Tuesday, November 6, 2012
The Alpha Bet
Is this the best-yet trainer for learning the ABCs of flight?
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.
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.
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