The X-57 Maxwell: NASA’s First All Electric Airplane

Electric air taxis and commuter planes will be gracing the sky much sooner than we thought. On November 8, 2019, NASA revealed it’s first all-electric plane: the X-57 Maxwell. This is the first X model plane release by NASA is two decades. 

This engineering feat will reduce fuel use, emissions, and noise pollution. NASA is currently seeking to “help develop certification standards for emerging electric aircraft markets.” 

According to the NASA website, the X-57 Maxwell is being built through four main phases of testing, or “modifications” of the Italian Tecnam P2006t aircraft. Through using a baseline model, the engineers are able to accurately compare data between the traditional combustion engine against the electric propulsion.

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Currently in Modification IV, the design driver is for a 500 percent increase in high-speed cruise efficiency, zero in-flight carbon emissions, and flight that is much quieter for the community on the ground.The electric plane is clocking in at a maximum altitude is set to 14,000 feet with a cruise speed of 172 mph at 8,000 feet, weighing in at about 3,000 lbs. 

The X-57 Maxwell will be powered by specially designed Lithium ion batteries boasting 69.1 kilowatt hours, along with fourteen electric motors, 12 high-lift motors and propellers, and 2 cruse motors and propellers. 

See the X-57 Maxwell simulation video

In an interview with Reuters, Brent Cobleigh, NASA project manager of Flight Demonstrations states that “As time goes on, you will be able to see these technologies move into commercial airplanes” He sites two main commercial markets for electric planes: Urban Air Mobility (20-100 miles) and Short Haul Flights (20-50 passengers). 

At present, Short Haul and Urban Air flights are cost prohibitive, and with the development of the electric X-57 plane, these flights can become more viable as a means of urban transportation. NASA states that they are expecting the test flight to launch in late 2020.

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