NASA is currently developing its first all-electric X aircraft. The aircraft, known as the X-57 Maxwell, recently conducted a wind tunnel test at the Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia. The test is conducted in a low-speed aeronautical acoustic wind tunnel to collect operational and performance data on flight conditions. The test used a pair of full-size propeller components from Empirical Systems Aerospace of California. The completed aircraft will be equipped with 12 electronic lifting motors and propellers. Propellers and motors are placed along the front edge of the aircraft’s cruising efficiency wings.
Electric motors and propellers will be used first during take-off to provide lift to the aircraft at low speeds. When the X-57 enters cruise mode, the motor is deactived and the propeller blades fold in to eliminate additional resistance. There is a pair of larger electric cruise motors on the wing tip.
When the aircraft enters the landing, the smaller high-lift motor restarts by expanding its blades to reactivate to produce a suitable landing speed. With the emergence of the new electric aircraft market, NASA intends to share with regulators the data collected in the electric propulsion design and test program. Currently, the project’s design drivers aim to increase high-speed cruise efficiency by 500 percent, reduce carbon emissions in flight to zero, and make people on the ground feel quieter.
NASA conducted a two-week wind tunnel test that exposed the hardware to wind speeds from zero to more than 90 degrees. During the test, the propeller operated for 14 hours. It was not immediately clear when the plane would make its first flight.