NASA Is Working On An Experimental Electric Airplane, The X-57

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Originally published on Gas2.

NASA is working on an electric airplane that can carry up to 9 passengers and cruise at 175 miles per hour. The heart of the innovative design is a unique wing with 14 propellers driven by electric motors. 12 of the propellers are used during takeoff and landing while 2 larger ones move the plane forward during normal flight.


The airplane has been assigned the designation X-57 by the Air Force but is known internally as “Maxwell” in honor of James Clerk Maxwell, the 19th century Scottish physicist who did groundbreaking work in electromagnetism.

NASA Aeronautics researchers will use Maxwell to demonstrate that electric propulsion can make planes quieter, more efficient and more environmentally friendly.

As part of a four year flight demonstrator plan, NASA’s Scalable Convergent Electric Propulsion Technology Operations Research (SCEPTOR) project will build the X-57 by modifying an Italian-designed Tecnam P2006T twin-engine light aircraft.

An advantage of modifying an existing aircraft is that engineers will be able to compare the performance of the proposed experimental airplane with the original configuration, says Sean Clarke, SCEPTOR co-principal investigator at NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center in California.

Tests have shown that distributing power among the multiple motors creates more than double the lift at lower speeds than traditional systems. NASA hopes to demonstrate that such a system will result in as much as a five times reduction in the energy required for a private plane to cruise at 175 mph.

Energy efficiency at cruise altitude using X-57 technology could benefit travelers by reducing flight times and fuel usage. It could reduce overall operational costs for small aircraft by as much as 40%. Typically, to get the best fuel efficiency an airplane has to fly slower than it is capable of. Electric propulsion essentially eliminates the penalty for cruising at higher speeds.

It also eliminates one source of pollution from the skies. Internal combustion engines for general aviation still run on leaded gasoline.

Source: Green Car Congress  Image credit: NASA

Reprinted with permission.

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Steve Hanley

Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Florida or anywhere else The Force may lead him. He is proud to be "woke" and doesn't really give a damn why the glass broke. He believes passionately in what Socrates said 3000 years ago: "The secret to change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old but on building the new."

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10 thoughts on “NASA Is Working On An Experimental Electric Airplane, The X-57

  • Cool. However no links and not enough information.

    • I agree, what’s its range? What’s its ceiling?

  • ” Internal combustion engines for general aviation still run on leaded gasoline ”

    Is this correct?
    A source please, thanks.

    • apparently i was surprised but yah.
      wouldnt let me leave the link just search avgas(aviation gas)

      Internal combustion engines for general aviation is mostly small single engine planes but thats still alot of engines pumping out lead in the air.

    • Yep. Google “avgas”. Many people been trying to ban the toxic crap for years, but the EPA keeps delaying and passing the buck.

  • Love to hear some details about the amazing statements – why electric so much better, why multiple engines so much better, etc. sounds like a lot of promise.

  • When I first saw this I thought it was a tilt-rotor VTOL. I understand this uses the fuselage of a lightweight STOL, so I wonder if the many little rotors are meant to blow air over full-length flaps to shorten takeoff.

    • Me too…The trick to high lift as I understand it is to delay the ‘separation point’ and it seems to me lots of small e motors mounted about 3/5ths from the leading edge could do that? what do you think?

  • Elon Musk thinks that electric jets can be made once the energy density of batteries increases. He talks about using gimbaled motors and eliminating the tail of the airplane. In comparison this looks like a very conservative design that sticks to present-day airplane design.
    What is so frustrating is the fact that we don’t already have widespread use of airships. They could dramatically reduce energy consumption and be used for heavy transport. We simply aren’t investing in the R&D of airships and they could have a major impact on the reducing GHG emissions.

    • To slow, too big to the ratio of size v payload and Helium is an finite resource.

Comments are closed.