NASA’s Electric Plane

For the first time in 20 years, NASA is about to launch a test flight of a new, crewed experimental aircraft – and it runs solely on electric power.

Known as the X-57 Maxwell, the plane has 14 motors – six smaller ones along each wing and one larger one at each wing tip – a design that would have been difficult to achieve with traditional gas-powered engines. But the X-57 runs on two lithium-ion battery packs located in the cabin, fundamentally changing the design of the propulsion system.

The new aircraft addresses three key challenges of lowering emissions, reducing fuel consumption, and decreasing noise by combining new technology with advanced aerodynamics. Further ground testing is aimed at evaluating how well the low-voltage and high-voltage systems work together across a broad power curve to optimize performance over all stages of flight including taxiing, takeoff, cruising, and landing. A crewed test flight is planned for later this year.

For information: National Aeronautics and Space Administration Headquarters, 300 East Street SW, Suite 5R30, Washington, DC 20546; phone: 202-358-0001; fax: 202-358-4338; Web site: NASA or X-57 Maxwell (