NASA’s first 14-motor propelled electric plane ‘Maxwell X-57’ has just been unveiled at its aeronautics lab in California desert. The company has remodelled its first all-electric experimental aircraft based on the Italian version of twin-engine propeller plane aka ‘Tecnam P2006T’.
NASA’s Maxwell X-57 has been under development since 2015 which was preceded by the bullet-shaped Bell X-1 and the X-15 rocket plane that was used by astronaut Neil Armstrong on his lunar mission with the Apollo team.
The X-57 is touted to be designed as an air-taxi or short-distance commuter plane for carrying a handful of passengers, owing to the current limitations posed by battery-powered planes. Electric aircraft are still limited by the challenge of storing more energy and extending the plane’s range while keeping the battery weight minimal.
NASA’s Maxwell X-57 is powered by lithium-ion batteries to propel the plane with the aid of 14 electric motors. The plane is now ready for the first public preview ahead of its first test flight which is expected to take at least a year from now.
Here is what Brent Cobleigh, a project manager for NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center at Edwards, told Reuters:
“We’re focusing on things that can help the whole industry, not just one company. Our target right now is to fly this airplane in late 2020.”
Meanwhile, the space company’s engineers and pilots can engage in flight simulator sessions for the X-57 to get a virtual feel of the aircraft, before taking up the real job of flying passengers with short-haul flights.
According to Reuters, the Mod IV or the final iteration of the Maxwell X-57 will have sleeker and lighter wings with six smaller lift-props along the leading edge of each wing and two larger cruise-props at the tip of each wing. The lift propellers will open up for take-off and landings, but retract during the flight’s cruise mode.
The X-57’s electric motor systems are touted to be quieter than the conventional engines due to fewer moving parts, compact and lightweight design. Consequently, electric planes are more energy-efficient and require fewer maintenance costs.
Maxwell X-57 is expected to portray state-of-the-art design and technology standards with its safety, noise, energy efficiency and airworthiness that conform to the quality norms of government certification.