As a computer engineer with decades of experience keeping up with trends in the tech industry, Eliseo Delgado Jr. has witnessed first-hand the growth from gas-powered machinery to electric. Here, he discusses NASA’s latest cargo-carrying project, their new X-57 electric plane.
While NASA is known around the world for their work on space shuttles and satellites, Eliseo Delgado Jr. reports on the company’s latest aircraft, the X-57 electric plane. This project demonstrates the company’s usefulness in earth-bound transportation and distances itself from the extra-planetary image they’ve held for decades.
“NASA has had its funding cut dramatically in recent years as recessions deterred science programs from building new shuttles and encourage more breakthroughs here on Earth,” says Eliseo Delgado Jr. “Now they’ve given the world something truly revolutionary besides space rockets; the X-57 is expected to transfer cargo–and eventually people–across the globe without relying on combustion-based engines, proving the company is as forward-looking as ever.”
Recently, NASA provided a demonstration of the electric aircraft, which they call the Maxwell X-57 (or just X-57 for short), at the Armstrong Flight Research Center in Edwards, California.
Officials report that the electric plane is adapted from an Italian-made, four-seat Tecnam P2006T that has been under development for the past four years.
The plane avoids typical combustion power by relying on 14 electronic cruise motors that are powered by lithium batteries, which were designed especially for the model. Lithium batteries are far more capable than batteries of the past, and today they empower many of our most active electronics. Current battery limitations give the X-57 a limited range compared to other major planes, but it’s expected to improve in the near future. For now, the plane will be used in short-haul flights, as an air taxi, or as a commuter plane for a few passengers.
Empirical Systems Aerospace delivered the plane last month to NASA. During a recent demonstration, the aeronautics and space administration were able to show off their new simulator, which provides pilots a better understanding of how the final version of the X-57 will maneuver through the air.
“While it’s a landmark vehicle that will help put an end to one of the biggest atmosphere polluters, the X-57 is still at least a year away from its first test flight,” says Eliseo Delgado Jr.
Right now, the plane is only in the first of three configurations with the current model called Modification II. The final version-which will be Modification IV-will feature narrower, lighter, high-aspect-ratio wings. Currently, the wings are undergoing structural load tests to ensure maximum performance. In addition, the X-57 will use lift propellers during take-offs and landings that will retract during the flight’s main cruise phase.
“We’re focusing on things that can help the whole industry, not just one company,” said Brent Cobleigh from NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center. “Our target right now is to fly this airplane in late 2020.”