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NASA's electric 'X' arrives

NASA’s first all-electric X-plane, the first crewed X-plane in two decades, has arrived at the Armstrong Flight Research Center in California.

Empirical Systems Aerospace of San Luis Obispo, California, started with a Tecnam P2006T and swapped the combustion engines for a pair of electric motors to create the X–57 Maxwell Mod II, the second of four planned test iterations.

“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,” said X–57 Project Manager Tom Rigney in a news release. “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.”

Tecnam delivered the stock P2006T fuselage to California in 2016, and it is a major component of a larger program that aims to help make electric aviation propulsion practical. Engineers recently completed load testing on a high-aspect-ratio wing built by Xperimental LLC of San Luis Obispo. The Mod II version has two electric motors optimized for cruise power; the longer, thinner wing will carry an additional 12 motors across its span when Mod III takes flight.

One goal of the X–57 project is to help develop certification standards for electric aircraft, including urban air mobility vehicles, some of which are expected to rely on complex distributed electric propulsion systems. NASA will share what it learns with regulators and industry.

“The X–57 team is using a ‘design driver’ as a technical challenge, to drive lessons learned and best practices,” the agency noted. “This design driver includes a 500 [percent] increase in high-speed cruise efficiency, zero in-flight carbon emissions, and flight that is much quieter for communities on the ground.”

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