Experimental NASA airplane features 14 propellers driven by 14 electric motors

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.


Source: NASA

  • mipak

    The future of aviation is electric. The future of high speed transport is vacuum tubes. Only when you get to Mach 1.0 and above is there a need for any fossil fueled engines.

  • freedomev

    So much wrong here. Most noise comes from prop tips so unlikely 14 sets of them is going to be quiet.
    Next most drag again comes from prop tips, why they are noisy, so again hard to see 14 sets being more efficient.
    They would be better off using 4 large slow turning props with 2 motors each, can make 2-3x the thrust/kw.
    I’m not sure where they get the 5x reduction in energy as aircraft engines as run hard, are fairly efficient, 30% or so.
    We won’t get anywhere if we don’t follow basic physics and why many prop craft will not be used for carrying useful weight any distance.
    And EVs efficiency is king as you want to make the most /lb of battery so must chose the most efficient props you can. And that is far larger, fewer and slow turning.

    • Michèl Šolaja

      Guess you haven’t been following NASA’s progress with multiple props and harmonic cancellation of prop noise by digitally varying the rpm of each prop’s motor. They claim it’s almost silent at 30m.

      • freedomev


    • George

      You mean 2 props. The other 12 are not used in cruise configuration. Your proposed “solution” of using 4 larger props would obviously be noisier and less efficient than the NASA-funded design.

      I am dumbfounded by your claim that NASA Langley engineers are ignoring “basic physics”. Their innumerable major contributions to flight sciences over past decades testifies to their expertise.

      • freedomev

        And some great failures.
        How many of the test planes/ techs made it anywhere near production? Maybe 1 in 10. Why is they sucked in real life.
        The noise only matters taking off, landing, when all the props are working. DUH.
        Care to say why lighter loaded slow turning larger props are more noisy, less efficent? This should be interesting! ;^)
        Why do you think helicopters use them?
        I designed a Wing in Ground effect craft, a seaplane that flies barely above the water from the ground pressure wave it planes on, and did VTOL studies, had to go through all this.

  • George

    I did some light reading. The X-57 is powered by a 320-cell lithium ion battery that should provide 1 hour of flight at maximum 175 mph, with a total range of about 100 miles. Only the outer 2 props are used when cruising; the inner props provide high lift at low speed (mainly takeoff and landing), and fold into the nacelle when not in use.

    The wing had been ground tested to 70 mph. Flight test should occur in about a year, if all goes well.