The United States’ National Aeronautics and Space Administration, better known as NASA, has taken delivery of its first all-electric experimental aircraft, the X-57 Maxwell.
NASA’s X-57 Maxwell dates back to 2016 and is used to test new technologies and aerodynamic concepts and to demonstrate the benefits of electric propulsion for efficiency, noise, and emissions.
The X-57 – delivered last week by Empirical Systems Aerospace (ESAero) of San Luis Obispo, California – replaces traditional combustion engines on a baseline Tecnam P2006T aircraft with electric cruise motors and is the first of three configurations as an all-electric aircraft – known as Modification II, or Mod II.
“The X-57 Mod II aircraft delivery to NASA is a significant event, marking the beginning of a new phase in this exciting electric X-plane project,” said X-57 Project Manager Tom Rigney.
“With the aircraft in our possession, the X-57 team will soon conduct extensive ground testing of the integrated electric propulsion system to ensure the aircraft is airworthy. We plan to rapidly share valuable lessons learned along the way as we progress toward flight testing, helping to inform the growing electric aircraft market.”
The X-57 Mod II will now begin systems validation testing on the ground before it begins its work of helping to develop certification standards for emerging electric aircraft markets – including urban air mobility vehicles.
NASA will share the X-57’s electric-propulsion-focused design and airworthiness process with regulators and industry which, in turn, NASA hopes will advance certification approaches for aircraft utilising distributed electric propulsion – such as those being developed for urban air mobility vehicles.
At the same time that the X-57 Mod II is undergoing its systems validation testing, efforts in preparation for the project’s following phases – Mods III and IV – are already well underway.
Key amongst the development of Mods III and IV was the recent successful completion of loads testing on a new, high-aspect ratio wing at NASA Armstrong’s Flight Loads Laboratory.
The September testing was used to calibrate installed strain gauges for real-time loads monitoring and to also verify that the wing has met design specifications.
“ESAero is thrilled to be delivering the MOD II X-57 Maxwell to NASA AFRC,” said ESAero President and CEO Andrew Gibson.
“In this revolutionary time, the experience and lessons learned, from early requirements to current standards development, has the X-57 paving the way.
“This milestone, along with receiving the successfully load-tested MOD III wing back, will enable NASA, ESAero and the small business team to accelerate and lead electric air vehicle distributed propulsion development on the MOD III and MOD IV configurations with integration at our facilities in San Luis Obispo.”