Aircraft

Meet Maxwell, NASA's newest X-plane with 14 electric motors

Meet Maxwell, NASA's newest X-...
The X-57, nicknamed "Maxwell", is NASA's newest X-plane design, which will showcase greener propulsion technologies
The X-57, nicknamed "Maxwell", is NASA's newest X-plane design, which will showcase greener propulsion technologies
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With 14 electric motors, the X-57 will run on battery power, eliminating local carbon emissions and reducing operational costs and noise pollution
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With 14 electric motors, the X-57 will run on battery power, eliminating local carbon emissions and reducing operational costs and noise pollution
The X-57, nicknamed "Maxwell", is NASA's newest X-plane design, which will showcase greener propulsion technologies
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The X-57, nicknamed "Maxwell", is NASA's newest X-plane design, which will showcase greener propulsion technologies

Back in February, NASA announced that it intends to bring back the X-planes, a series of experimental aircraft designed to test out new technologies that dates back to the first plane to break the sound barrier in 1947. Now the newest member of the family, dubbed the X-57, has been revealed. With 14 electric motors driving 14 propellors, the X-57 is designed to test greener propulsion technologies.

Nicknamed "Maxwell", the X-57 is the first X-plane that NASA has designated in a decade, and it marks the beginning of New Aviation Horizons, a 10-year initiative that aims to kickstart the general aviation industry's adoption of technologies that reduce fuel consumption, emissions and noise pollution.

Each of Maxwell's specially-designed wings will have seven propellors, each powered by their own electric motor. All up that's 14 propellors and 14 electric motors, 12 of which are positioned on the leading edge of the wings and will be used for taking off and landing, while a larger motor at each wing tip will be used at cruising altitude. That's a total of six motors less than the original HEIST wing design it appears to be based on.

The prototype's key mission is to demonstrate the energy efficiency of electric motors, specifically how spreading the power among multiple motors could allow the plane to consume just one-fifth of the energy that a normal private plane would while cruising at 175 mph (282 km/h).

Other benefits of the X-57 include the elimination of carbon emissions thanks to battery power, and as a result, decreasing the demand for the lead-based fuels which are still common in the aviation industry. The increased efficiency is predicted to reduce the operational cost by as much as 40 percent for small aircraft, and since the fuel consumption associated with flying at higher speeds will be negated, flight times may be shortened. And of course, quieter electric motors means less noise for people on the ground.

With 14 electric motors, the X-57 will run on battery power, eliminating local carbon emissions and reducing operational costs and noise pollution
With 14 electric motors, the X-57 will run on battery power, eliminating local carbon emissions and reducing operational costs and noise pollution

Maxwell is named after James Clerk Maxwell, the 19th century Scottish physicist famous for his research into electromagnetism. To build the prototype, NASA's Scalable Convergent Electric Propulsion Technology Operations Research (SCEPTOR) project will modify a Tecnam P2006T light aircraft, as part of a four-year flight demonstrator plan.

The X-57 will eventually be joined by up to five larger, transport-scale X-planes, which will also be designed to test greener technologies and speed their introduction into the marketplace.

Source: NASA

7 comments
Brendan Dunphy
..and less noise for passengers. Almost all existing planes are too noisey, jet or prop.
riczero-b
Nice idea for main prop placement, propwash eats up the wingtip vortex. But the wing looks scary thin , it would be good to have some glide capability in case of power-out.
Benchkey
In a prop airplane much of the noise is generated by the props themselves. Engines are fairly quiet. Wonder how they deal with all the drag each of those motor housings (nacelle) creates. ?
Peter Lee
As a light aircraft pilot I agree strongly with riczero b about the glide potential. When the motor fails ( not "if" ), there is only the wing between you and the hard ground. Also, a narrow wing has a very critical stall profile, and once stalled this one would be beyond recovery. Electric power systems fail more drastically than IC motors, which often give warning.
WatchingWithWonder
A full dozen extra engines & propellers adding weight and drag, which are only put to use during perhaps 5% of the operating time! So 95% of the time they are drag & dead weight! Probably the biggest fool at NASA is smarter than me, but this appears terribly inefficient. If the goal is flight efficiency, some compromise in takeoff performance seems likely worth the shedding of a dozen extra engines.
Deres
Doesn't a motor placed at the end of the wing dangereous ? In case of failure, the resulting yaw and the roll movement might be very important which can be very dangerous during take-off?
Lance
All the motors on the wing effectively create a blown surface over the entire wing which creates more lift and the wing is able to operate over an extended angle of attack without stalling, so there are some big advantages to this kind of configuration.