Today marks the end of a decade-long drought in new X-planes. NASA’s Charles Bolden introduced the first plane to receive the X-planet designation in a decade during a speech at Aviation 2016.
Meet the X-57, also nicknamed “Maxwell.”
‘Maxwell’ will be a modified Tecnam P2006T twin-engine light aircraft.
“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,” said Bolden.
The X-57 is just one piece of the New Aviation Horizons initiative. NASA plans to design up to five larger transport-scale X-planes over the next decade. The goal? Reduce fuel, emissions and noise.
X-57’s nickname honors James Clerk Maxwell, a 19th-century Scottish physicist who pioneered electromagnetism and hints at its design.
‘Maxwell’ will take to the skies thanks to 14 electric motors powering its propellers. The motors are integrated “into a uniquely-designed wing,” according to NASA. The artist concept above shows what the X-57 will ultimately look like. We see six motors on each leading edge wing. NASA says a larger motor will also be placed on each wing tip.
While all 14 motors are needed for takeoff and landing, the motors on each wing tip keep the plane at cruising altitude.
From NASA’s press release:
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.
If successful, the perks are obvious. No carbon emissions and lower operational costs. NASA touts the technology could reduce costs for small aircraft by up to 40%. And sound reduction would be a huge quality-of-life boost for folks on the ground. Maybe one day, living near the airport won’t turn you into an instant insomniac.
Back in April, NASA’s Ed Waggoner (NASA’s Integrated Aviation Systems Program director) touched on the importance of the new initiative.
“If we can build some of these X-planes and demonstrate some of these technologies, we expect that will make it much easier and faster for U.S. industry to pick them up and roll them out into the marketplace,” said Waggoner.
NASA sees a future where electric planes rule the skies. X-57 is the first step in making that a reality.