NASA’s first electric aircraft to take off soon

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NASA is working hard to develop a quiet supersonic jet and an electric aircraft as part of the X-plane series. NASA’s X-57 Maxwell and X-59 QueSST aircraft are getting closer to their first test flights after completing ground tests.

The space agency launched the X programme in 1944 to conduct research on high-speed aircraft. The series achieved a number of flight firsts, including breaking speed and altitude limits, using new materials and propulsion systems, and developing hypersonic aircraft.

The X-57 programme was launched in 2016 as part of NASA’s Scalable Convergent Electric Propulsion Technology Operations Research Project (SCEPTOR). The acronym essentially stands for the development of low-emission aircraft powered by electric motors. The Maxwell, based on an Italian Tecnam P2006T, was converted into an electric aircraft last year by replacing the conventional Rotax engines with two electric motors manufactured by Joby Aviation.

Maxwell has completed ground tests and will make its first flight over NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Centre in the coming months. It will be the first manned X-plane in two decades.

The X-57 project has already made a significant contribution to the field of electric aircraft propulsion as an initial pioneer. [The project] is building a knowledge base that will influence industry standards and contribute to future electric vehicle demonstrations.
– said Heather Maliska, project leader of X057, in a statement.

NASA’s X-59 QueSST supersonic jet engine is also on schedule. It has returned to Lockheed Martin’s Skunk Works facility in Palmdale, California, after undergoing stress tests in Fort Worth, Texas. A model of the aircraft also recently completed wind tunnel testing in Japan. The first test of the prototype is expected to take place next year.

Announced in 2018, the QueSST project is NASA’s experiment to reduce sonic booms on supersonic aircraft. The boom happens when the aircraft exceeds the speed of sound. It was one of the main reasons supersonic aircraft lost favour with regulators after Concorde went commercial in the 1970s. But NASA plans to mitigate the explosive sound by modifying the QueSST’s fuselage and lengthening its nose.

Concorde’s maximum volume was 105 decibels, which is practically the equivalent of thunder. According to NASA, the X-59’s boom should be about 75 decibels, and the sound is described as a “thump” rather than a boom.

When the final prototype is completed, the X-59 will have room for a pilot, but is not expected to be commercially available. Like the X-57 – and most X-planes – the X-59 is designed to pass on its discoveries to the aviation industry, so it is not intended to introduce a new aircraft type to the market.

Source: Robb Report

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