Electric X-plane named after Scottish scientist
NASA’S forthcoming X-plane electric propulsion demonstrator ( Pilot Notes, January) has been designated X-57 and named Maxwell after James Clerk Maxwell, a 19th century Scottish physicist who did groundbreaking work in electromagnetism.
NASA’S Scalable Convergent Electric Propulsion Technology Operations Research project is basing the X-57 on a modified Tecnam P2006, replacing the standard wing and two piston engines with a wide span, high-aspect-ratio wing embedded with fourteen electric motors, twelve on the leading edges for takeoff and landing, and one larger motor on each tip, for use at cruise altitude. NASA hopes to validate the idea that distributing electric power across a number of motors in this way will result in a five-times reduction in the energy required for a light aircraft to cruise at 175mph.
‘ Maxwell will be powered only by batteries’, says NASA, ‘eliminating carbon emissions and demonstrating how demand would shrink for lead-based aviation fuel still in use by general aviation.
‘Increased efficiency at cruise altitude using X-57 technology could reduce flight times and overall operational costs for small aircraft by as much as forty per cent. Electric propulsion essentially eliminates the energy penalty for cruising at higher speeds.’
NASA is planning up to five more, larger transport-scale X-planes as part of the overall programme.