Back in October 2019, NASA took delivery of its first electric plane, called the X-57 Maxwell X-Plane. Based on the four-seater Tecnam P2006T conventional light aircraft, when the X-57 electric plane is fully developed, it is expected to be 500% more efficient in high-speed cruising. Also, it will produce no in-flight carbon dioxide emissions while being much quieter than most conventional aircraft.

Electric Plane Testing

Empirical Systems Aerospace (ESAero) delivered the first of three configurations of the X-57 Maxwell electric plane to the space agency’s Armstrong Flight Research Centre in Edwards, California. It was known as the Mod II which would be used for ground testing of the cruise electric propulsion system.

Since the initial testing, NASA has now released three concept images showing renderings of their final configuration of the X-57 Maxwell electric plane.

The X-57 is the first manned X-plane from NASA in two decades and is shown in Modification iV (Mod IV) form. This includes a high-aspect-ratio wing and 5-ft (1.5-m) diameter wingtip propellers which can recover energy from wingtip vortices.

X-57 Project Manager Tom Rigney said at the time: “With the aircraft in our possession, the X-57 team will soon conduct extensive ground testing of the integrated electric propulsion system to ensure the aircraft is airworthy.”

Design And Specifications

The first manned X-plane from NASA is an all-electric experimental aircraft that started as a four-seater Tecnam P2006T conventional light aircraft. However, they have replaced the twin Rotax 912S3 four-cylinder piston engines with an 18 electric cruise motor nacelles with individual propellers. It also has two larger propellers on the wingtips providing several important functions.

They designed the X-57 based on the Tecnam P2006T light aircraft to help develop certification standards that can be applied to electric aircraft as they enter the market. According to NASA, the final configuration with its thin bespoke wings will boost efficiency largely due to reduced drag during flight.

How Does The X-57 Electric Plane Work?

In terms of propulsion, the 12 high-lift electric motors on the leading edge of the wing will provide lift for take-off and landing. They are also responsible for the X-57 electric plane reaching cruising altitude from where the two wingtip propellers take over.

Here, the smaller motors deactivate and their propeller blades fold into the nacelles which helps reduce drag. When landing, the same motors would be reactivated and centrifugal force opens the blades once more.

Whichever way we look at it, the X-57 Mod II aircraft delivery to NASA was a significant event. It was the beginning of a new phase within the exciting world of the electric plane. Moreover, it took the X-plane project to the next level. Armstrong Flight Research Centre plans to share lessons they learn along the way during flight tests to help the growing electric aircraft market.

Final Thoughts

The world of aviation and automotive transport is changing as several clean-burning aircraft have taken to the skies. In truth, many are only prototypes and test flights but it remains an incredible milestone for aviation and innovation companies leading from the front. Here are some of the most interesting developments over the last few years.

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