Sunday, November 13, 2011

Major New Trainer Debuts

The company I’ve been writing a lot about lately keeps finding more things for me to talk about. When I was in Slovenia last month, Pipistrel's movers and shakers told me on the QT to be ready for a major announcement soon. 
And here it is: just officially announced this morning, introducing the Alpha Trainer, a purpose-built version of the company's winning Virus SW (Short Wing) cruiser.  Designed for the flight school market, it carries an introductory price that should raise a few eyebrows: $83,000 just about everything, including delivery, shipping to the US, FAA fees etc.
Yep, I'd call that news.
Rand Vollmer of SALSA Aviation, a U.S. Pipistrel dealer, tipped me off this morning about the official release.
A Rotax 80HP engine brings strong climb and 108-knot cruise
Pipistrel makes elegant, fun-flying, functional aircraft and the Alpha (200 were recently ordered by the Indian government) should prove to be no exception.
It’s targeted at LSA Flying Schools wherever ASTM or FAA-LSA regulations hold sway.
In its release, the company states:
“With the economy the way it is most aircraft have been priced (out of) the marketplace for the average person or flight school.”
Key design features include:
<> Economies of purchase, operation, maintenance and repair.
<> Durable, with docile flight and stall characteristics for beginning students.
<> UV-resistant acrylic paint finish for outdoor storage and day-long flight operations in heat well above 100°F (composites are often knocked for not standing up to mid-day heat and sun)
<> Quiet, easy-access, roomy cockpit (43"-plus), good cabin ventilation and heating, approved strobes and lighting.
<> Quick access to reliable spare parts to keep aircraft flying
<> Reasonable cross-country training range, easy refueling, strong hydraulic brakes, adjustable dual flight controls, tricycle gear with steerable nosewheel
<> GRS Ballistic parachute system standard
A big part of Pipistrel's success: sleek, efficient aerodynamics.  all images courtesy Pipistrel

Pipistrel has built more than 1000 aircraft since it began with Ivo Boscarol’s trike design 25 years ago.  The company has won several European air games events and the prestigious NASA CAFE efficiency challenge three times in a row (including this year's stunning electric Taurus G4 that averaged 400 passenger miles per gallon at 100 mph and took the top prize of $1.35 million).
As I’ve said, this outfit is not fooling around: they are well on their way to becoming a major presence in the light sport aircraft market.  They haven’t broken out in the U.S. just yet...the Alpha may have a major impact on that.
The release isn’t even up on the website yet, so here are a few more details of this pending (April 2012 delivery) debut:
Beefed up composite undercarriage supports full fuel and an additional 500 lbs. of payload.

New nose gear strut is 2" inches shorter than the Virus, which lowers the nose and improves taxi viz...prop clearance is not compromised: the Alpha uses a smaller 63” diameter fixed pitch prop.
The 15 gallon fuel tank has a large fill opening to accommodate fast-flow avgas pumps, although ethanol-free auto avgas is still the recommended fuel for Rotax engines.
That fuel capacity still gives Alpha “at least 400 miles range with reserves” at a normal cruise just under 110 knots.
In training mode, even doing multiple pattern flights only burns around 2.5 gph max for five hours endurance.  This is no marketing hype: the Virus I flew, on which the Alpha is based, is so aerodynamically clean it gets right up to altitude with a strong 1000'-plus climb rate and a 110-115 knot speed regime...on the same 80hp the Alpha will carry.
The Alpha is propped to give a slower cruise of 108 knots to meet the LSA category without sacrificing that super climb rate.
Alpha’s airframe is built of carbon fiber, kevlar and fiberglass and was brought in 100 lbs. lighter than the SW...impressive.
Interior appointments include heavy-duty seat fabric, no wheel spats to minimize repair issues from  student “prangs”, and two-minute wheel swaps for flat tires.  Everything about this airplane is geared to the high demand training market.
The modified wing design includes flaperons with 25° of travel (two stops) and no airbrakes (standard on the Sinus and Virus motorgliders).  There's inflight elevator trim too.
Even the prop is designed and produced by Pipistrel on the monster 8-axis CNC-machining robot I saw at the factory which precision-carves the wooden pieces.  Then they're wrapped in a composite covering, the leading edges get added protection and it's painted.

A luggage rack behind the seats helps out with incidental storage needs like tie downs, water bottles and such.  Two large pockets on the sides of the panel allow inflight access.
Basic instrumentation is conventional steam gauges including tach, hobbs meter, oil pressure and temp, CHT, EGT, fuel quantity. 
Also included are a GPS Garmin Aera 500 with AirGizmo docking station, ICOM IC A210 radio with intercom, aerial and two headsets (!), Garmin GTX 327 altitude encoding transponder and Kannad 406 AF ELT.
And still more: the 34' 6" wing-span will snug nicely into most T-hangars. 
The airframe is painted in white UV-resistant acrylic.
Price for all this training goodness: €61,500, around $83,600 US at today’s exchange rate. 
But wait: there’s more!  Introductory rate for schools and individuals wanting to commit now with a $15K US deposit can lock in a price of €58,000, around $78,900.  Add on shipping, delivery and FAA fees and you’re looking at $83,000 US.  That’s a compelling price for a fully-equipped, purpose-built, new trainer.
There’s more to discuss re how well all-composite trainers can stand up to the rigors of life in a flight school.  I’ll talk with the Pipistrel folks more about how they address composite repairs, which typically are more challenging than their aluminum counterparts.

No comments: