Engineers have historically faced two obstacles when designing electric aircraft. Batteries that run the electric motors have been too heavy and not energy-dense enough to provide sufficient power. And the consequences of failure were too high: Running out of power would all but assure a crash landing.
But in the past several years, says Paul Peterson, the founder and CEO of the Portland, Oregon, aeronautics company Volta Volare, off-the-shelf electric-car batteries and motors have become light, powerful and efficient enough to make electric—or at least hybrid—flight viable. This spring, Volta Volare will begin testing its four-passenger GT4. Constructed around a standard airframe, the plane runs on a hybrid powertrain similar to the one in the Chevrolet Volt, with batteries plus a backup gasoline engine.