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Flying for $15/Hour in a Pipistrel

By Daniel Scopel

I fly an average of 500 hours a year in the province of Quebec, Canada. I can afford to fly so many hours because my Pipistrel Sinus only burns an average of less than 8 liters an hour regular mogas. I do not have too many surprise repairs, only normal wear to deal with. When I shut the engine off, I have more fun and I spend even less - about $15 per hour.

During 2012 I was able to fly C-FYXY with the engine off more hours than usual, maybe because I finally learned to soar better, and because now I have more experience in flying the local small ridges on days with stronger winds when I am able to stay over the top of the hills well clear of the numerous antennae.

I like to fly my Pipistrel Sinus because I can thermal easily at speeds of 40 to 45 knots and cruise up to 122 knots (VNE speed in calm air). Here in Quebec, I fly from April to November. In December I remove the wings because I do not want to pay to remove the snow, nor do I want to pay more for hangar heating.

Winter here is such that when the weather is nice, it's too cold to fly, and when it's not very cold, weather conditions are not favourable to fly. So during these months I travel. This winter I went to Italy at the end of January.

I flew Air France from Montreal to Paris and then another flight to Venice. The first thing I noticed in Italy is that I would be able to fly my Pipistrel Sinus all winter. With the typical weather in Italy, all the Canadian pilots I know would be flying normally. North of Venice there are enough flatlands and the grass stays green all winter. Forty nautical miles to the north you see the Alps all covered with snow. It seems like a magic place.

Italian Alps
Truly a magical place

From Venice I went to my village located 60 nautical miles to the north in the first valleys of the Alps where the snow remains most of the winter. It's not as cold there as in Canada. A few days later, I drove to San Daniele, staying as the guest of Italian friends that had visited us in Canada. This is the place for "prosciutto crudo," an Italian food delicacy. I really enjoy this food, particularly with good local wines like Prosecco.

Italian Alps
View of the Alps under our wing

The following week, the weather was very nice, and we traveled to Slovenia to the first Pipistrel factory, located not far from the Italian border. There is a second Pipistrel factory in Italy near the border where Pipistrel builds the new Panthera. As soon as you cross the Italian border and into Slovenia, the terrain becomes hilly and the winding roads are a pleasure to ride.

My intentions were to pick up some spare parts from the factory, ask for some advice from a Pipistrel technician, get quotations for parts I might need in the future, and learn more about the new Alpha Trainer.

As soon as we arrived at the plant we met Tanja, who had already prepared some of the parts I needed. She introduced us to the proper technicians for more advice and parts selection and also arranged for us to meet one of the Pipistrel test-demo pilots, Nejc Faganelj.

The Alpha Trainer was already out of the hangar, so I started to examine the airplane and ask questions. The weather was very nice: light winds, blue sky with very few clouds popping up. The nearby mountains were covered with snow, but there was no need to wear gloves. It took almost 10 minutes to warm up the 80-hp Rotax engine, and before we knew it we were flying the Alpha Trainer.

Daniel and Nejc with Alpha trainer
Daniel and Nejc with Alpha trainer

Nejc, who flies 600 to 700 hours a year, started with a normal takeoff and climbed to 2,000 feet ASL, then handed me the controls. My goal was to find out how the Alpha differs from the Sinus. The engine and fuselage are about the same, but the wingspan is 12 meters instead of 15 with no spoilers. Handling is similar, but the Alpha Trainer rolls much quicker...much more fun to turn! I was a little confused by the different types of instruments that I am not familiar with, but I was totally at ease with the controls and with the airplane.

Five minutes were all I needed to find out what I wanted to feel, and then I turned over the controls to Nejc, who continued the impressive standard demo that Pipistrel normally stages.

He demoed a normal climbing stall, showing that you must keep the stick full back and really try to stall the airplane, recovering easily. Then we dived for VNE speed and climbed steeply for a high-speed climbing stall. The Alpha recovered easily.

After this, a few low passes over the runway at highest and lowest flying speeds with pull-ups. Wow, this is flying!

After an impressively short landing, I left the airplane, stood just clear of the runway, and watched as Nejc did a very short takeoff and performed some more impressive low passes and pull-ups. During a minimum-speed flyby, one can barely hear the engine.

Noise is not an issue when the Alpha zooms by at 250 kilometers an hour. Landing is staged to be a short one, and you notice the pilot applying the brakes efficiently, using almost nothing of the grass runway.

I am pleased to say that the Pipistrel facility is extremely modern and clean, and the people working there are outstanding. I want to thank Tanja for the good service, Nejc for the fantastic ride, Leon for the excellent technical support, and all the other people who were so kind and polite in helping me technically and answering my questions.

Pipistrel is approaching 1,000 aircraft delivered - kits and factory-built - and more than 50 Alpha Trainers have already been shipped.

I already own two airplanes, so I do not need a third one; but I am very tempted to own and fly an Alpha Trainer, because if I can arrange a fractional ownership, there would not be anything else to fly at a lower cost for so much fun with so much standard equipment.

The Alpha Trainer comes standard with transponder, radio plus headset, ballistic parachute, and all-digital modern instruments. Three position flaps, solid landing gear, and efficient brakes are quite adequate for flight training wear and tear.

The replaceable fuselage tank will avoid bad surprises with today's different types of gas. We don't really know what we will get in terms of types of fuel with or without ethanol in the future. I believe you can get more than 5,000 hours of engine time out of this Rotax and that you can fly more than 10 years or 10,000 hours before you must do something expensive.

The Alpha Trainer is also certified to fly at night in some countries. Here in Canada, because it is an ultralight or maybe because night regulations are different, it cannot be flown at night.

I write on a forum thread in a local website where I propose to local pilots and wannabes an Alpha Trainer multiple ownership. Feel free to browse and comment.

Learn more at the Pipistrel website.

Flying Videos From Slovenia

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