NASA Completes Propeller Test for Fully Electric Plane

With electric vehicles (“EVs”) poised to take over the roads in the next decade or two, there has been increased interest in electrifying other forms of transport. But with the EV industry still in its infancy, doing so in the near future may prove to be a challenge. Bill Gates famously claimed that electric trucks, cargo ships, and jets would “probably never” happen, but companies such as Rivian, BYD and Daimler Trucks, which are developing electric trucks, buses and vans, are proving that nothing is impossible in the EV space.

Conversely, NASA has been working on an electric plane prototype, the X-57 Maxwell, to demonstrate how electrifying air travel can reduce reliance on fossil fuel as well as carbon emissions and noise. NASA administrator Charles Bolden announced the X-57 project back in June 2016, with the first flight initially planned for 2017. However, due to continued developments on the electric plane, flight tests were slated for the third quarter of 2020.

In October, NASA began conducting wind tunnel tests for the X-57 Maxwell’s propeller designs at the low-speed aeroacoustic wind tunnel at Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia. According to NASA, 12 electric motors and propellers were installed along the leading edge of the plane’s wing as part of the fourth and final modification process. These propellers will only be used for takeoff and landing while a pair of larger electric cruise motors located on the wingtips take over and remain active during flight.

“Positioned along the leading edge of X-57’s cruise-efficient wing, these motors and propellers will be utilized first during takeoff, providing lift augmentation to the X_Plane at low aircraft speeds. Once X-57 goes into cruise mode, these motors will deactivate and the propeller blades will fold inward to prevent creating additional drag while two larger electric cruise motors remain active on the wingtips. Then, when it’s time to land, the smaller high-lift motors will reactivate, unfolding the propeller blades to create the appropriate lift for landing at approach speed,” NASA.gov states.

Over the course of two weeks, NASA carried out wind tunnel tests with wind speeds greater than 90 knots. The agency states that the engineers’ hope was to increase high-speed cruise efficiency by 500%, cut in-flight carbon emissions to zero, and reduce noise for folks on the ground. Expected to cruise at 172 mph at 8,000 feet, the X-57 will weigh 3,000 pounds and will be powered by lithium-ion batteries weighing a combined 860 pounds.

The electric vehicle sector is seeing an upsurge in innovation. ev Transportation Services Inc. is a firm that is also stamping its mark on the industry. The company specializes in producing vehicles that meet the needs of different essential services market players.

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