Skip to main content

NASA’s experimental all-electric X-57 aircraft is a step closer to flight


NASA has taken delivery of its all-electric X-57 “Maxwell” aircraft, taking the agency a step closer to comprehensive testing of its first all-electric experimental aircraft.

Several years in development, the X-57 was delivered by Empirical Systems Aerospace of San Luis Obispo, California, in the first of three configurations as an all-electric aircraft, known as Modification II, or Mod II.

Tom Rigney, manager of the X-57 project, said the arrival of the aircraft marked “the beginning of a new phase in this exciting electric X-plane project,” adding, “With the aircraft in our possession, the X-57 team will soon conduct extensive ground testing of the integrated electric propulsion system … 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’s Mod II vehicle uses a four-seat Tecnam P2006T aircraft as its base design but with its traditional combustion engines replaced with 14 electric cruise motors. The design will allow it to operate with 20% of the fuel cost — and far more quietly — than conventional aircraft.

When the X-57 is ready to take to the skies following its initial tests, six motors on each wing will enable take-off and landing. However, two larger motors — one at the far end of each wing — will be enough for the X-57 to maintain its cruising speed of 175 mph. The range of the aircraft is around 100 miles.

According to NASA, one of the goals of the X-57 project is “to help develop certification standards for emerging electric aircraft markets, including urban air mobility vehicles, which also rely on complex distributed electric propulsion systems.”

Indeed, a growing number of companies are investing big bucks in the development of small, electric aircraft as a way to move people around cities more efficiently while at the same time reducing carbon emissions.

NASA has been testing its experimental X-planes and rockets since the mid-1940s as a way to evaluate new technologies and aerodynamic concepts.

The X-57 aircraft was nicknamed Maxwell in honor of James Clerk Maxwell, a 19th-century Scottish physicist known for his groundbreaking work in electromagnetism.

Editors' Recommendations

Trevor Mogg
Contributing Editor
Not so many moons ago, Trevor moved from one tea-loving island nation that drives on the left (Britain) to another (Japan)…
NASA’s Ingenuity helicopter travels 160 meters in 8th Mars flight
NASA's Ingenuity helicopter.

NASA’s Mars helicopter, Ingenuity, has completed its eighth flight over the Martian surface as the team continues to explore how the aircraft can assist future space missions.

“Another successful flight for Ingenuity!” the team at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), which is overseeing the current Mars mission, said in a tweet on Tuesday. The message also included an image of the helicopter’s shadow as it passed over the ground during its flight earlier this week.

Read more
NASA’s Mars helicopter makes history with first flight on the red planet
Mars helicopter

First Flight of the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter: Live from Mission Control

NASA’s Mars helicopter has made history by becoming the first aircraft to demonstrate controlled, powered flight on another planet.

Read more
NASA video relives this week’s spectacular SpaceX mission to the ISS
spacexs historic crew dragon mission in pictures approach

NASA has pulled together a great selection of video clips highlighting this week's historic Crew-1 mission to the International Space Station (ISS).

The 180-second presentation (top) shows everything from the astronauts’ suiting-and-booting session to their arrival at the space station 27 hours after launching from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Sunday, November 15.

Read more