Power flows through Maxwell electric prototype

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NASA is two steps closer to take-off with its innovative and radical electric aircraft project.

The electric motors and propellers for the X-57 Maxwell were powered up and spun together for the first time. And NASA took delivery of the aircraft’s replacement wing from contractor ESAero.

The X-57 Maxwell is an ambitious project that combines electric power with distributed propulsion based on the airframe of a Tecnam P2006T light twin. In its final form the X-57 will use 12 electric motors over the span of the wing and two ‘cruise’ electric motors mounted on the wingtips.

The project is proceeding in a series of modifications or mods, in NASA parlance. Mod II includes the replacement of the P2006’s two Rotax piston engines with electric cruise motors. Mod III includes the replacement of the aircraft’s wing with a new, high-aspect ratio wing, and moving the electric cruise motors to the wingtips.

NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Centre is now testing the wing to verify its specifications, components and structure match NASA’s structure and design models.

The next step will be for the wing to have its 12 nacelles fitted. These will eventually house 12 small, electric high-lift motors and propellers, which will be featured on X-57’s final phase, Mod IV.

That aircraft is named Maxwell, after the Scottish physicist James Clerk Maxwell, who, along with Michael Faraday, developed the theory of electromagnetism that paved the way for innovations ranging from electric power to fibre-optics. Former project chief Mark Moore told Flight Safety Australia in 2016 that distributed propulsion would enable efficient high-speed flight over longer distances than would otherwise be possible for a given battery capacity.

14 COMMENTS

  1. PIE IN THE SKY STUFF! For the life of me I don’t now why they bother! Waste of time money & energy!
    Hydrocarbons will be with us for a VERY long time!!!!!
    DUMB DUMB DUMB!

  2. Dear Walter,

    I love my hydrocarbon burner and will morn the day it becomes redundant, which I expect will happen sooner rather than later. Electric motors have so much to offer, be it ground or air born – its all in the battery court now. When they have cracked the battery issue (& they are almost there) there will be no stopping the change over to electric powered vehicles/aircraft.

    • Come on now. When, as your batteries run down, the aircraft doesn’t loose weight as it would using hydrocarbon fuel. Perhaps an airliner will dump batteries as they go flat? You wont get an energy density any where near a battery storage system. And do you really think an airliner full of cryogenic boiling Hydrogen would be an alternative? Sure has a good energy density though.

      • Ken, isn’t the reason that planes dump fuel in an emergency is to reduce the size and intensity of a fire occurring when they land? With a battery-based system, there wouldn’t be any need to dump batteries would there?

  3. I guess that we have to let the naysayers have their time!
    Having witnessed the Sputnik fly over, the Moon landing, transistors and integrated circuits, pure jet engined transport aircraft, satellite communications, mobile phones, and etc. all in the 60 years since I started as an apprentice LAME, all I can say is get over it and move on and embrace it! – I’d love to be around for another 60 years!!!
    As I said, get over it and suck it up!

  4. I guess that we have to let the naysayers have their time!
    Having witnessed the Sputnik fly over, the Moon landing, transistors and integrated circuits, pure jet engined transport aircraft, satellite communications, mobile phones, and etc. all in the 60 years since I started as an apprentice LAME, all I can say is get over it and move on and embrace it! – I’d love to be around for another 60 years!!!

  5. I’m not talking about a dumping fuel situation. The fact is as the flight time progresses the efficiency of a lighter load increases. Landing max weight is always less than the weight of a max load takeoff.
    I’m also not saying that battery efficiency isn’t increasing incredibly but there is a physical limit.
    Sure light sport electric aircraft will be great fun and a joy but commercial flying from Perth to London with hundreds of passengers on batteries non stop?!

    • Most intelligent people know that this is sort of stuff is reserved for those who have a crack pipe! But hey it’s entertaining to see what the fools actually believe!:-):-) EP powered planes (other than small short duration trainers) is like Jules Verne Journey to the centre of the Earth fiction:-)
      I can drive my Hydrocarbon plane 750 miles in around 4 hrs or so, with today’s techno EP crap NOTHING comes close!

  6. Dear Walter,

    Powered flight has been around for 114 years or so and look how far we have come. Technology NEVER stands still. In another 100 years, your position on this will resemble that of King Canute but if makes you happy – go for it!

    • You miss the point actually, most do! It’s not about flight itself it’s about the motive force required for flight that we are talking about here, not how long man has been flying!!! I guess in another 100 years as you say it won’t really matter to us now will it? -:)
      Brushless motors and Lithuan batts have been around for ages, progress towards practical flight other than short duration small training A/C is a looooooooooong way off if ever!
      I guess most just don’t get it!

      You are polite though with the ” Dear” bit😂

  7. Its okay, you have your “crystal ball” I have mine. Mine suggest that, in relation to small & medium (say 1-10 pax) aircraft, electric motors have much to commend them – smooth running, low parts count, small frontal area, good power to weight, high torque, extremely quiet, low pollution, cheap, minimal service needs, etc, etc The problem is, as you point out, not so much the motor, its the fuel supply/battery. I believe the shortcomings in this area will be solved sooner rather than later.
    Its all speculation and its interesting to read other opinions, I learn something every time.

  8. Be great to see EP planes commercially but can’t see it anytime soon I reckon. Drones seem to have the worlds attention right now for autonomous electric light:-)

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