Voyager Celebrates 25 Years, Pipistrel Pilot Looks Ahead

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Burt Rutan's Voyager flew around the world unrefueled and touched down at Edwards Air Force Base at 8:06 a.m. on Dec. 23, 1986, 25 years ago, and in a few days, a project from Pipistrel aims to achieve new world-rounding goal. Rutan's aircraft was piloted by his brother Dick and pilot Jeanna Yeager and made its 24,986-mile trip in just over nine days. It averaged 116 miles per hour while burning through nearly 7,000 pounds of fuel. The achievement earned the team multiple accolades, and was recognized with a Collier Trophy from the National Aeronautic Association for the greatest flying achievement in the United States that year. One pilot will set off early in 2012 in a Pipistrel aircraft with the intent to round the world in a fixed-wing aircraft, burning the least amount of fuel per distance flown. He will not be taking the shortest route possible.

This adventure will be mounted by biologist Matevz Lenarcic in collaboration with Pipistrel. The aircraft will be the 640-pound Virus SW Worldrounder. According to a company engineer, the aircraft can carry little more than 92 gallons for a range of roughly 2,000 nautical miles. It will fly behind a modified, inter-cooled Rotax 914 and a custom propeller. The mating of airframe, engine and propeller will achieve cruise speeds of 170 knots at high altitudes. The trip is being called the GreenLight WorldFlight. It will fly around the world, westbound, and will see flight over seven continents and three oceans. Lenarcic aims to use the flight to acquire photographs of the world's geography as differentiated by water quality and distribution. Lenarcic intends to publish a book about world waters based on the images. Pipistrel has won multiple competitive awards from NASA for efficient aircraft design. Its Taurus G4 earned the company $1.35 million when it won NASA's Green Flight Challenge. The Taurus G4 is a battery-powered aircraft and achieved what NASA concluded to be the equivalent of 388.4 passenger miles per gallon. The aviation community is waiting for the 2012 public unveiling of the company's 210-hp, 200-knot, 1,000-nautical-mile, fixed-wing four-seater, the Panthera.