Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, November 6, 2012

The Alpha Bet

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

Visibility for a streamlined, high-wing aircraft is plenty good—forward, overhead, to the side and even to the rear. The cruise attitude is slightly nose down so the over-the-glare shield sight picture is excellent. To the sides, my eye level was about six inches below wing bottom (I'm 5'11"). The overhead window is placed perfectly to provide excellent topside views around a turn. As mentioned in my Virus pilot report previously, the overhead spar carry-through presents a bit of a forehead obstacle for taller pilots. Sitting in the cockpit will be important in evaluating Alpha's potential for you.

In flight, thanks to its glider-ish pedigree, Alpha flies like a dolphin swims: joyfully,nimbly, beautifully. It's fully alive in the air. I felt right at home as soon as I took the controls; this is what a clean sport aircraft should feel like.

Some specifics: Roll rate (45-to-45-degree bank=2.0 seconds) is phenomenal. Roll pressures are two-finger-light. Pitch/roll/yaw are beautifully harmonized. Rudder control is highly effective with minimal input. Only modest pedal deflections make Alpha dance beautifully in yaw. In fact, the Purdue pilots told me their Alpha students learn from Lesson One that less is more: gentle, smaller-range control inputs are considered de rigeur.

Alpha's glider-slippery airframe teaches energy management in a hurry. I dove slightly coming out of a turn at 93 knots and we sped up to107 knots, just like that. The Alpha will make a conscious, Fred Astaire-style pilot out of anyone: There's no need to yank this bird around the sky like a ham-handed, wooden-footed dancer. Graceful manners beget superior results with this lovely bird.

The airplane exhibits almost no adverse- yaw tendency even with fast stick deflection, yet good rudder skills do enhance performance and overall enjoyment. Once at cruise, a tap on the electric trim switch and Alpha holds its position like a rock. That's also true of turn performance: Bank to 30 degrees and it stays at 30 degrees, with neither over-bank nor roll-out tendencies—another trait that will serve students and experienced pilots well.

Indeed, my benchmark LSA for all-around enjoyable, crisp, smooth, intuitively "right" handling has been the Remos GX—until now. The Alpha is my new Main Squeeze.

All Pipistrel aircraft have true soaring potential. And although the Alpha isn't marketed as a motorglider, the 17:1 glide ratio is nothing to sneeze at. There's no reason, on a soarable day, you couldn't throttle back to idle to catch a thermal or a cloud street and cop some free energy.

Manage That Energy!
The Alpha stalls only with the greatest reluctance, at roller-coaster-like high deck angles and with benign docility even then. Easing the stick forward gets you flying again, power on or off. The high-aspect-ratio, clean composite wing delivers excellent cruise performance. Yet a new wing-tip design deliberately invokes drag when it's most needed: during the landing phase.

Labels: LSAsPilot Reports


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