NASA recently unveiled the X-57, a model of a hybrid electric research plane. This lightweight plane was dubbed « Maxwell » in honour of the famous 19th century Scottish physician James Clerk Maxwell. The latter’s revolutionary work in various fields (including electromagnetism) has contributed significantly to better understanding physics, and also Einstein’s and Newton’s work for instance.
Furthermore, we note that the X-57 conforms to X-planes. The first among these planes dates back to 1947 and is logically named the X-1. It was at the time, the first plane to break the sound barrier. “Dozens of X-planes of all sizes, shapes and of different objectives have followed, all of them have contributed to our status as world leader in aviation and in space-based technologies”. Similar planes to the X-57 and the others to come will help us maintain that role” declared Jaiwon Shin, director of research at NASA.
The experimental plane inspired by a two-engine lightweight plane of already existing Italian design includes cutting-edge technology. 14 electric engines replace the two thermal engines originally there to ensure electric propulsion. 12 of them are placed on the front edge of the plane and are used for take off and landing. The more protruding engine is placed on the ends of each wing. These wings are supposed to function at cruising speed.
As a result, the flight is less noisy, less fuel consuming and doesn’t release as much greenhouse gas as other ordinary planes. This is all thanks to a silent electric engine and the fact that the required energy is divided by 5 (for a private plane able to fly at 280km/h). Also, the energy supply provided by the battery contributes to less greenhouse gas being released. To these major characteristics, add less flight time (due to electric propulsion) and the decrease of almost half of the operational costs.
NASA hopes for an easy entry on the market due to the energy efficiency and the characteristics of the X-57.
In 10 years, 5 other prototypes of the X-plane should see the light of day in addition to Maxwell, as part of the New Horizon program whose aim is to create silent and sustainable technologies. “The X-57 is the first step toward the beginning of a new era for aviation”, stated NASA administrator Charles F. Bolden. This project was made possible thanks to funds unblocked by Barack Obama.