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NASA unveils its first electric aeroplane - Maxwell

NASA, most prominent for its many Florida-launched exploits into space, showcased an early version of its first all-electric experimental aircraft, the X-57 "Maxwell," on Friday at its lesser-known aeronautics lab in the California desert.

X-57 in development since 2015

Adapted from a Italian-made Tecnam P2006T twin-engine propeller plane, the X-57 has been under development since 2015 and remains at least a year away from its first test flight in the skies over Edward Air Force Base.

(Photograph:Reuters)

Powered by 14 electric motors

After attaching the two largest of 14 electric motors that will ultimately propel the plane, powered by specially designed lithium ion batteries, NASA deemed the Maxwell ready for its first public preview.

(Photograph:Reuters)

Newly built simulator

NASA also showed off a newly built simulator that allows engineers, and pilots, to get the feel of what it will be like to manoeuvre the finished version of the X-57 in flight, even as the plane remains under development.

(Photograph:Reuters)

One of many experimental aircraft

The Maxwell is the latest in a proud line of experimental aircraft the National Aeronautics and Space Administration has developed over many decades for many purposes, including the bullet-shaped Bell X-1 that first broke the sound barrier and the X-15 rocket plane flown by Neil Armstrong before he joined the Apollo moon team. The Maxwell will be the agency's first crewed X-plane to be developed in two decades.
 

(Photograph:Reuters)

Intended for eventual commercial use

While private companies have been developing all-electric planes and hover-craft for years, NASA's X-57 venture is aimed at designing and proving technology according to standards that commercial manufacturers can adapt for government certification.

(Photograph:Reuters)

Mod-IV

The final modification, or Mod IV, of the aircraft will feature narrower, lighter-weight wings fitted with a total of 14 electric engines, six smaller "lift" props along the leading edge of each wing, plus two larger "cruise" props at the tip of each wing. The lift propellers will be activated for take-off and landings, but retract during the flight's cruise phase.

(Photograph:Reuters)

Simpler to maintain

Electric motor systems are more compact with fewer moving parts than internal-combustion engines, they are simpler to maintain and weigh much less, requiring less energy to fly, Cobleigh explained. They also are quieter that conventional engines.

(Photograph:Reuters)

Battery limitations

One challenge is improving battery technology to store more energy to extend the plane's range, with faster re-charging. Due to current battery limitations, the Maxwell's design is envisioned for use in short-haul flights as an air-taxi or commuter plane for a small number of passengers.

 

(Text from Reuters)

(Photograph:Reuters)