There's a lot of buzz today about the announcement of an electric airplane, which some reporters are quick to call the Chevy Volt of aircraft. The story is based off of this Popular Science feature on the Volta Volare GT4, a supposedly production-ready airplane using a hybrid powertrain instead of a standard internal combustion engine. Popular Science's interview with Volta Volare CEO Paul Peterson makes many claims: the four-passenger GT4 uses off-the-shelf electric car batteries in conjunction with a 23-gallon tank to travel up to 300 miles on battery power alone (including take off!), and the plane is beginning test flights this spring. Volta Volare has even seized on the publicity to being pre-orders on production models--only 11 left in 2012! That all sounds great, but let's get real for a second. The ambition to develop and test a prototype electric plane is a long way off from actually being able to get the plane approved for production and sale to millionaires. Volta Volare's website and Facebook page are sparse with details about even the prototype; specifications listed on a product page do not equate to a flying plane.
That's not to say that the GT4 will never take flight. Aviation enthusiasts note that the canard design resembles that of the Velocity kit aircraft, so what's unproven isn't the design of the plane but the hybrid power plant. Commenters also question the benefits of a hybrid plane, citing the vast differences in how a car and a plane uses engines for travel. Hybrid cars make sense because of the repetitive braking and accelerating that happens on city streets. Peterson claims a $60 price savings on engine fuel over a 200-mile trip--which I'm not sure matters to someone in the market for a $500,000 airplane.
The last time a small private aircraft company garnered widespread attention was Icon Aircraft, with its A5 amphibious plane in 2008. And even though the prototype A5 made its first test flight back in 2008, the plane is still undergoing testing and has yet to enter production.