We’ve covered NASA’s development of a little electric airplane since 2016, when staff at NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center and Langley Research Center took delivery of a modified Tecnam P2006T fuselage that would be used to build the X-57 (aka Maxwell).
Electric aircraft technology testing at NASA’s Electric Aircraft Testbed began around the same time.
Toward the end of 2019, more than 3 years later, NASA received the first full version of the X-57 Maxwell from Empirical Systems Aerospace (ESAero) of San Luis Obispo, California. It was still based on the Tecnam P2006T, an Italian 4-seat twin engine light aircraft. The first iteration had two 60 kW electric motors, but it was noted at the time that the final version of the electric airplane would have 14 electric motors and propellers, 12 of the motors being attached to the wingtips.
CleanTechnica interviewed Matt Redifer, NASA X-57 Maxwell Chief Engineer as well as Matthew Kamlet, NASA Media Fusion Aeronautics Public Affairs Specialist, about the plane and the industry in general in November 2019. Check that interview out for more details.
In March of this year, NASA published images of the final version of this electric 4-seater, Mod IV. They look like photos, but are still just artist concept images. Have a look:
The location of the concept images is NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center, which is part of Edwards Air Force Base in California.
“For more than 70 years, this location has been home to many historic X-planes, or experimental aircraft, responsible for expanding the envelope and pushing the limits of aviation – a tradition that NASA is keeping alive through the Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate,” Matt Kamlet of NASA wrote.
“The X-57, which is NASA’s first piloted X-plane in two decades, is seen here in its final all-electric configuration, known as Modification IV, or Mod IV. This configuration will feature a skinny, high-aspect ratio wing, designed to boost efficiency by reducing drag in flight, and electric cruise motors with five-foot diameter propellers on the wingtips, to recover energy that would otherwise be lost to wingtip vortices.”
One of the unique features of the X-57 Maxwell is the row of 12 “high-lift motors and propellers” that run along the wings of the plane. They help the plan take off at industry-standard speeds. “These motors will activate during takeoff, spinning the propellers, and will deactivate during cruise mode, at which point the propeller blades will fold in to the nacelles, as seen in two of the above images, reducing drag.”
One thing NASA is using the X-57 for is to help create certification standards for electric aircraft.