NASA unveiled an experimental electric plane, the Maxwell X-57, at the Armstrong Flight Research Center in Edwards, California, on Friday. The aircraft was modified from a four-seat Tecnam P2006T made in Italy and has been under development since 2015. It will use 14 electric cruise motors, powered by specially designed lithium batteries, rather than the usual aeronautical internal combustion engine. Although the X-57 took a long time to develop, it is at least a year away from its first test flight.
In addition to showcasing the electric aircraft delivered to NASA by The Eexperience Systems Aerospace last month, the agency also showed off a new simulator that gives pilots an idea of how the final version of the X-57 maneuvers in the air. The aircraft is currently in the first of its three configurations, known as Modification II. The final iteration modified version will have narrower, lighter wings. The high-level wing is undergoing structural load testing, and the X-57 will also take off and land with a lift propeller that is picked up during the aircraft’s cruise phase.
NASA’s current goal is to fly the plane into space by the end of 2020. As with other electric aircraft, the current battery limits the range of the X-57. Currently, it has plans for short-haul flights, air taxis or commuter planes for a small number of passengers. Back in August, Norway’s first electric plane, the Alpha Electro G2, crashed into a lake before landing because of power exhaustion.