced a major new aircraft project—the Alpha Trainer. Boscarol, widely respected for scheming up bold visions, then motivating his crack Slovenian team of designers, engineers and fabricators to bring them to life—no matter how ambitious they seem—made three big promises about the Alpha:

1. It would debut at Germany's big Aero show in the Spring of 2012.
2. It would begin production a month later.
3. Its price would be $85,000 complete, including full instrumentation and a GRS airframe parachute system.

Now, sky-high ballyhoo isn't uncommon in aviation, whereas follow-through decidedly is...unless your name is Ivo Boscarol. His Alpha report card delivered straight As: The S-LSA did debut at Aero and begin production in May— but it missed its price's cheaper! At $83,995 ($89,000 after shipping and setup), the price alone makes for one of the true value stories in all of light sport.

Yet the Alpha story goes way beyond economics. Its all carbon-fiber composite airframe derives from the same basic wing and fuselage as the Virus SW (Short Wing) speedster which, depending on engine, cruises at 147 knots—at a 3.6 gph fuel burn! Virus has won NASA efficiency prizes for its spectacular efficiency.

Pipistrel optimized the SW airframe to serve a training/sport-cruising mission by dropping in a Rotax 912 80 hp power plant, removing the speed brakes, propping it down to meet the LSA speed regime with a wooden/metal-reinforced two blader, and beefing up the composite gear to handle training hard knocks.

The result is a sleek, beautifully tuned trainer cum cruiser with impressive credentials: 108-knot cruise on just 80 hp with a conservatively spec'd fuel burn of 3.5 gph, 17:1 glide ratio and a full-fuel (I'll say it again: full-fuel) payload of 507 pounds—enough for four hours/390 miles of flight with two, 250-pound passengers aboard (30-minute reserve). Contrast that with Airplane C, a well-known, $150,000 S-LSA that can only manage an anemic 337-pound full-fuel load.

Pick Me, Teacher!
At Oshkosh, I had the good fortune to be one of the first U.S. aviation writers to fly the Alpha. This new affordable S-LSA not only lives up to its advance hype: It exceeds it. I also think of it as a breakout aircraft that has an important lesson for the light-sport industry. That lesson: small, adventurous, innovative, stay-hungry companies will lead the way.

Labels: LSAsPilot Reports


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