WASHINGTON- National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) announced that its experimental electric aircraft, the X-57, will not take to the skies due to insurmountable safety concerns within the project’s allotted time and budget.
NASA will phase out the X-57 program without ever flying the aircraft.
NASA Cancels X-57 Maxwell Project
Initially, NASA anticipated flying the battery-powered and electric motor-driven aircraft this year. However, revised plans reduced the number of propellers from over a dozen to just two, known as Modification 2 (Mod 2), with one propeller on each wing.
Today’s announcement confirms that the plane will not fly in any form, including Mod 2.
NASA developed the X-57 Maxwell, an experimental electric aircraft. Intended to demonstrate the technology to reduce fuel use, emissions, and noise. NASA had scheduled the X-57 to conduct its inaugural flight in 2023.
As part of the experiment, NASA planned to replace the wings of a conventional four-seater light aircraft, the Tecnam P2006T, with distributed electric propulsion (DEP) wings containing electrically driven propellers.
The test flights, originally scheduled to commence in 2017, experienced delays.
The experiment involved conducting multiple phases. The first phase involved using an 18-engine truck-mounted wing.
In the second phase, they will install the cruise propellers and motors on a standard P2006T for ground and flight testing. Phase 3 was to test the high-lift DEP wing to demonstrate improved high-speed cruise efficiency.
They will install leading-edge nacelles, but they will not include the high-lift propellers, motors, and controllers. Phase 4 would have been to introduce DEP motors and folding propellers to showcase lift-augmentation capabilities.
Reasons Behind The Project Cancellation
NASA has announced the cancellation of the flight for the experimental aircraft. Due to safety concerns and time constraints.
Bradley Flick, the director of NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center in California, revealed that they discovered a potential failure mode in the propulsion system. Posing an unacceptable risk to the pilot’s safety and the safety of ground personnel during ground tests.
Addressing these concerns would require more time. Extending the project beyond its scheduled completion at the end of the fiscal year. Consequently, NASA has decided to conclude the project as planned without proceeding to the flight phase.
The project had faced difficulties in the past. Such as the failure and malfunction of transistor modules in the electrical inverters during testing. As explained by Sean Clark, the project’s principal investigator, in an interview with Popular Science in January. However, those issues were successfully resolved.
The recent problem that led to the decision to scrap the aircraft’s flight plan was related to the propeller motor’s functionality. Sean Clark stated that ongoing analysis is being conducted to understand the issue further. During the assessment of the motors’ airworthiness and detailed analysis of the aircraft.
They discovered potential mechanical failure modes under flight loads that were not observed during ground testing. Clark mentioned that they have a promising design in progress to address the problem.
Still, its implementation would require significant time, making it impractical for the project’s timeline.
NASA’s Ongoing Projects and Future Endeavors
While disappointed by the cancellation of the X-57 flight, the NASA team expressed pride in their contributions to the industry. Through sharing technical papers and fostering advancements in electric flight pursued by private companies.
Bradley Flick acknowledged the disappointment. Also emphasized the invaluable lessons the project team has provided to the industry, which remain game-changing.
Aside from the X-57, NASA has two other X-plane programs in progress. One of them is the X-59, scheduled for flight this year, aiming to demonstrate quieter supersonic flight. The second program is the recently designated X-66A. Also known as the Sustainable Flight Demonstrator, with a projected flight timeline of 2028.
Flick cautiously speculated that the X-57 aircraft could potentially have flown safely with additional budget and time. As they had a design concept that could have addressed the current challenges.
However, they needed to conduct additional analysis and review to verify its effectiveness. Also, the existence of any undiscovered issues remains unknown.
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