Electricity was an early player in the race to power aircraft, and achieved initial success in 1884 powering a dirigible. Electric powered vehicles fell out of favor with the introduction of the internal combustion engine and the turbojet engine. With recent concerns about emissions from burning fossil fuels, electric power is back, and not only for cars but for airplanes too.
Electric powered airplanes are nothing new to the remote control flying community, where short flights are the norm. There's even talk of extending the flying time of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) indefinitely by using solar panels that charge batteries during daylight flying so an airplane can fly through the night.
What about an electric airplane capable of carrying people aloft? Sounds like vaporware - not any more thanks to the Pipistrel Taurus Electro. The Taurus is the world's first 2 seat, self launch, electric-powered glider. A 'powered glider' sounds like an oxymoron, but the engine makes perfect sense if you consider that a glider usually relies on either a risky catapult launch or a costly tow from a powered airplane to gain enough altitude to begin gliding.
The Taurus engages its rechargeable, lithium batteries for a powered takeoff and ascent, after which it reverts to a traditional unpowered glider, providing a hassle-free unassisted gliding experience. The Taurus is a great example of combining existing technology (i.e., low development risk) in a novel way to solve a problem.
Pipistrel is renowned for using the latest materials, such as carbon fiber, to produce highly efficient (in terms of weight and aerodynamics) airplanes. As an example, a modified Pipistrel Virus won the 2007 Personal Air Vehicle Challenge hosted by the CAFE Foundation. The CAFE Foundation is considering an Automotive X Prize-like competition to encourage environmentally friendly airplanes capable of 100mph and 100mpg. What chance of a future Pipistrel gas-electric hybrid taking the honors? The Toyota Prius of the skies...