NASA’s Electric CTOL Demonstrator
This is a sidebar to the article, "NASA’s LA-8: Generating Public eVTOL Data," from Vertiflite July/August 2022
NASA’s X-57 Maxwell experimental aircraft is testing a commercial four-seat Italian Tecnam P2006T modified as an electric conventional takeoff and landing (eCTOL) aircraft. The test aircraft arrived at the facilities of NASA’s prime contractor, Empirical Systems Aerospace, Inc. (ESAero), in Oceano, California in June 2016.
Modification (Mod) 1 instrumented a stock Tecnam to gather baseline data and characterize the aircraft.
Mod 2 includes ground and flight tests of Maxwell’s electric motors, batteries and instrumentation. Initial ground tests were completed in 2019 by ESAero at Scaled Composite’s facility in Mojave, California, with Joby Aviation electric cruise motors and motor controllers in place of the stock Rotax engines. The Mod 2 airframe is currently at NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center in California, completing ground testing, and should fly later this year.
Mod 3 replaces the stock Tecnam wing with a new composite cruise-optimized wing designed to lower drag and repositions the electric motors to the wing tips. This new wing and its subsystems are being developed and tested in parallel with Mod 2 at ESAero’s facility in San Luis Obispo, California. Mod 3 should fly next year.
Mod 4 would install 12 additional electric motors across the leading edge of the wing for additional lift during take-off and landing. Initial propulsion testing was completed by ESAero last year, with final versions in fabrication this summer. This Mod would represent the culmination of the X-57 program flying all 14 motors. However, project conclusion in 2023 may truncate the effort.
Featured image caption: X-57 Mod 2 ground test of the Joby electric motors on the original wing, June 2019. (NASA)