Meet Maxwell, NASA’s New All-Electric Experimental X-Plane

The experimental X-57

Maxwell Concept Art

Maxwell Concept Art

This is a plane named Maxwell. It has many, many engines.NASA Langley/Advanced Concepts Lab, AMA, Inc.

Aviation is NASA's unsung half. The agency best known for hurtling objects into space and putting robots on other planets also explores frontiers closer to earth, in the great ocean of air above us all. Previous NASA X-planes broke the sound barrier, flew to the edge of space, and tested unusual concepts, like forward-swept wings. Today, NASA revealed the name of their latest plane concept, a converted light plane with 14 electric engines. It's officially the X-57, but you can call it Maxwell.

Why Maxwell? From NASA:

NASA researchers working directly with the hybrid electric airplane also chose to name the aircraft “Maxwell” to honor James Clerk Maxwell, the 19th century Scottish physicist who did groundbreaking work in electromagnetism. His importance in contributing to the understanding of physics is rivaled only by Albert Einstein and Isaac Newton part of a four-year flight demonstrator plan, NASA’s Scalable Convergent Electric Propulsion Operations Research project will build the X-57 by modifying a recently procured, Italian-designed Tecnam P2006T twin-engine light aircraft.

Of the 14 engines, 12 will provide extra thrust for takeoff, and the two larger engines, one on the tip of each wing, will propel the plane while it’s at cruising altitude. NASA’s aiming for a top speed of 175 mph. That’s well below the sound barrier, which is fine. Efficiency isn’t as flashy as sonic booms, but it’s a lot more useful. And with Maxwell, NASA’s aiming for efficiency across the board, with the goal of reducing “overall operational costs for small aircraft by as much as 40 percent.”

Despite repeatedly describing the plane as a hybrid, NASA says it will be powered only by batteries, making it as far as we can tell all-electric. Emissions-free flight is worth it, if only for an end to nonsense conspiracy theories.

Maxwell Concept Art, Over A City

Maxwell Concept Art, Over A City

Look at the tiny wings and tiny engines on this all-electric plane.NASA Langley/Advanced Concepts Lab, AMA, Inc.