Ground tests to begin on NASA's first electric X-plane
NASA has taken delivery of its first all-electric X-plane. The first of three configurations of the X-57 Maxwell was delivered by Empirical Systems Aerospace (ESAero) to the space agency's Armstrong Flight Research Center in Edwards, California, on October 2. Known as Mod II, the aircraft will be used for ground testing of the cruise electric propulsion system.
The first manned X-plane to be built in two decades and NASA's first all-electric experimental aircraft, the X-57 is based on the four-seater Tecnam P2006T conventional light aircraft, but with its twin Rotax 912S3 four-cylinder piston engines replaced by 18 electric cruise motor nacelles with individual propellers.
The delivery marks the beginning of Phase 2 of the X-57 project, the first being a truck-mounted test of a modified high-aspect-ratio wing and motors. Mod II will be followed by the Mod III and Mod IV phases, which will undergo tests using the new wing.
When fully developed, the X-57 is expected to be 500 percent more efficient in high-speed cruising, produce no in-flight carbon dioxide emissions and be much quieter than most conventional aircraft.
NASA says that the purpose of the X-57 is to help develop certification standards that can be applied to electric aircraft as they come onto the market, which is important because many of these will be urban air taxis that will use complex distributed electric propulsion systems.
"The X-57 Mod II aircraft delivery to NASA is a significant event, marking the beginning of a new phase in this exciting electric X-plane project,” said X-57 Project Manager Tom Rigney. “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. We plan to rapidly share valuable lessons learned along the way as we progress toward flight testing, helping to inform the growing electric aircraft market.”