NASA has received the first of three fully electric configurations of the X-57 Maxwell experimental aircraft, or “X-plane,” which will help develop certification standards for electric aircraft including air taxis.
Empirical Systems Aerospace (ESAero) of San Luis Obispo, California, delivered the aircraft on Oct. 2. Called the X-57 Modification II, it is a Tecnam P2006T in which the traditional combustion engines have been replaced with electric cruise motors. Engineers at NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center (AFRC) in Edwards, California, will now begin putting the aircraft through ground tests, with taxi and flight tests to follow in due time.
“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,” stated X-57 project manager Tom Rigney in a press release. “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.”
Meanwhile, NASA and ESAero are well along with preparations for the next two all-electric configurations, Mods III and IV. A new, high-aspect-ratio wing that will feature on both versions recently underwent loads testing at NASA Armstrong’s Flight Loads Laboratory. Following completion of tests, the wing will undergo fit checks on a fuselage at ESAero.
“ESAero is thrilled to be delivering the Mod II X-57 Maxwell to NASA AFRC,” stated ESAero president and CEO Andrew Gibson. “In this revolutionary time, the experience and lessons learned, from early requirements to current standards development, has the X-57 paving the way. This milestone, along with receiving the successfully load-tested Mod III wing back, will enable NASA, ESAero, and the small business team to accelerate and lead electric air vehicle distributed propulsion development on the Mod III and Mod IV configurations with integration at our facilities in San Luis Obispo.”
NASA said it will share the X-57’s electric-propulsion-focused design and airworthiness process with regulators and industry. The goal, according to the agency, is to advance certification approaches for aircraft utilizing distributed electric propulsion, including new eVTOL aircraft for urban air mobility applications.