NASA is building an experimental airplane in order to demonstrate that electric propulsion can make planes quieter, more efficient and more environmentally friendly.
The X-57, nicknamed “Maxwell,” has 14 electric motors turning 14 propellers, integrated into a specially-designed wing.
NASA Aeronautics researchers hope to use Maxwell to validate the idea that distributing electric power across a number of motors will result in a five-time reduction in the energy required for a private plane to cruise at 175 mph.
Typically, to get the best fuel efficiency, an airplane has to fly slower than it is able. Electric propulsion essentially eliminates the penalty for cruising at higher speeds. NASA researchers estimate that the higher energy efficiency of X-57 technology could reduce operational costs for small aircraft by as much as 40 percent.
“With the return of piloted X-planes to NASA’s research capabilities, the general aviation-sized X-57 will take the first step in opening a new era of aviation,” said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden.