NASA’s experimental electric aircraft, the X-57 “Maxwell,” is nearing the end of its ground-test program. Launched last year at NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center in Edwards, California, the test program is seen as a key steppingstone toward the final design prototype configuration.
The X-57 is a highly modified Tecnam P2006T with its pair of piston Rotax engines replaced by 14 electronic motors mounted along the wing leading edges. Heather Maliska, X-57 project manager at the Armstrong Flight Research Center, said, “The X-57 project has made substantial contributions to the field of electric aircraft propulsion as an initial pathfinder, building a knowledge base of expertise that is influencing industry standards and contributing to future electric vehicle demonstrations.”
Testing started with low power operation, evaluating startup and shutdown sequences and ensuring the motor control software would properly engage and then effectively control the motors.
At the start of the testing program in California, Sean Clarke, NASA’s X-57 principal investigator, projected “We’ve turned a corner from system design and lab tests, to turning it over to the NASA flight systems and operations engineers to actually operate the vehicle. What they’re learning in this test, they’ll take with them into the control room for first flight.” That first flight is projected to take place by year end 2022.