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NASA to build electric-powered airplane ‘Maxwell’

In a move to achieve more efficient, quieter and environmentally friendly aircraft compared to a conventional one, the US space agency has unveiled plans for an electric-powered airplane designated as X-57.

With 14 electric motors turning propellers and all of them integrated into a uniquely-designed wing, NASA will test the new propulsion technology using X-57 which has been nicknamed “Maxwell”.

“With the return of piloted X-planes to NASA’s research capabilities – which is a key part of our 10-year-long New Aviation Horizons initiative – the general aviation-sized X-57 will take the first step in opening a new era of aviation,” ANASA administrator Charles Bolden said while addressing at the annual ‘Aviation 2016’ event in Washington, DC, on Friday.

The name “Maxwell” is given to honour James Clerk Maxwell, the 19th century Scottish physicist who did groundbreaking work in electromagnetism.

As 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.

Its original wing and two gas-fueled piston engines will be replaced with a long, skinny wing embedded with 14 electric motors – 12 on the leading edge for take offs and landings, and one larger motor on each wing tip for use while at cruise altitude.

NASA hopes to validate the idea that distributing electric power across a number of motors integrated with an aircraft in this way will result in a five-time reduction in the energy required for a private plane to cruise at 175 mph.

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