The Pipistrel Virus, a light sport aircraft designed in Slovenia, won NASA’s Comparative Aircraft Flight Efficiency (CAFE) Foundation’s title as the most efficient aircraft in the world. The rigorously exacting competition focused on noise, cruise speed, and fuel burn.
Using space-age instrumentation, NASA’s CAFE Foundation proved that the Virus had the shortest takeoff distance, the highest climb rate, the steepest climb angle, the highest top speed and the lowest fuel burn. It also was tied for the quietest cabin noise.
I myself could barely hear the engine. Then Neil made it quieter by turning the engine off. In mid-air. But I’m getting ahead of my story.
When I first visited Pattaya Airpark, Neil let me fly the Pipistrel Virus, the flagship of his fleet. We soared over Pattaya’s beaches, and I couldn’t tell which entranced me more – the spectacular view outside, or the data on the instruments inside.
In the last photo above, we are in level flight in a steep 45-degree bank, at just 40 knots. Every powered airplane I’ve flown would fall from the sky with that loading, at that frugal an airspeed. The lightest whisper of airflow over this wing’s sensuous surface kept us aloft.
The Pipistrel Virus has a glide ratio of over 17:1. For every 200 feet it descends, it glides well over 1.5 miles. A hefty three miles from Pattaya Airpark, Neil turned the engine off. Theory was about to become practice.
In the photo above, the propeller is frozen. We still need to fly over the runway, at left, fly right downwind and base, and land from the opposite direction.
We flew over the airfield. At mid-downwind, we were at 547 feet MSL, descending 500 feet per minute at 65 knots. Two-mile pattern, a minute per mile … I did the math furiously in my head.
The “0” and the stationary propeller said it all. Zero RPM. The engine was off.
On base leg, we were at 255 feet, 57 knots. In the movie Always, Pete (Richard Dreyfuss) flew a similarly impaired A-26 to an airfield surrounded by pine trees, dead stick. I knew the dialogue by heart.
Pete: [right engine out of fuel and dead] Tanker 57 to tanker base. I’ve got a small inconvenience here.
Tower: Talk to me Pete.
Pete: I may have overestimated my fuel just a tad, but I can see the base from here and my right engine is fine, so I don’t think there’s going to be any…
[left engine also runs out of fuel and whines to a stop]
Pete: … problem.
Tower: Pete, what do you need? What do you need?
Pete: [both engines now dead] Glider practice.
Tower: [rings the crash alarm and announces over the PA] We’ve got a situation here. We’ve got a flier coming in dead stick.
Pete: This is good. I was rusty on panic. OK, no problem, I’ve got the airport in sight, … .
As we turned onto final approach, the vertical speed, incredibly, was zero. In a 30-degree bank, we were in level flight, maintaining altitude, with no power.
It was a solid performance by a master aviator thoroughly familiar with the airplane’s capabilities. Neil often landed the Virus dead-stick. He knew exactly how it behaved without power.
I loved every minute of that flight.
I will so miss flying with Neil.
Written on CX879, San Francisco to Hong Kong
Posted from Singapore, February 14, 2013.