NASA’s New X-plane And The Future Of Electric Aircraft

NASA’s New X-plane And The Future Of Electric Aircraft

Last year, NASA informally declared its intention to interrupt the flying industry by sticking fully electric commercial passenger planes in the sky in 20 years. In a small step in the direction of that goal, space agency director Charles Bolden has just declared plans for the X-57, the first all-electric addition to the famous X-plane series.

Maxwell is a hybrid electric inquiries plane furnished with 14 electric propeller-turning motors situated along the wings. The experimental plane will be put through a number of tests over the next four years in an effort to establish that electrical impulsion can make planes quieter, more efficient, and environmentally friendly.

“With the return of piloted X-planes to NASA’s research capabilities – which is a key part of our 10-year-long New Aviation Horizons initiative – the general aviation-sized X-57 will take the first step in opening a new era of aviation.” Charles Bolden, NASA Administrator

The X-57 Maxwell—named for Scottish physicist James Clerk Maxwell, who prepared a number of discoveries in the field of electromagnetism—is intended to be much more efficient than conventional aircraft that use chemical propellants. Jet-powered aircraft frequently increase their fuel economy by flying at slower speeds than they are accomplished, but a plane driven completely by electric propulsion like the X-57 could fly closer to top-speed without losing efficiency. Electric aircraft could then theoretically reach shorter flight times than jet-powered planes.

Of the 14 engines, 12 will deliver extra thrust for takeoff, and the two larger engines, one on the tip of each wing, will thrust the plane though it’s at cruising altitude. NASA approximations that its 14-motor design will decrease the amount of energy required for a private plane to cruise at 175 mph by a factor of five. That’s well below the sound barrier, which is fine. Productivity isn’t as flashy as sonic booms, but it’s a lot more useful. And with Maxwell, NASA’s pointing for efficiency across the board, with the goal of decreasing “overall operational costs for small aircraft by as much as 40 percent.”

Design models also recommend that the X-57 could decrease operational costs by as much as 40 percent compared to other similarly-sized aircraft. And of course, being all-electric, the X-57 would be much quieter than conventional aircraft and completely emission-free.

X-planes have been immense in pushing the boundaries of aeronautics and aeronautics research ever since Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier in the Bell X-1 in 1947.

"Dozens of X-planes of all shapes, sizes and purposes have since followed—all of them contributing to our stature as the world's leader in aviation and space technology," said Jaiwon Shin, associate administrator for NASA's Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate, in a press release. "Planes like the X-57, and the others to come, will help us maintain that role."

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