Slovenian army goes electric to train its pilots

(B2) September is the time for back to school. At the Slovenian Army Airmen's School, the students are not the only ones to be eagerly awaited... some new special equipment is also on the way

A Virus 121SW takes flight (Slovenian Armed Forces)

We are received by airmen. Dressed in khaki green jumpsuits, the resemblance to Top Gun actors is striking. It's not without reason: we are at the 15th Wing — the Slovenian military aviation base and its school — based in Cerklje ob Krki, just a few kilometers from the border with Croatia. 

Slovenian military airbase

This is where pilots have been trained since the 1990s. But since September 1, newcomers have appeared in the 15th Wing. And they are particularly surprising. There will be electric planes — they will be tested before being included in the trainings — and a flight simulator — used for the trainings of the cadets. The excitement of the trainers, like the students, is particularly palpable. The agreement signed with the Slovenian company Pipistrel several months ago came into effect just in time for the start of the school year.

The electric plane

The star of the show is Velis Electro, a plane that runs solely on electricity. It is close to “zero emissions” and is not very noisy, say the Slovenians. A boon, while the aviation school is located near a village. Above all, it is "certified" by the European Union Aviation Safety Agency - that is to say authorized to fly: a premiere.

Velis Electro will arrive on September 22 at the Cerklje ob Krki pitch. From then on, in all training, Velis Electro will play a modest but significant role, in particular to show the level of technology and respect for the environment. It will be used in different stages of pilot training. Not made for aerobatics, it will be used more for short trips in the air and learning to take off / land.

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Indeed, the concern of the electric plane is its autonomy. It is not as long as an ordinary plane. The Velis Electro (electric) have barely an hour. For comparison, Pipistrel's Virus 121SW (fuel powered) have a flight autonomy of 5 hours. The Velis Electro can be recharged "fast" - two to three hours thanks to special chargers - or slower - overnight when the device is charged at a standard power outlet. It is therefore necessary to have a minimum of organization, and to have several recharged batteries in stock.

A Velis Electro aircraft in flight (Pipistrel)

Positive impressions

The various users met by B2 expressed their very positive impression. For an experienced pilot, flying an electric plane is also easier than a conventional propulsion plane, because it is notably easier to control its power. The only concern he shares with us: the small reserve of energy present in an electric plane, and its lower power compared to a fuel-powered plane.

Other newbies

A week before the arrival of a Velis Electro, it is a Virus 121SW which will take its ease in the neighborhoods of 15th Wing, from Wednesday September 15 for the test period. It runs on fuel. Its carbon footprint is low and its performance/cost ratio seems to have already won the hearts of its customers. 

Two pilots have started their training on the Virus 121 type and are now certified. One is an instructor for the training of instructors and the other is a candidate to become an instructor. The training took place in mid-August with a Virus 121 present for the occasion.

Then it will be time to test the UAV (drone) version of Virus 121 with surveillance equipment. Then will arrive the hybrid Panthera with a low carbon footprint, intended for advanced training (advanced trainer). This is a logical upgrade after Viruses. This should be possible by the middle of next year.

A student exercises on the flight simulator (AP/B2)

The electric also in the flight simulator

Airplanes are not the only innovation to appear in the school. In a small, seemingly insignificant room, there is something new: a box that looks like an airplane cockpit. Beside, a screen, on which we see the plane take off, make a loop, walk around, and land. All from the pilot's point of view.

Like in a game

In fact, the image on the screen is the same as the one the pilot sees in his virtual reality (VR) headset. It's like in a game: the student sits in the fake-real cockpit, puts the helmet on his eyes... and without leaving the mainland, learns to control an airplane. B2 has tried it for you... the result and the sensations are more than real, to the point of forgetting that you are on solid ground. The flight simulator is in support of the planes: it allows testing before launching into the air.

The simulator tool inspires

The school used this simulator for the first time in its student selection process, after the theory and before the flight phase. And the result is clear: the flight phase started at a visibly higher level than before using the simulator — so the simulator is very useful. We will test very carefully in which phases we could include the simulator in the flight training. We plan to start all flight training with the simulator phase in the future and expect the first candidates to start before the end of this year. “, welcomes Lieutenant-Colonel Tomaž Oblak, senior staff officer.

While B2 is practicing on the simulator, the experienced airmen guide us: the images from the virtual virtuality headset are broadcast on a TV.

A greening effect 

For the Slovenian defense, the purchase of these technologies has a particular reason: the "green". Using electric batteries rather than oil, or training in simulators rather than using planes, is what they believe allows them to reduce their carbon footprint and contribute to the defense of the environment. This is one of the priorities of the Ministry of Defence, in particular within the framework of the Slovenian presidency of the European Union (read: Our interview with Matej Tonin, Slovenian Minister of Defense).

(Aurelie Pugnet)

Slovenia arrives first on electric. With the arrival of planes next week, Slovenia " does have ambitions to be the first Air Force to conduct part of flight training with an all-electric powertrain », rejoices Lieutenant-Colonel Tomaž Oblak, Senior Staff Officer. Denmark has also equipped itself with Pipistrel, and devices should arrive fall 2021 "," for a concept test, which will help determine if the technology can be used operationally in the Air Force » announced the Danish Ministry of Defense last June. French side, General Philippe Lavigne, Chief of Staff of the Air and Space Force in May 2021, flew aboard a two-seater electric motor plane, the Alpha Electro.