Volta Volaré has begun taking orders for its four-seater GT4 hybrid private aircraft it calls "the most technologically advanced private aircraft available anywhere on Earth." Though the GT4 is perfectly capable of taking off and flying powered only electrically, a gas engine starts when the airplane's battery drops to 25 percent capacity in order to recharge it mid-flight. Surprisingly, perhaps, Volta Volaré makes a strong economic case for the GT4. Because the powertrain has only one moving part - the motor or "EViation Drive" - the company claims the need for maintenance is reduced significantly, offering increases in TBO (time between overhaul) by up to a factor of ten when compared to a combustion engine.

It also claims that the EViation Drive "delivers more torque and horsepower than any 20th century internal combustion engine," but since the 21st century is now at least 11 years old, that seems a somewhat arbitrary comparison.

Volta Volaré's spec sheet makes somewhat confusing reading (an energy storage system sized in kilowatts doesn't make much sense to me, for instance), but seems to suggest the EViation Drive delivers 220 kW (300 hp), while the "range extension generator" dishes out about 130 kW (180 hp) - though presumably the only use this can be put to is recharging the plane's batteries.

The performance-based specifications are rather clearer:

  • Take Off Distance: 1400 ft (430 m)
  • Rate of Climb: 1800 ft/min (550 m/min)
  • Landing Distance: 1500 ft (460 m)
  • Cruise: 160 knots (296 km/h) @ 12,500 ft
  • Ceiling: 24,000 ft
  • Maximum speed (sea level): 310 knots (574 km/h) - which makes it significantly faster than the Cessna Corvalis TTX
  • Minimum Speed: 65 knots (120 km/h)
  • Landing Speed: 75 knots (139 km/h)
  • Powertrain-wise, I'm more inclined to look at Popsci's spec reporting following its interview with Volta Volaré CEO Paul Peterson. "The GT4’s electric motor, which is made from the combined cores of two smaller motors, sits in a sealed aluminum housing," it reports. "It can generate 600 peak horsepower [450 kW] and sustain 400 horsepower [300 kW] throughout flight."

    Popsci additionally reports that the energy storage system consists of a 900-pound (408 kg) lithium-polymer battery comprising 236 cells, which is a significant chunk of the GT4's overall empty weight of 2,600 pounds (1,179 kg). The battery's recharged by a 1.5-liter gasoline engine fueled from a 23-gallon (105-liter) tank. Combined these give the GT4 a reported range of 1,000 nautical miles (1,852 km).

    Absolutely certain, however, is that the GT4 is striking in outward appearance, though whether it appeals to all tastes remains to be seen. I like it. The swept wings and its various angular fins and upturned points give it a look that is of the future, while the shape of the fuselage and windows are almost classical. The metallic finish (actually hand-crafted carbon fiber) somehow manages to be both forward and backward-looking at the same time, which is a neat trick. The future-neoclassical look is completed by that unusual rear-facing push configuration propeller (as seen on the Firebird intel airplane we looked at this time last year).

    The interior sounds almost as advanced as the powertain. Volta Volaré says the cockpit features touchscreen glass with a synthetic vision system and optional HUD. Meanwhile passengers bored with the novelty of flying aboard a hybrid airplane can distract themselves with the pull-down screens, fold-away table-tops and various apertures available to them, including AV jacks, plug sockets, USB ports. It's less obvious at this point what sort of interactive/entertainment system these things connect up to.

    A Volta Volaré GT4 will set you back a mere US$495,000. Eleven remain for purchase this year, while 36 more are slated for 2013.

    Sources: Volta Volaré, Popsci