The X-57 is NASA’s first X-plane in a decade, and the plan is to develop technologies that improve fuel use and emissions and reduce noise, while also potentially paving the way to faster and more efficient small aircraft. 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.”
The Maxwell, which is named after 19th century Scottish physicist Jams Clerk Maxwell, will be built by the Scalable Convergent Electric Propulsion Technology Operations Research (Sceptor) project. The aircraft itself will be a modified Tecnam P2006T, outfitted with 14 motors for propulsion. Researchers hope to prove that using that many motors can reduce the amount of energy required to reach a cruising speed of 175 mph.
The X-57 number designation was assigned by the U.S. Air Force, which manages the history-making process, following a request from NASA. The first X-plane was the X-1, which in 1947 became the first airplane to fly faster than the speed of sound. NASA has been doing this research for X-planes for some time, and it’ll be awhile before these experimental planes are ready. NASA also awarded Lockheed Martin $20 million for the company to develop its own supersonic X-plane designs.