(December 2011) Remember Slovenia? It used to be part of what we now call “the former Yugoslavia.” Unlike Serbia, Bosnia and Croatia, Slovenia did not lay itself waste, after partition, with ethnic warfare. Perhaps that is why we hear so little about it; peaceful, prosperous and progressive, it is a sort of Slavic Sweden. It lies just south of Austria and east of northern Italy and is about the size of New Jersey. Its landscape is largely Alpine, with a snippet of seacoast on the Adriatic. It is home to 2 million people and to a species of blind subterranean salamander that can go 10 years without eating. According to the CIA, which keeps track of such things, Slovenia “has become a model of economic success and stability for the region. With the highest per capita [gross domestic product] in Central Europe, Slovenia has excellent infrastructure, a well-educated work force and a strategic location between the Balkans and Western Europe.”
And it has Pipistrel.
Pipistrel builds airplanes. Its first products were weight-shift ultralights or “trikes” — those things with the pilot and engine hanging in a frame below a fabric wing. Next, begun in the mid-1990s, was the Sinus (rhymes with Venus), a two-seat motorglider with a 15-meter wing, an 80 hp Rotax engine and a 28:1 glide ratio. Both an aerodynamic and a commercial success, Sinus spawned Virus (VEER-oos). Virus is basically Sinus with a shorter wing — in fact two different spans are available on Virus, the shorter, at 36 feet, getting the tag SW for “short wing” — and, optionally, a 100 hp engine.
In a parallel line of development, around 2000 another Slovenian company, Albastar, which was fabricating wings for Sinuses, mated a conventional single-seat midwing fuselage to a 13-meter version of the wing to create a 40:1 ultralight-class sailplane, which it called Apis. This project was sold to a third Slovenian company, AMSFlight, which provided it with a retractable engine and marketed it as a kit. Pipistrel bought the project back from AMSFlight in 2008, updated it, and now sells it under the names Apis and, in some markets, Bee. In the meantime, in 2002 Pipistrel had developed its own side-by-side, two-seat, self-launching sailplane, Taurus, with a 15-meter version of the same wing, a 41:1 glide ratio and a retractable Rotax engine on a pylon behind the cockpit. Taurus is available in an electric version as well.
So the Pipistrel product line now includes trikes, single- and two-seat self-launching sailplanes, a motorglider and two versions of what is, with some caveats that I’ll return to later, a light-sport aircraft. It also includes propellers, by the way — just a little sideline.
All of the Pipistrel airplanes are remarkable performers. I first learned how remarkable when I was a judge at the CAFE (Comparative Aircraft Flight Efficiency) Foundation’s NASA-funded 2008 efficiency contest. One of the entrants was a 100 hp Virus SW, which I evaluated at the time. I got a particular kick out of its upper-surface sailplane-style airbrakes, which provide direct lift control during the landing approach. It won the contest, as it had the year before. One of the surprising performance points it turned in was a level speed of 142 knots. It will, in fact, cruise at 140 ktas (the factory specs say 148) making 40 nautical miles per gallon — exceptional for a factory-made 100 hp two-seater.