Pipistrels Training Future Air Force Pilots


The first airplane some new Air Force pilots will fly might be a Pipistrel Alpha trainer. The first cohort of 20 potential pilots, all of them either about to become USAF officers or freshly commissioned, completed a course that led to 17 them soloing the light sport aircraft. The new program, called the Aviation-Character-Education (ACE) Solo Flight, is aimed at identifying potential pilots from within the ranks as one aspect of its drive to stabilize its pilot population. Although some Air Force officers have made the transition to pilot in the past, the ACE program will allow more to try out because of its low cost. On the mainstream training aircraft, it can cost $200,000 to get a new pilot to solo. Pipistrel spokesman Michael Coates said the new program put all 20 candidates through the training for less than half of that.

The program is designed to see if those who want to try becoming pilots have the necessary aptitude and skill to succeed in the real Air Force training environment. In a contract awarded to Tomorrow’s Aeronautical Museum in Compton, California and U.S. Aeroclub in Fullerton, the companies supplied four Alphas and instructors in a course run at Tuskegee, Alabama. In the first course, 17 candidates soloed, two didn’t have their FAA paperwork in time and one had to stop training because of persistent motion sickness. The course lasted just two weeks. A second intake begins in Compton next month with 30 students flying seven Alphas.

Russ Niles
Russ Niles is Editor-in-Chief of AVweb. He has been a pilot for 30 years and joined AVweb 22 years ago. He and his wife Marni live in southern British Columbia where they also operate a small winery.

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  1. “$200,000 to get a new pilot to solo”

    …or not accept ANYONE into the Air Force pilot program that has not spent just $1K and a few weeks of their own resources to at least solo a single engine plane on their own dime. That will weed out candidates at zero cost to the Air Force.
    Simple, reasonable, done.

    • To add to my comment…
      $200K at $200/hour = 1000 HOURS OF FLIGHT TIME.

      They need to wash out students after 10-20 hours if they can’t even solo a high wing single!
      Pipistrel does no favors by saying they can set “the bar” for students to just half of the 1000 hours.
      Half a huge waste is still an awfully large waste of taxpayer money.

  2. “it can cost $200,000 to get a new pilot to solo. ”

    That’s wildly absurd. I hold my PPL and Instrument rating but not current in 20 years. I soloed after about 7 hours. I spent maybe $700 in the early 90s. My oldest got his PPL three years ago at a cost of around 11K with the local flying club and about 70 hours of flight time. He is now a Naval Aviator….just completed his carrier qualifications with 14 landings and 8 touch and go. Should have his wings In August and then off to an F18 training squadron.

    Either this article is horribly inaccurate or the Air Force needs to cut costs.

  3. I’ll add a third OMG to the quoted cost estimate for getting an Air Force flight student to solo. What is their mainstream training aircraft, an F-18? Yes, LSA aircraft typically have lower fuel burns than aircraft certified under 14 CFR Part 23, but fuel cost is a minor piece of the overall cost of training through solo. Even a slow learner can solo after 15 hours of instruction. With a conservative cost of $125/hour wet for the plane and $45/hr for instructor time, that is still only $2,550.00. Was the article off by 2 decimal places?

  4. If one were to fly only electric aircraft there would undoubtedly be a BIG limitation on the pilot certificate. Electric engines leave a big hole in pilot training because of the simplicity of the power system. No run-up required, that I know of; no monitoring of temperatures and lubricant pressures, Just flip the switch to on and, excepting flight control check and ATC, you are ready for takeoff. How much will flight range be affected by using cabin heat during cold weather? Or deicing equipment?
    I have heard no discussion of multi-engine procedures, never mind electric engined transport aircraft. Will the weight of high-power engines and batteries require a greater multiplicity of engines for large aircraft? Is electric flight going to progress beyond single-engine airplanes under, say, 12,500 lbs? Just food for thought.

    • Adding to my own comment: I see no rationale for any military creating its own primary flight training department using only electric aircraft until there are operational electric-engine tactical aircraft. Using glider training should probably do just as well in deciding who is not a “natural” pilot. Power management is much more a part of flying than just aerodynamics.

      • As I mentioned, my son is in the Navy. The Navy in Pensacola doesn’t perform primary training. They contract out to local FBOs to introduce new pilots to flying in Cessnas. This is a great deal if you happen to own an FBO. You have a steady stream of smart students with a government paycheck financing your operation. I am not sure if the FBO takes them through the PPL rating, but it teaches the new pilots the basics.

        I just picked up that the aircraft in the article is electric. Interesting.

  5. I agree that $200K to pilot solo must be a misprint, but the military can spend money foolishly so who knows. The Pipistrel in the photo is rotax-powered, not electric. I believe some some commentators here have wandered down the electric rabbit hole inadvertently. I could find nothing in the article that suggested that Alpha Electros are being used. A Pipistrel Alpha Trainer has a Rotax 912, I believe.