Subsidized by local funds from Fresno County, a fleet of four Pipistrel Alpha Electro trainers will be made available for primary training in California’s Central Valley late this year, program organizers hope. Fresno County will be installing chargers for the aircraft at four local airports: Mendota, Reedley, Fresno Chandler and a fourth airport to be determined. The Alpha Electro has a maximum endurance of approximately 90 minutes and an 85-knot cruising speed, making round-trip, cross-country flights a stretch. Joseph Oldham, Sustainability Manager for the City of Fresno, told AVweb that the fourth airport will ideally be just over 50 NM, permitting the Alphas to make one-way flights meeting private pilot cross-country training requirements, recharge in about 45 minutes and return home. The fallback plan is for students to do cross-country training in the piston-powered version of the Alpha.
Oldham told attendees at the Sustainable Aviation Symposium that Fresno hopes to have the new aircraft on hand and high-voltage chargers installed at the four chosen airports by the fall of this year. The FAA has not yet released a paradigm for approving electric propulsion airplanes, either in certified aircraft or in light sports, as Pipistrel plans for the Alpha Electro. Oldham is travelling to Washington next week to meet with the FAA about approval of electric LSAs, the last major hurdle in Fresno’s race to get the Alpha Electros into service. The aircraft will likely be available for rent by area pilots, but the priority users of the aircraft will be veterans and low-income youth seeking primary flight training.