By Mary Grady, Contributing editor
Pipistrel this week launched a fuel-efficient Virus-SW914 on a mission to circle the world and study the climate. The lightweight LSA, flown by Matevx Lenarcic, took off from Slovenia on Sunday and headed west to Morocco. Lenarcic aims to cross the Atlantic, then follow the coast of South America southward, fly across Antarctica, and head north across the South Pacific to New Zealand. He'll then cross Australia, Asia, and Africa. Along the way he'll fly over Mount Everest, take photographs, and collect atmospheric data from various altitudes in areas that have not been studied before.
The aircraft has been modified with an aerosol inlet that can measure aerosol optical properties at various wavelengths. The aim is to collect data about the concentrations of black carbon and light-absorbing carbonaceous aerosols in regions where very few measurements have taken place. The airplane, which weighs just 640 pounds, will fly at speeds up to 160 knots and altitudes up to 30,000 feet. Lenarcic plans to cover about 62,000 miles in about 10 weeks. His team is posting daily updates online.