NASA ends X-57 Maxwell project without flying


NASA is ending its X-57 Maxwell experimental electric aircraft project without flying the airframe due to a litany of technical issues and time constraints. 

The project, which is due to wrap up in September, came up against problems including mechanical issues late into its lifecycle and a lack of availability of critical components required to develop the experimental hardware. Solving this issue would have taken the Maxwell beyond its planned deadline. Launched in 2016, the X-57 Maxwell was part of NASA’s X-plane series which tests and evaluates new technologies and aerodynamic concepts. The aircraft was developed as a modified Italian Tecnam P2006T with plans to be powered by 14 battery-driven electric motors, including 12 high-lift propellers designed to fold and reduce drag when not in use. 

Brad Flick, director of NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center in Edwards, California, where the X-57 aircraft was developed, said: “NASA’s goal is to drive innovation through groundbreaking research and technology development. The X-57 project team has done just that by providing foundational information to industry through lessons learned, and we’re seeing the benefits borne out by American commercial aviation companies that are aiming to change the way we fly. I’m incredibly proud of their tenacity and ingenuity as they led the way in advancing electrified propulsion. The future of electrified propulsion is possible because of their contributions.”

Although the programme is being shutdown, NASA said the project has provided researcher with hundreds of lessons learned, as well as development in areas such as battery technology and cruise motor control design.

NASA said the primary goal of the X-57 was to provide knowledge about the aircraft’s electric-propulsion-focused design and airworthiness process with regulators. The objective was not to develop a prototype, but to develop a test platform for technologies and design methods.

“They did things that had never been done before, and that’s never easy,” Flick said. “While we prepare to finish this project later this year, I see a long list of achievements to celebrate and an industry that’s better today because of their work.”

NASA said it will continue its research into electric aircraft through other projects, including its Electrified Powertrain Flight Demonstration. Earlier this month, the US Air Force designated NASA’s Sustainable Flight Demonstrator (SFD), a full-scale transonic truss braced wing (TTBW) design being developed by Boeing, the X-66A. The latest X-plane is the first in the almost 80-year experimental aircraft series specifically focused on achieving the goal of net-zero aviation greenhouse gas emissions, according to NASA.