NASA’s First All-Electric Aircraft Delivered for Testing

NASA’s X-57 Maxwell, the agency’s first all-electric X-plane and first crewed X-plane in two decades, is delivered to NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center in Edwards, California. NASA

On October 14, 1947, the Bell X-1 "Glamorous Glennis" launched from the bomb bay of a Boeing B-29 at 7,000 feet, piloted by Charles E. "Chuck" Yeager, to become the first airplane to fly faster than the speed of sound. As we mark the 72nd anniversary of that flight today, NASA adds another "X-plane" to that historic series of aircraft.

A highly-modified Tecnam P2006T aircraft with electric cruise motors has been delivered to NASA's Armstrong Flight Research Center in Edwards, California, to become the X-57 Maxwell, NASA's first crewed "X-Plane" in two decades and the agency's first-ever all-electric aircraft. The airplane was delivered by Empirical Systems Aerospace (ESAero) in the first of three configurations as an all-electric aircraft, known as Modification II, or Mod II.

The delivery is a major milestone for the project, allowing NASA engineers to begin putting the aircraft through ground tests, to be followed by taxi tests and eventually, flight tests.

"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. “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.”

A goal of the X-57 project is to help develop certification standards for emerging electric aircraft markets, including urban air mobility vehicles, which also rely on complex distributed electric propulsion systems. NASA will share the aircraft’s electric-propulsion-focused design and airworthiness process with regulators and industry, which will advance certification approaches for aircraft utilizing distributed electric propulsion.

“ESAero is thrilled to be delivering the MOD II X-57 Maxwell to NASA,” said ESAero President and CEO Andrew Gibson. “In this revolutionary time, the experience and lessons learned, from early requirements to current standards development, have the X-57 paving the way. This milestone will enable NASA, ESAero and the small business team to accelerate and lead electric air vehicle distributed propulsion development.”

The X-57 project operates under the Integrated Aviation Systems Program’s Flight Demonstrations and Capabilities project, within NASA’s Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate.

Dan Pimentel is an instrument-rated private pilot and former airplane owner who has been flying since 1996. As an aviation journalist and photographer, he has covered all aspects of the general and business aviation communities for a long list of major aviation magazines, newspapers and websites. He has never met a flying machine that he didn’t like, and has written about his love of aviation for years on his Airplanista blog. For 10 years until 2019, he hosted the popular ‘Oshbash’ social media meetup events at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh.
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