NASA Electric X-57 Maxwell Airplane Debuts at AirVenture 2018

JUL 29 2018 BY MARK KANE 17

Shown some two years ago, an experimental all-electric airplane X-57 Maxwell, is being presented at the AirVenture Oshkosh 2018 at Wittman Regional Airport in Oshkosh, Wisconsin (July 23-29).

The X-57 is expected to fly for the first time in 2019.

Due to the electric powertrain and 14 individual propellers, efficiency of the X-57 is 500% higher than conventional aircraft.

Only time will tell whether the research plane will open the way for a commercial model in the future. A lot depends on batteries – their energy density and costs.

More about the project:

“With 14 electric motors turning propellers and all of them integrated into a uniquely-designed wing, NASA will test new propulsion technology using an experimental airplane now designated the X-57 and nicknamed “Maxwell.” This artist’s concept of the X-57 shows the plane’s specially designed wing and 14 electric motors. NASA Aeronautics researchers will use the Maxwell to demonstrate that electric propulsion can make planes quieter, more efficient and more environmentally friendly.

“With the return of piloted X-planes to NASA’s research capabilities – which is a key part of our 10-year-long New Aviation Horizons initiative – the general aviation-sized X-57 will take the first step in opening a new era of aviation,” said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, during his keynote speech Friday in Washington at the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) annual Aviation and Aeronautics Forum and Exposition.

NASA’s aeronautical innovators hope to validate the idea that distributing electric power across a number of motors integrated with an aircraft in this way will result in a five-time reduction in the energy required for a private plane to cruise at 175 mph.

Several other benefits would result as well. “Maxwell” will be powered only by batteries, eliminating carbon emissions and demonstrating how demand would shrink for lead-based aviation fuel still in use by general aviation.

Energy efficiency at cruise altitude using X-57 technology could benefit travelers by reducing flight times, fuel usage, as well as reducing overall operational costs for small aircraft by as much as 40 percent. Typically, to get the best fuel efficiency an airplane has to fly slower than it is able. Electric propulsion essentially eliminates the penalty for cruising at higher speeds.

Finally, as most drivers of hybrid electric cars know, electric motors are more quiet than conventional piston engines. The X-57’s electric propulsion technology is expected to significantly decrease aircraft noise, making it less annoying to the public.”

Source: Green Car Congress

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17 Comments on "NASA Electric X-57 Maxwell Airplane Debuts at AirVenture 2018"

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Looks cool!

Any specs on range and max time in the air?


“Electric propulsion essentially eliminates the penalty for cruising at higher speeds”.

How does that work as increased drag will still create a penalty?

The majority of the wing leading edge is covered by the sweep of a prop. Drag still a factor, but reduced as the props combined should have a greater delta P, increasing efficiency. This setup only feasible with electric motors, higher cruise speed with lower drag effects. I assume that’s what is being referred to, not obvious from the quote though.

Smaller props are less efficient and each causes drag.

Except that smaller props can spin faster without the tips breaking the sound barrier thus more closely matching the optimum rpm of electric Motors without a gear reduction box.

The small motors and props are dead weight, they are only used for take off.


Obligatory link to four seater hydrogen fuel-cell plane:

« Obligatory use of battery for take-off, climbing and in case of a fuel cell failure »
How strange is it to complexify everything with an inappropriate energy choice.
The design is very interesting though!

If the numbers they claim are valid, I’d say it does look like a rather appropriate energy choice: batteries won’t allow for 2000, 1500, or even 1000 km flight any time soon.

The major doubt is whether the cost of sustainable hydrogen production will ever make it economically viable…

Which company provided the 12 electric motors? What is the nominal power of each motor?

This plane doesn’t exist yet, so the final motors have yet to be chosen. Here is NASA’s test wing attached to a semi-truck tractor:

Nice. When is comes to ground based transportation BEV is the future. But for air travel, I’m not convinced. Sure, in-city hops are completely doable in a battery electric air taxi. But for airliners, I actually think fuel cells are the proper path. It’s still 100% electric, but instead of a large heavy battery, it would have fuel cells and tanks, It will be several decades before a battery will have the same energy density. So until that day, fuel cells should be fine…sorry Toyota, perhaps you should partner with Honda (hondajet).

Have you any idea how much fuel cells and tanks plus associated equipment weighs opposed to a battery pack for a given range.

They are lighter, take a semi the batteries weigh 6000 pounds versus 2000 for fuel cells and tanks.

I agree that battery powered aircraft is not as convincing for aviation but I don’t think we should stop pursuing it. However, I disagree that fuel cells should be used for aviation. For one, the power requirements for commercial aviation are enormous. Electric motors can handle it no problem, fuel cells not so much. A better approach might be to replace the current APU’s with fuel cells, and, for hydrogen in aviation, just use it as the fuel for the turbofan engines that commercial aviation uses. Gas turbine engines are pretty fuel flexible so using hydrogen instead of kerosene would be a better approach as long as you can carry enough of it (which is no small feat).

The other problem with fuel cells in aviation is the landings, particularly for commercial aviation. Landings are generally not smooth and often are a bit rough. Fuel cells are sensitive to vibrations and can be damaged when its severe enough.

Edit: Added vibration issues

I have a hard time with the claimed performance improvement. Aero drag still increases by the square of the velocity. Regardless, here are the NASA technical papers:

Bob Wilson