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NASA Is Building an Electric-Powered Airplane

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Last week, NASA administrator Charles Bolden introduced the agency’s newest X-plane — the X-57 — at the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics’ annual Aviation and Aeronautics Forum and Exposition in Washington, D.C.

Nicknamed Maxwell (after James Clerk Maxwell, a 19th century Scottish physicist who made huge contributions to the field of electromagnetism), the experimental airplane features 14 electric motors and propellers that will be “integrated into a uniquely-designed wing,” according to a NASA press release. It’s the first airplane to earn an X-plane designation in a decade. And it could very well change the way we travel in the future.

“With the return of piloted X-planes to NASA’s research capabilities — which is a key part of our 10-year-long New Aviation Horizons initiative — the general aviation-sized X-57 will take the first step in opening a new era of aviation,” said Bolden. The initial X-plane, the X-1, was introduced in 1947 and became the first airplane to fly faster than the speed of sound.

“Dozens of X-planes of all shapes, sizes and purposes have since followed — all of them contributing to our stature as the world’s leader in aviation and space technology,” said Jaiwon Shin, associate administrator for NASA’s Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate. “Planes like the X-57, and the others to come, will help us maintain that role.”

The X-57 will be built from a Tecnam P2006T, an Italian-designed twin-engine light aircraft. According to NASA, “Its original wing and two gas-fueled piston engines will be replaced with a long, skinny wing embedded with 14 electric motors — 12 on the leading edge for take offs and landings, and one larger motor on each wing tip for use while at cruise altitude.”

The goal of NASA’s team of aeronautical researchers is to show that by distributing electric power across multiple motors, they’ll be able to achieve a reduction of 5x the energy required for a private plane to travel 175 miles per hour. This improved energy efficiency could lead to shorter flight times, less fuel usage and smaller operational costs. The plane will also be battery-powered, eliminating any carbon emissions — and hopefully clearing the path for a much greener future for the aviation industry.

Featured image courtesy of NASA.

H/T: Science World Report

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