Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Light-Sport Chronicles: The Wizards of Alpha

Insider glimpses of Pipistrel’s sky-breaking new trainer

Alpha's very cool round-dialed displays are made by another Slovenian company, LX Navigation. "People in general aviation have never heard of them. But in the gliding world, LX is known as one of the best."

The LX instruments were developed after all-analog, then 10-inch Dynon SkyView systems were tried out in the prototype Alpha. While there was enthusiasm for both types, there was pushback, too. Flight schools wanted simpler instruments but also digital displays for the younger crowd. Older owners reared on analog preferred steam gauges.

"We ended up with a combination of both. The analog needle goes around the outside of the dial, and digital characters display in the middle."

Those characters are big: more than ½-inch high and a snap to read in flight, even for near-distance-challenged older pilots, like yours truly.

Another spiffy benefit with the LX system is the daisy chain connectivity. Think USB. "The instruments are much lighter, simpler and faster to install," said Coates. "They all connect to the LX bus system. One instrument connects to another, to another and so on. Putting the panel together involves just one set of wires, positive and negative, for all the flight and engine dials. Everything just leapfrogs together, and that's it.

"The whole wiring can be done in three minutes. There's quite a reduction in labor and material costs and, most importantly, in weight. We also don't have air brakes in the wings which helped bring down the empty weight."

One feature I note in my flight report is the 507-pound payload with full fuel. Like most LSA, there's not a lot of luggage capacity, but Coates notes the max capacity is 55 pounds. With typical two-passenger loading, there's still room and load for headsets, tiedowns, manuals and personal items like a small clothes duffle.

"There's a surprising amount back there, actually, even though the aircraft is not designed for touring and carrying luggage." Even then, the Alpha includes a ballistic parachute system as standard equipment. And you don't pay a weight penalty for it.

The in-fuselage fuel tank—behind the seats—departs from the Pipistrel wing-tank convention. "LSA aircraft with composite tanks are vulnerable to erosion from fuel additives like ethanol. Pipistrel has always recommended not using ethanol, since it can erode the materials."

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