NASA flies its first electric aircraft

October 04, 2019 //By Rich Pell
NASA takes delivery of X-plane electric aircraft
NASA has taken delivery of the first configuration of its X-57 Maxwell experimental electric aircraft from Empirical Systems Aerospace (ESAero).

The X-57 Maxwell , the agency's first experimental electric aircraft, or X-plane – and the first crewed X-plane in two decades – was delivered to Armstrong Flight Research Center in Edwards, California in the first of three configurations as an all-electric aircraft, known as Modification II, or Mod II. The delivery, says the agency, is a major milestone for the project, allowing NASA engineers to begin putting the aircraft through ground tests, to be followed by taxi tests and eventually, flight tests.

"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," says 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."

A goal 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. The agency plans to share the aircraft's electric-propulsion-focused design and airworthiness process with regulators and industry, which will advance certification approaches for aircraft utilizing distributed electric propulsion.

The Mod II vehicle features the replacement of traditional combustion engines on a baseline Tecnam P2006T aircraft, with electric cruise motors. Efforts in preparation for the project's following phases - Mods III and IV - are already well underway, with the recent successful completion of loads testing on a new, high-aspect ratio wing at NASA Armstrong's Flight Loads Laboratory.

Following completion of tests, the wing - which will be featured on Mods III and IV configurations - will undergo fit checks on a fuselage at ESAero, ensuring timely transition from the project's Mod II phase to Mod


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