Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Light-Sport Chronicles: Profiles In Vision: Ivo Boscarol

Routinely setting your goals way too high has its benefits

My knees wobble. That motion transfers to and magnifies the gyrations of the pole top I'm attempting to lift my left leg high enough to step onto. Climbing up the 33-foot wooden pole, lumberjack style, was challenge enough. Now, I'm wondering: What in the world was I thinking?

Welcome to Slovenia, and let's raise our glasses to setting your goals too high. Already smitten at Oshkosh by a flight in Pipistrel's Virus S-LSA cruising motorglider, I had come here to fly the company's other models at the factory that lives in the western part of former Yugoslovia. This greenest, most environmentally friendly building in Slovenia is solely powered by 11 different sources of renewable energy, from solar panels to geothermal heating.

My agreeable companion for this busman's holiday was Rand Vollmer, the ever-cheery LSA dealer who heads up SALSA Aviation out of Texas. We met at Venice's Marco Polo Airport, and drove 90 minutes over the border to Ajdovšcina, Slovenia.

There was just one catch, and it goes by the name burja. The factory nestles in a deep, narrow valley between two high mountain ridges. That Venturi-like geology sets up truly nightmarish winds when it's blowing just right. The burja blew just right for our entire five days. All those lovely white Pipistrel airplanes never saw sunlight my entire visit. Boo-freakin'-hoo. Maybe the winds are why Pipistrel is building another factory in Italy to produce its upcoming (2013) Ferrari-like Panthera four-seat 200-knot cruiser. The Panthera will be powered by gasoline (including auto gas), hybrid gas/electric or pure electricity.

On to plan B...except there was no plan B. Undaunted, two days later, I sat across from Pipistrel's founder and head honcho, Ivo Boscarol. We chatted about his design team's stunning achievement in winning the NASA/Google CAFE Green Flight Challenge with the all-electric powered Taurus Electro G4. That stunning engineering milestone earned Pipistrel a cool $1.35 million, and overnight shifted everybody's expectations of viable electric flight from "medium-term" to "just around the corner."

Ivo Boscarol is a tall, dynamic yet wholly accessible guy, with the easy bonhomie of someone who knows what he's doing but doesn't wear it like a Rolex watch. Rand Vollmer says he's a "rock star" in his home country. He's a bit of a Renaissance maverick too, having done everything from professional photography to studying economics to running his own photo-printing business to managing the political campaign of the man who came in second to the current president of Slovenia.

A quarter century ago, he saw an Italian trike fly and said, "That's for me!" He smuggled one into then-Yugoslavia: Civilians couldn't legally fly small aircraft. "On one trip, I said it was a big bunch of tubes for a radio antenna. The next, it was canvas for a tent, then an engine for a motorboat. I assembled it here at the airfield, which was a military-only installation."


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