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.