NASA shows off its experimental electric airplane, the Maxwell X-57

x 57 mod ii vehicle delivered to nasa armstrong
NASA’s X-57 Maxwell, the agency’s first all-electric X-plane and first crewed X-planed in two decades, is delivered to NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center in Edwards, California in its Mod II configuration. NASA

Cars aren’t the only type of transportation which are going electric in the name of the environment. NASA has been working on an experimental electric plane, the Maxwell X-57, which the agency received last month. As reported by Reuters, NASA showed off an early version of the plane on Friday, in addition to a new simulator for pilots to experience what it will be like to control the Maxwell in flight.

Located in NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center in Edwards, California, the experimental aircraft is in the first of three configurations, called Modification II or Mod II. This version replaces a traditional combustion engine with electric cruise motors which are potentially quieter and more efficient, as well as being better for the environment.

In the future, the plane will go through new iterations called Mods III and IV. These phases are currently in testing, featuring components such as a high-aspect-ratio wing which is undergoing loads testing at NASA Armstrong’s Flight Loads Laboratory.

For now, the Maxwell Mod II and its 14 electric motors powered by lithium-ion batteries have been debuted to the world and NASA is making its ambitions for the project known. “We’re focusing on things that can help the whole industry, not just one company,” Brent Cobleigh, a project manager for NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center at Edwards, told Reuters. “Our target right now is to fly this airplane in late 2020.”

NASA aims to create technology which could be adopted by commercial manufacturers in order to make the whole aviation industry more environmentally friendly and more efficient. The biggest limitation on the Maxwell as it stands is the capacity of the batteries, which means the plane can only be used for short-haul flights. Still, the electric motor system in more compact, less heavy, and easier to maintain than traditional engines. It also makes less noise.

The plane is now due to undergo more tests before transitioning to the Mod III and IV phases.

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