Lonely Planet Writer

NASA plans to plug in to new era of electric-powered planes with revolutionary design

It may still be in the early stages as an alternative source of power for cars but now electric-powered aviation is starting to seriously take off as well.

Electric-powered planes will be the next era for the aviation industry as NASA works on
Electric-powered planes will be the next era for the aviation industry as NASA works on increasing efficiency and reducing pollution Image by Gareth Fuller/PA Wire

Indeed NASA wants to push it forward from its current curiosity status to something that can become commercially tangible for small aircraft.

Conventional planes have wider wings for take-off and landing purposes but are very inefficient during flights
Conventional planes have wider wings for take-off and landing purposes but are very inefficient during flights Image by Bernal Saborio / CC BY 2.0

A new experimental airplane being built by NASA could help push electric-powered aviation from a technical curiosity and pipe dream into something that might become commercially viable for small aircraft.

The New York Times reports that a conference in Washington heard how all-electric airplanes could increase the efficiency of the flying sector and makes it less of a polluter at the same time.

The American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics heard NASA Administrator Chalres F Bolden Jr say their plan was to use the plane designated as X-57 as taking a first major step “into a new era of aviation.”

The NASA initiative in this area would not mean cross-country jetliners being propelled by an all-electric fuel. However, it is foreseen that this technology will become part of smaller aircraft and commuter planes decades from now.

The X-57 will appear more like a Cessna with a cruising speed envisaged at about 175 miles per hour. This plane type will have skinnier than normal wings which will be embedded with 14 motors.

The co-principal investigator for the project at NASA, Sean Clarke explains that traditional aircraft need wider wings designed as part of safety for takeoff and landing speeds.

These are bigger than are needed for cruise flight where smaller spans such as the X-57 would lead to greater efficiencies during flights. They would by driven by two 60-kilowatt electric motors.