Meet Maxwell: NASA’s Bold Vision for the Future of Electric Flight

Agency’s first dedicated research aircraft in more than a decade emerges.

NASA Maxwell X57
NASA's new X-57 project, nicknamed "Maxwell," will be powered by 14 electric motors.NASA

Charles Bolden says now is the right time to take a serious look at a distributed electric aircraft that, if successful, will create advanced technologies to reduce fuel burn, emissions and aircraft noise. Bolden is administrator of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. NASA’s new X-57 project, nicknamed “Maxwell,” will be the agency’s first dedicated research aircraft in more than a decade.

The X-57 project’s goal is to prove that battery-powered electric motors distributed across the research aircraft’s wing can produce a 500 percent reduction in the total energy needed to propel a GA aircraft at 175 mph. Because there’s no need for the X-57’s wing to generate lift, the new airfoil is expected to be considerably thinner than contemporary wings.

Maxwell will be created by NASA’s Scalable Convergent Electric Propulsion Technology Operations Research (SCEPTOR) team using a modified Tecnam P2006T twin. The new thinner wing will hold 14 electric motors, 12 on the leading edge for takeoff and landing and two additional motors on the wingtips for use in cruise.

Bolden called the X-57 project the first step in the agency’s “New Aviation Horizons” effort and promised five larger-scale transports in future years. The X-57 is nicknamed Maxwell in recognition of 19th-century Scottish physicist James Clark Maxwell.