NASA’s Hybrid Electric Plane : A Game Changer

NASA is about to step up the game in the aviation industry with its new generation X-Plane, a hybrid electric plane. As the world thrives on making all forms of transportation dependent on cleaner energy, NASA is making immense efforts to possibly replace the gas-guzzling aircraft used commercially at present. The concept  is also bound to ensure that even the aviation industry can contribute to a more sustainable form of transportation. This hybrid electric plane is one of the recent projects announced by NASA.

A Quick Look at Maxwell

NASA has officially named this hybrid electric plane or X-plane ‘the X-57 Maxwell’.  NASA has been leading  all research and development efforts on this project. As per the announcement, Maxwell  is fundamentally a  hybrid electric plane that can be used for research and is equipped with 14 different electric propeller-powered motors embedded on its wings. Part of this research and development stage is to subject this hybrid electric plane to various tests in the next four years.  This is to further establish a conclusion that  electric propulsion can inevitably help in producing efficient, quieter, and environmentally friendly hybrid electric planes.

NASA administrator Charles Bolden also believes that this new X-plane shall open new doors and lay the groundwork for a new era in the field of aviation. The 14 motors to be installed on the plane shall be used to produce sufficient thrust during the takeoff and landing. Once it has reached sufficient altitude,  this hybrid electric plane shall be using two larger motors  that are to be installed at the tips of its wings. With such technology and unique concept, this plane is expected to consume in 500% lower energy that is typically required to pilot smaller private planes.

Maxwell shall bear skinny and long wings to house 12motors.  A larger motor shall then be mounted on each wing in order to be used when cruising an altitude. The aeronautical aviators of NASA are yet to validate  this hybrid electric plane’s system of distributing energy. The success of this project would also result in a number of benefits. Firstly, as Maxwell, the hybrid electric plane, will only be powered by battery system, the use of the plane means no carbon emission. This would essentially help researchers and business to find alternatives that would help  alleviate the use of lead in aviation fuel.

Potential Benefits for Passengers or Travelers

While the X-plane is basically designed to provide a cleaner alternative to the use of planes, it is also expected to have a long-term benefit on the end of the passengers. The use of the technology to be installed in this hybrid electric plane would mean reduction in fuel consumption, flight time, and  overall operational costs. It is calculated that for smaller aircraft, the saving could mean up to 40% of the original expenses or cost.  A quieter motor is also more ideal.  The public will not have to endure loud planes if the system is to be applied in many aircraft in the future.

In order to maximize efficiency, this hybrid electric plane has to cruise slower than it is capable of. Due to the presence of electric propulsion system,  this aircraft is unlikely to get penalized due to ‘over speeding’ in the air. Generally, this is a win-win case for both the passengers and the airlines. These benefits are part of the vision of the project and will truly be the catalysts for change in the aviation business.

As per the press release of NASA, this hybrid electric plane , Maxwell, is designed to function as a private plane. This means that the storage capacity, as well as the weight of the batteries, should remain limited. In a similar concept, electric car manufacturer Tesla is also on the same page –  endeavoring to develop the smallest yet most efficient batteries to power a vehicle.  If this is done perfectly, then this would essentially be one of the biggest contributions of NASA to the aviation industry.

NASA’s New Aviation Horizons

Maxwell, the latest hybrid electric plane,  has been one of the projects under the ‘New Aviation Horizons’ , 10-year program or initiative of NASA. The agency has embarked on this initiative with the target to produce a new generation of planes that can be used and operated using cleaner energy. These new set of X-planes are also to be designed to  become quieter and more fuel-efficient as compared to the aircraft being used on commercial flights today. This electric hybrid plane Maxwell is on of the X-planes to be studied, developed and produced  using the $790M fund received by NASA from the President’s budget for the fiscal year 2017.  The said fund shall be solely used by the New Aviation Project and other green aviation initiatives of NASA.

There is also a good reason as to why this hybrid electric plane is called Maxwell. This electric plane is aptly called Maxwell to honor the Scottish physicist named James Clerk Maxwell.  This physicist is known for his groundbreaking work in the field of electromagnetism back in the 19th century. To honor his work and contribution, NASA researchers found it fitting to name what could be a game changer in the aviation industry after this  physicist. His work and his deep understanding of physics were also rivaled by Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein.

NASA and its Contribution to the Realm of Aviation

Contrary to misconception, NASA is not only concerned about studying the potential and the structure of the space. In fact, for more than 100 years, NACA (National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics or former NASA) and NASA have been involved in making experimental aircraft in order to provide platforms for aviation innovation and technology. One of the recent output is the hybrid electric plane , Maxwell.  The agency makes use of funding provided by the government in order to conduct these expensive and extensive research . By doing so, NASA has become instrumental to shortening the time in making aviation innovation and technologies commercially available.

X-planes, or formerly known as XS-planes ( experimental supersonic), refer to the group pf experimental aircraft that are researched and studied by NASA. Up to the present time, there are now over 56 X-planes including the most recent hybrid electric plane, Maxwell.  All of these x-planes are the representation of greatest steps and breakthroughs in aviation research. A prominent example of an X-plane is the X-15 rocket plane which was launched in the 1950’s. This particular aircraft is known to be the highest-flying and the fastest winged aircraft of its era.

The New Aviation Horizons initiative of NASA  will continue to need the government’s support as well as the mandate of the Congress in order to continue producing game-changing aircraft. According to NASA, there are now about five large-scale X-panes that are in the pipeline. With these five upcoming electric aircraft, the goal remains the same. This is to make use of advanced aviation technology that would slash the fuel consumption, noise, and carbon emission just like X-57 or the hybrid electric plane. The  researchers intend to complete these projects so as to accelerate their launch.

The X-number  on this hybrid electric plane designation was in fact assigned to the US Air Force. The first x-plane or the x-1  was launched in 1947. It was known to be the first aircraft to fly much faster than the speed of sound. After the success of this research and development, the succeeding planes carried a name with X-number.  Maxwell or X-57 is expected to keep the legacy of NASA as an agency that produces exemplary and top-notch aircraft that can be used by many in the near future.  Other aircraft manufacturers such as Boeing and Airbus are likewise taking the same route – all of which intend to come up with a more sustainable mean of transportation.  At this point, it is safe to say that NASA  and its initiatives are gear towards technological advancement and improvement of traveling . Thanks to  Maxwell, the hybrid electric plane, these can be made possible soon.

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