• An Alpi Pioneer 400 in flight near Lethbridge, Victoria. (John Absolon)
    An Alpi Pioneer 400 in flight near Lethbridge, Victoria. (John Absolon)

Spirit of the Pioneer

The Pioneer 400 is a new four-seat GA aircraft, snappy and stylish enough to take the award for Best GA Factory-built Aircraft at Avalon 2013. Only days before the air show, John Absolon traveled to Lethbridge near Geelong to test this Italian design.

Bred from the growth in LSA types, the Pioneer 400 follows on from the previous 200 and 300 models built by Alpi Aviation in Pordonene, Italy.

Like LSAs, the reliable Rotax liquid-cooled engine powers the Pioneer range of aircraft; in the 400 this power is from the Rotax 912S 100 HP engine swinging a constant speed propellor.

The overall design and shape of the Pioneer 400 looks as though part of its ancestry comes from the Falco or the SIAI-Marchetti SF.60; in all a very stylish, sleek Italian design.

Instead of the sliding canopy of the SF.260 or Falco, the Pioneer has twin clamshell canopies that cover both back and front seats on each side.

Climbing aboard the Pioneer 400 is done by either using a small step just in front of the leading edge of each wing or by stepping up onto the wing from the rear being careful not to step on the flaps.

The aircraft reviewed was equipped with a single Garmin SL40 VHF and GTX328 transponder. Both control units were mounted on the bottom of the centre instrument panel.

The left-hand side of the instrument panel is dominated by the Dynon Skyview EFIS display. This is a common fit to this category of aircraft and includes the usual airspeed tape, altimeter tape and VSI.

Starting the Rotax is as straightforward as starting your car; clear the prop and turn the key and it fires instantly.

The Pioneer 400 will fly off the runway easily at 65 knots. After gear retraction at a safe height, all the gear lights extinguish.

Australian Flying tested the 400 at Lethbridge, Victoria, on a warm day in March 2013, and at 80KIAS a steady climb rate of just over 600 fpm was achieved.

During the 40-minute evaluation lfight, only 12 litres of fuel was consumed. This included the area work and two circuits before completing a full-stop landing.

In all, the Pioneer 400 was a delight to fly with nippy performance and stylish Italian lines.

The full flight test article can be read from the May-June 2013 issue of Australian Flying, available through the iPad app from iTunes here.

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