These concept art images depict NASA’s first all-electric X-plane, the X-57 Maxwell, in several phases of operation at NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center, located at Edwards Air Force Base in California.
For more than 70 years, this location has been home to many historic X-planes, or experimental aircraft, responsible for expanding the envelope and pushing the limits of aviation — a tradition that NASA is keeping alive through the Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate.
The X-57, which is NASA’s first piloted X-plane in two decades, is seen here in its final all-electric configuration, known as Modification IV, or Mod IV. This configuration will feature a skinny, high-aspect ratio wing, designed to boost efficiency by reducing drag in flight, and electric cruise motors with five-foot diameter propellers on the wingtips, to recover energy that would otherwise be lost to wingtip vortices.
Meanwhile, the addition of 12 smaller high-lift motors and propellers on the wing’s leading edge will allow X-57 to be able to take off at standard speeds. These motors will activate during takeoff, spinning the propellers, and will deactivate during cruise mode, at which point the propeller blades will fold in to the nacelles, reducing drag.
Electric aircraft present a wide array of potential benefits to aviation, including increased efficiency, reduced or eliminated in-flight carbon emissions, and flight that is quieter for communities on the ground. The X-57 will help set certification standards as these electric aircraft markets begin to emerge.