Meet NASA’s New Electric X-Plane
Shane Laros posted on September 28, 2016 |
X-57 “Maxwell” uses 7 electric motors to fly greener and quieter.
Modified Tecnam P2006T, Designated X-57 “Maxwell”. (Image courtesy of NASA.)
Modified Tecnam P2006T, Designated X-57 “Maxwell”. (Image courtesy of NASA.)
NASA has long been in the business of innovating flight, but it’s been a few years since the last experimental X-plane. The organization’s most recent development is an electric commercial aircraft, namely the X-57 “Maxwell”.

Built from a Tecnam P2006T twin-engine light aircraft, the original wings and gas-fueled piston engines will be replaced with a long, skinny wing embedded with 14 electric motors – 12 on the leading edge for takeoffs and landings and one larger motor on each wing tip for use at cruising altitude.

The idea is that distributing power across multiple motors will result in a five-time reduction of the energy required for a private plane to cruise at 175 mph, according to NASA research.

The Maxwell is a part of NASA’s New Aviation Horizon initiative, a 10-year plan to flight test new technologies, systems and novel aircraft and engine configurations. The hope is to re-invigorate U.S. aviation by leading the world in the development of next generation aircraft.

“The general aviation-sized X-57 will take the first step in opening a new era of aviation,” said NASA administrator Charles Bolden.

The Tecnam P2006T fuselage arrives in California. (Image courtesy of NASA.)
The Tecnam P2006T fuselage arrives in California. (Image courtesy of NASA.)
X-plane numbers are given by the U.S. Air Force to designate an experimental aircraft that is in development, though few make it into full production. The first X-plane was, not surprisingly, named the X-1 and became well known in 1947 when it broke the sound barrier.

The X-57 was dubbed “Maxwell” in honor of James Clerk Maxwell, the 19th century Scottish physicist who did groundbreaking work in electromagnetism.

It remains to be seen whether this new X-plane will revolutionize aviation as Maxwell’s work did for physics, but NASA’s 10-year plan will definitely help engineers better understand the options new technologies will bring to the industry.

For more information, visit the NASA Electric Propulsion page or the Armstrong Flight Research Center YouTube channel.

For more on the future of aviation, check out this story about a new supersonic passenger X-Plane.

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