NASA’s X-57 Maxwell: the ultimate guide to the electric trailblazer

NASA’s X-57 Maxwell is intended to provide industry and regulators with the knowledge to revolutionise sustainable aviation. Mark Broadbent learns more

Set to begin flight testing early in 2023, the X-57 Maxwell is NASA’s first electric aircraft and its first manned experimental aircraft for more than 20 years. It is one of two new NASA X-planes that are due to fly this year, with the agency also scheduled to begin flight testing the X-59 to investigate quiet supersonic operations.

Frankly the humble X-57 is far less exciting to look at than the dart-like X-59, but nevertheless the Maxwell is a significant aircraft for NASA’s ongoing aerospace technology research. NASA has developed the aircraft to demonstrate new electric propulsion methods, showcase energy efficiency in the cruise stage of flight and show how to reduce aircraft noise. It is 100% powered by a newly developed distributed electrical propulsion system rather than a conventional combustion engine, meaning that it will not use any aviation fuel, nor will it generate any emissions.

The X-57 arrives at Edwards from prime contractor Empirical Systems Aerospace of San Luis Obispo, California in 2019
NASA /Lauren Hughes


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