NASA is currently working on the very first all-electric X-plane. The aircraft is known as the X-57 Maxwell, and advanced designs that will bring the aircraft to flight status recently underwent wind tunnel testing at the Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia. The test took place in the Low-Speed Aeroacoustic Wind Tunnel to gather operational and performance data for flight conditions.
The tests used a pair of full-scale propeller assemblies provided by Empirical Systems Aerospace California. The finished aircraft will feature 12 electronic high-lift motors and propellers. The propellers and electric motors are positioned along the leading edge of the cruise-efficient wing of the aircraft.
The motors and propellers will be utilized first during takeoff providing lift augmentation to the aircraft at low speeds. Once the X-57 is in cruise mode, the motors will deactivate, and the propeller blades fold inward to eliminate additional drag. A pair of larger electric cruise motors remain active on the wingtips.
As the aircraft comes in for a landing, the smaller high-lift motors will reactivate by unfolding their blades to create the appropriate lift for landing at approach speed. NASA intends to share the electric-propulsion design along with data gleaned during the testing program with regulators as a new electric aircraft market emerges. The project’s design driver is currently a goal of a 500 percent increase in high-speed cruise efficiency, zero in-flight carbon emissions, and flight that is quieter for those on the ground.
NASA conducted the wind tunnel tests over two weeks exposing the hardware to wind speeds from zero to over 90 knots. During testing, the propeller operated for 14 hours. It’s unclear when the first flight of the aircraft might happen.