Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, November 6, 2012

The Alpha Bet

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

Pipistrel was a bit of a sleeper in the U.S. market until fairly recently. The Slovenian company has built quality, advanced-design, superb-flying composite aircraft for years now. And this is the same lean, mean band of innovators who won NASA's $1.65 million Green Flight Challenge last year with its Taurus Electro G4 electric-powered aircraft. The G4 averaged more than 100 mph for two hours on the equivalent energy of less than one gallon of gas per passenger! Given current electric power technology, that staggering feat alone amply demonstrates Pipistrel adaptability and brilliance as an organization.

In the Alpha Trainer, the company displayed its confidence by taking a years- proven planform—the glider-sleek wings and bullet-shaped profile of the Virus and Sinus—and recrafting it into an all-purpose, economical, amazingly low-priced aircraft.

Alpha is no stripped-down, trainer-only LSA either. Seriously now: How many aircraft do we have in any aviation category that cruise at 108 knots on a fuel burn of 3 to 3.5 gph (auto or Avgas) and 80 hp? Yet Alpha still climbs out at better than 1,000 fpm. Even with our all-up demo flight load of 400 pounds and a full 15-gallon fuel load in the fuselage tank, we climbed at 900 fpm...and that was at 90 knots, on a warmish, humid morning, in a new airplane and engine not yet broken in. Yeah. Alpha's got serious chops.

There's more than enough performance here for students in the pattern, and touch-and-go, pattern-work fuel burn is around 2.6 gph.

Speaking of cruise, some performance specs for Alpha appear to be a tad conservative. Take the published 3.6 gph at 108 knots at 5,000 rpm. At charming little Brennand Air Park north of Oshkosh, I met a gaggle of graduates from Purdue University's vaunted aviation program. These young hot sticks have been doing some teaching in the Alpha for Don Sharp, Pipistrel's Midwest dealer and a 30,000-hour CFI/pilot himself. Sharp got the first U.S. Alpha. All the Purdue boys say Alpha's fuel burn at cruise is more like 2.8 to 3 gph.

Daydream Believer
Alpha received its ASTM-conforming S-LSA certificate at Oshkosh. I flew it the very next day. Simply put, it's a dream to fly. Launching out of Brennand (dimensions: 2400x20 feet—no way. It's more like 16 feet!), demo pilot and CFI Sean Looloian showed me the ropes during an hour's worth of air work. We did approach, departure and accelerated stalls, slow flight, Dutch rolls, high-bank turns and roll reversals, and topped it all off with landings at dinky little Brennand—a landing challenge in any aircraft.

The cockpit is well organized. I love the new, bright and clear analog/digital 31⁄8-inch steam gauge-style instruments. The sufficiently roomy panel forgoes a big EFIS screen in favor of those round gauges, Garmin Aera 500 portable GPS in an AirGizmo dock, Garmin GTX 327 transponder, ICOM IC-A210E radio and 406 MHz ELT.

The rudder pedals are adjustable in flight. My only nag is the seat padding, which didn't support the lumbar area and was noticeably uncomfortable for my tailbone. Tine Tomazic, Pipistrel's R&D/test-pilot wizard, told me the seat has already been redesigned and will incorporate better support.

Labels: LSAsPilot Reports


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