Greening up the aviation industry won’t be easy, but NASA has proven it is possible. The agency’s year-long electric plane project, the X-57 Maxwell, will fly for the first time this year. NASA aims to demonstrate the last stage of the project to convince regulators that planes can fly effectively using battery-electric power, hoping to advance certification approaches for distributed electric propulsion in emerging electric aircraft markets. The X-57 is a modified, four-seater, Italian-built Tecnam P2006T aircraft with up to 5,000 battery cells in its fuselage. NASA said the reason it used an existing aircraft is to be able to accurately compare data from a baseline model powered by fossil fuel engines to data produced by the same model powered by electric energy.
The X-57 resembles a helicopter more than a jet. As a result, NASA added electric motors and propellers along its wings to increase its efficiency. However, the primary concern is the energy density of the batteries used. Unfortunately, we do not have battery cells with an energy density comparable to aviation fuel.