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USA: The Chevy Volt of airplanes, the Volta Volare GT4, is ready to fly

Seriously: electric airplanes. They’re about to take off. Testing begins this spring on the Volta Volare GT4. A recent story in Popular Science spiked interest in the four-passenger carbon fiber aircraft that isn’t really an electric plane but more of a plug-in hybrid plane, much like the Chevrolet Volt. (The PopSci headline touted “electric airplane” and the story admitted “hybrid drivetrain.”) Whatever it is, the Volta Volare aeronautics company of Portland, Oregon says the plane can travel 300 miles on battery power, then a 1.5-liter gasoline engine engages and extends the plane’s range to 1,000 miles. The company sees the plane being attractive for its low cost of operation and its environmental friendliness. Aviation gasoline (avgas) is typically leaded fuel, which has been gone from motor vehicle fuel since the 1980s. On a 200-mile trip in a comparable four-passenger gas-engine private plane, you’d burn $80 worth of avgas, while the electricity to carry the GT4 200 miles would cost only $20.

The plane is made of carbon fiber with a carbon fiber pusher prop (in back) and a canard design, meaning the big wing is in back, the short wing in front. The GT4 uses an array of 236 off-the-shelf lithium-polymer batteries weighing 900 pounds. The company says the battery pack and 600 hp (peak) electric motor weigh less than the internal combustion engine on a comparable plane, which allowed engineers to add in extra batteries for physical balancing of the plane. There’s also a 23-gallon gas tank. The gas engine kicks in when battery power falls to 25%.

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