NASA offers renderings of the X-57 Maxwell electric airplane

NASA has rolled out the first concept art images that show off its all-electric X-plane called the X-57 Maxwell. The renderings show the aircraft in several phases of operation at the NASA Armstrong Flight Research Center. That research center is located at Edwards Air Force Base in California.

Traditionally, the X-plane, or experimental aircraft, is responsible for expanding some of the limits of aviation. The first supersonic aircraft was an X-plane. The X-57 Maxwell is the first piloted X-plane in more than two decades. The renderings show the plane in its final all-electric configuration known as Mod IV.

This configuration has a skinny, high-aspect-ratio wing that's designed to boost efficiency and reduce drag in flight. The aircraft also has electric cruise motors with five-foot diameter propellers on the wingtips meant to recover energy that would be lost to wingtip vortices otherwise. Along the wing between those larger wingtip motors are 12 smaller high-lift motors and propellers.

Those additional electric motors allow the X-57 to take off at standard speeds. Those motors are only activated during takeoff to spin the powers and deactivate during cruise mode. When the smaller motors are deactivated, their propeller blades fold into the nacelles seen in the images above to reduce drag.

NASA intends to use the X-57 to highlight the potential benefits of electric power in aviation, including increased efficiency, reduced or eliminated in-flight carbon emissions, and quieter flights for communities on the ground. The X-57 aircraft is expected to be used to help set certification standards that are critical as the electric aircraft market emerges. It's unclear when NASA might fly this aircraft.