On Friday, NASA administrator Charles Bolden announced the Administration’s new project: an experimental electric plane nicknamed “Maxwell” that can travel up to 175 miles per hour. NASA is searching for ways to make air travel more environmentally friendly and energy efficient, and this could be a step in the right direction.
Maxwell, named for the 19th-century physicist known for his work in electromagnetism, James Clerk Maxwell, is the first experimental plane designed by NASA in over a decade. This marks the return of NASA’s series of experimental “X-planes,” which dates back to the first plane to break the sound barrier (the new craft will be known internally as the X-57). It will have 14 electric motors located on the wings, will be a single-seat aircraft, and have a range of approximately 100 miles with one hour or less of flight time. While all 14 motors will be used during takeoff and landing, only two large motors on the end of each wing will be needed for coasting at high altitudes. NASA engineers believe that utilizing multiple electric motors will make for a plane up to five times more energy efficient than conventional fuel-powered aircraft.
Going electric has many benefits including quieter and less disruptive motors, and decreasing other forms of pollution as well. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, 11 percent of US transportation emissions and 3 percent of total US emissions come from commercial aircraft. An electric plane has the potential to resolve some of these issues.
It is expected that some of this technology will make its way into other types of commuter aircraft in the future. NASA also plans to continue to develop five larger planes that will carry more passengers and cargo.
Read more here: NASA Unveils Plans for Electric-Powered Plane (Kenneth Chang, The New York Times)