[Avionics Magazine 06-17-2016] With 14 electric motors turning propellers and all of them integrated into a uniquely designed wing, NASA will test new propulsion technology using an experimental airplane now designated the X-57 and nicknamed “Maxwell.” NASA Administrator Charles Bolden highlighted the agency’s first X-plane designation in a decade during his keynote speech at the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) annual Aviation and Aeronautics Forum and Exposition, commonly called Aviation 2016, in Washington, D.C.
This artist's concept of NASA's X-57 Maxwell aircraft shows the plane's specially designed wing and 14 electric motors. NASA Aeronautics researchers will use the Maxwell to demonstrate that electric propulsion can make planes quieter, more efficient and more environmentally friendly. Photo: NASA Langley/Advanced Concepts Lab.
“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,” Bolden said.
As many as five larger transport-scale X-planes also are planned as part of the initiative. Its goals — like the X-57 — include demonstrating advanced technologies to reduce fuel use, emissions and noise, and thus accelerate their introduction to the marketplace.
Part of a four-year flight demonstrator plan, NASA’s Scalable Convergent Electric Propulsion Operations Research project will build the X-57 by modifying a recently procured, Italian-designed Tecnam P2006T twin-engine light aircraft. Its original wing and two gas-fueled piston engines will be replaced with a long, skinny wing embedded with 14 electric motors — 12 on the leading edge for take offs and landings, and one larger motor on each wing tip for use while at cruise altitude.
NASA’s aeronautical innovators hope to validate the idea that distributing electric power across a number of motors integrated with an aircraft in this way will result in a five-time reduction in the energy required for a private plane to cruise at 175 mph. Several other benefits would result as well; “Maxwell” will be powered only by batteries, eliminating carbon emissions and demonstrating how demand would shrink for lead-based aviation fuel still in use by general aviation.