The airbrake, which produces no pitch trim change, comes into its own on landing. Michael’s technique was to cut power to idle at the key position on the downwind leg and leave it there. The Virus glides extremely flat, and 18 degrees of flap does not produce enough drag to make it come down steeply. The airbrake provides easy and powerful control of descent rate. Holding 60 knots and with the airbrake lever in my hand, I could adjust the aim point with great precision. Flaring with the airbrake retracted, I could then extend it to plant the wheels on the runway.
If I Were King
There is little to criticize in the Virus, but as usual I would change something if I were king. I think the locations of the flap and airbrake handles should be reversed. The flap handle is seldom used, whereas the airbrake is used continually during the landing approach and would feel more natural coming out of the center console. That would also put it closer to the throttle for a go-around. I would also like to see some sort of dead-man arrangement on the airbrake grip that would allow it to stay put when you let go of it, though I see the potential problem — not insoluble — of a pilot’s forgetting during a balked landing that he has the airbrake out.
Visibility while maneuvering is as bad as in any other high-wing airplane. There is an oval window in the overhead behind the wing spar, but it is of very limited usefulness. I suspect that a bit more of the roof could be made transparent, but there is a lot of clutter up there in any case. Limited visibility in turns is inherent in the configuration; it can’t be helped, except perhaps by moving the wing root aft and sweeping the wing forward.
The Virus in the form in which I flew it is not an LSA; it is too fast, and its variable-pitch prop is not allowed under U.S. rules (European rules for the generally similar “ultralight” category are more permissive). The one I flew is licensed in the Experimental category as a sales demonstrator. The Virus is also available as a kit; that would make it Experimental Amateur Built, which is a practical option. To qualify as an LSA, it has to be equipped with a fixed-pitch climb propeller that limits its level speed to 120 knots.
Not resting on its laurels, Pipistrel has announced a very ambitious, 200-knot, retractable-gear four-seater called Panthera to be certified under Part 23. Three power plants are envisioned: a 200 hp Lycoming IO-390, a hybrid and a pure electric system. (The twin-fuselage Taurus G4 that won the Green Challenge was powered by the 195 hp electric motor that is planned for the Panthera.) I would dismiss the claims made for the Panthera as pie in the sky, but I would have said the same thing about the Virus if I hadn’t flown it, and I would have been wrong. Part 23 is a shoal on which many a noble project has foundered. But it would be a mistake to sell those Slovenians short — they’re on a roll!
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