Pipistrel Virus-SW914 to Circumnavigate Globe

In a collaborative project between Penn State University and Slovenian aircraft manufacturer, Pipistrel, the Virus-SW914 aircraft was launched on 8 January this year from Ljubljana, with the aim of circumnavigating the globe, a distance of around 62,000 miles, over the next two months. As the winner of NASA’s 2011 Green Flight Challenge, Pipistrel aims to demonstrate that small aircraft can play an important role in climate science. One of the functions the aircraft will serve is to study the effect of light-absorbing aerosols and black carbon on the earth’s atmosphere as it travels through areas that are not currently being monitored by sensors. Because of the altitude the light aircraft will be traveling at, it will be in the position to obtain three-dimensional images of the atmosphere in predetermined areas.

The aircraft which won the 2011 Green Flight Challenge for Pipistrel, is the Taurus, which covered a distance of 400 miles on a single gallon of gas as it was primarily electric-powered. Specializing in ultra-light aircraft, Pipistrel holds ten FAI (Fédération Aéronautique Internationale) world records.

The Virus-SW914 has a fuel consumption figure of 36 miles per gallon travelling at a speed of around 170 miles per hour. The aircraft being used in the global circumnavigation attempt has extra fuel tanks in its wings and all-electronic instruments. The airplane weighs 640 pounds, has a maximum take-off weight of 1,500 pounds and can climb to an altitude of 30,000 feet.

With pilot Matevz Lenarcic behind the controls, the Virus-SW914 will travel to Morocco, followed by Senegal, before crossing the Atlantic Ocean to South America. The route will then travel down the coast of South America before crossing the Antarctic and the Pacific Ocean heading for New Zealand, Australia and southeast Asia and traveling back to Africa. When crossing Mount Everest in the Himalayas, Lenarcic will take photographs and gather data at different altitudes in areas that have not yet been monitored for climate change. The aerosol inlet feature of the Virus-SW914 is designed to measure aerosol optical properties at different wavelengths, providing valuable data for scientists and climate change research.