NASA displays its first fully electric airplane

Yesterday, NASA showed off its progress with its first fully electric-powered aircraft. The X-57, also known as Maxwell hopes to revolutionize air travel by implementing a more sustainable approach.
A previous CGI depiction of the NASA X-57 Maxwell before its recent unveiling. Photo: NASA

California dreaming

Global News reports that members of the press were invited to NASA’s lab in its Edward Air Force Base. Here, the aeronautics experts showcased the plane in the Californian desert.

The organization’s main hub is the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. However, this west coast base is where the Armstrong Flight Research Center is. This center is considered one of the most important research departments for aeronautics.

The X-57 was adapted from the Italian Tecnam P2006T twin-engine propeller aircraft. It has been under development since 2015 and is getting closer to start preparing for its first test flight.

Tecnam P2006T
The X-57 was adapted from the Tecnam P2006T. Photo: Dtom via Wikimedia Commons

Nearly ready to fly

The experimental plane is at least a year away from being tested in the sky with its battery-powered motors. The model has 14 electric motors, powered by tailor-made lithium-ion batteries.

As part of the unveiling, the institution also gave a tour of its freshly made simulator. This technology helps engineers and pilots get to grips with what it feels like to control the final version of the Maxwell. This will help the crew get a head start before training with the real thing.

NASA hopes that this project can develop technology according to standards that commercial companies can adapt for government certification. Ultimately, this means that the group wants to help the industry and not just a single private entity.

NASA Armstrong project manager Brent Cobleigh shared the reasoning behind the experiment during the press day.

“We’re focusing on things that can help the whole industry, not just one company,” Cobleigh told Reuters, as reported by Global News.

“Our target right now is to fly this airplane in late 2020.

Crucial timing

This project is part of the line of NASA’s X-planes. This a range of aircraft used to test new technologies and concepts. In fact, this will be the agency’s first crewed X-plane to be developed in two decades.

Quiet Supersonic Technology X-Plane
The Quiet Supersonic Technology X-Plane is part of the family of the X-57 Maxwell. Photo: Robert Sullivan via Flickr

NASA’s developments come at a time when many authorities are looking at the use of electric aircraft. Moreover, there is increased pressure on airlines and governments to revise their policy on carbon emissions.

Therefore, many governments are starting to invest heavily in the research of alternative flight travel. NASA’s developments could massively help with this growth of sustainable air travel.

Along with this, aviation industries have been looking into new technologies as a counter to disruptive electric aircraft such as drones. Consequently, the 2020s could see massive breakthroughs in the way people fly.

What do you think of NASA’s unveiling of its electric plane? Let us know your thoughts in the comment section.

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