Flightglobal Achievement Awards 2013

An epic journey for the benefit of us all

Data collected on Matevž Lenarcic’s daunting flight will advance studies into greenhouse gas effects

Last year’s winner John Garrison, Bell Helicopter

Slovenian pilot Matevž Lenarčič arrived in his home country on 19 April 2012 at 16:00, landing at Jože Pučnik airport in Brnik, near Ljubljana, thus completing one of the most remarkable solo journeys by air in history.

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By mid-April, this intrepid career adventurer – and aerial photographer, author, environmental activist, mountain climber and paraglider – had spent more than three months flying around the world in a modified Pipistrel Virus SW 914 Turbo.

The feat was even more impressive than Lenarčič’s 79-day global circumnavigation on a Pipistrel Sinus ultralight motorglider in 2004, as this time he crossed the Pacific Ocean.
The crossing took in multiple long-endurance flights that tested Lenarčič’s stamina and piloting skills. The longest flight of 3,700km between Concepción, Chile, and Easter Island, was on a course with no options to divert for an emergency landing between the two points. Pipistrel’s online site monitoring Lenarčič’s journey noted that he encountered heavier headwinds than expected on the leg to Easter Island, pushing Lenarčič and his aircraft to the limits of their endurance.
That single flight took more than 15h, during which Lenarčič consumed 305l (81 USgal) of the 350l of fuel on board the Virus SW 914 Turbo. His flight recorded an airspeed of 151kt (280km/h), consuming an average of 8.25l of fuel per 100km.
It was a journey of discovery not only personally for Lenarčič, but also for the greater cause of environmental awareness. Formally known as the Green Light World Flight, the journey proved that it is possible to circumnavigate the planet in an environmentally friendly aircraft. The project also demonstrated how a light aircraft such as the Virus SW 914 Turbo can be used as a scientific instrument. Lenarčič carried on his aircraft a sensor to measure the concentration of atmospheric aerosols, especially in the usually neglected medium altitudes.
Lenarčič provided new volumes of data to help scientists understand the impact of the greenhouse effect. Meanwhile, his physical response to the extremes of temperature and oxygen concentration was studied by the Jožef Stefan Institute.
Not everything can go as planned on such a flight, and the piloting and judgement skills of Lenarčič were on full display.
Over southern Namibia, for example, the turbocharger on the Pipistrel’s Rotax engine failed. A gap had developed in the oil return line during the crossings of the Pacific and Indian oceans. Lenarčič immediately shut down the engine and glided the Pipistrel to an airport about 2 miles away in Keetmanshoop. As a result, the Rotax engine suffered no damage from oil deprivation, and Lenarčič was able to continue in only a matter of days after the repair parts arrived.
Of course,  complications are not always technical. Lenarčič had to deviate from his intended flightpath because of delays in getting necessary approvals from the Libyan government.
Weather also played a critical role. Lenarčič, for example, was scheduled to complete his journey on 18 April with a hero’s welcome at Aero Expo in Friedrichshafen, Germany. Bad weather and possible icing conditions over the Alps, however, prevented the Pipistrel from making the final leg. Instead, and perhaps fittingly,  Lenarčič completed the journey where it began on 12 January, in his and his aircraft’s native Slovenia.
Since his epic journey a year ago, Lenarčič has flown over the North Pole during an expedition over the Northern Arctic, carrying with him the same sensor and contributing even more data, and in an even more sensitive area of the world.