First All-Electric X-57 Plane by NASA Ready for Qualification Testing

NASA has made significant progress in the preparation of the X-57 Maxwell; the first all-electric X-plane. Recently, NASA completed the functional ground testing of the X-Plane at its Armstrong Flight Research Center in Edwards, California. Now, it’s working to perform the taxi testing, first flight testing, assembly, and qualification testing on its two critical components at Empirical Systems Aerospace (ESAero). ESAero is the prime contractor of NASA for the project in California.

Progress Made for NASA’s first All-Electric X-57 Plane

One of these components is the electric cruise motors which will power X-57 for the flight. While the other component is the future high-aspect-ratio wing that will fly on the aircraft during the final configuration of the X-plane.

All-Electric X–57 Plane by NASA
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Image Credits: Empirical Systems Aerospace

The X-57 Maxwell is a modified form of Tecnam P2006T airplane. It is currently in its first stage of configuration as an all-electric aircraft which is known as Modification II or Mod II. This configuration features the replacement of the standard combustion of the vehicle. In this phase, 100-horsepower Rotax 912S engines are replaced with 60-kilowatt electric cruise motors. Moreover, test flights of this plane will be flown using the standard wing of the vehicle during this phase.

In the following phase, known as Modification III or Mod III, the standard wing will be replaced by the high-aspect-ratio wing. Thus, the overall vehicle area will be greatly reduced and the cruise motors are relocated out to the wingtips before the final Modification IV or Mod IV configuration. In Mod IV configuration, the addition of 12 smaller high-lift motors along the leading edge of the wing will be activated during takeoff and landing.

While there will be three modifications during the three configurations, the electric cruise motors will remain constant throughout these configurations. They will be tested at ESAero to verify that they are ready before installation on the X-57 vehicle.

Configuration Tests Ensures Safety

The Vice President of ESAero Operations, Trevor Foster, also mentioned that all three phases of the X-57 plane will utilize the same cruise motors. They will perform the functionality tests, acceptance tests, and qualification tests of the cruise motors to ensure their airworthiness for the X-plane. These configuration tests will reduce risks and improve the safety and reliability of the components on the aircraft.

These configuration tests include high-power and endurance testing of the cruise motors and its controllers. The main focus of these tests will be to monitor the overall efficiency of the X-plane. For this purpose, the engineers will use a dynamometer to measure the current and voltage of the vehicle at a rate of two million times per second. Then they will record, analyze, and augment the performance of these components using the results obtained. The main goal of high-power testing will be to ensure that the cruise motors and their controllers can perform well at any of the flight mission’s stages along with overhead.

During the endurance testing, they will perform everything from small checks and low power checks to running full mission profiles.

Technical Advancement

According to NASA, the motors and controllers have performed very well so far. Moreover, there will be five motors in total in X-57 including the pair of cruise motors. One of the motors was disassembled and used for evaluation of the construction of the unit as a safety measure. Two of the motors will be used as flight motors on the X-57 aircraft, and the rest of the two motors will be used for envelope expansion testing. Those motors will act as spares to the flight motors.

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