San Luis Obispo, CA – based Empirical Systems Aerospace (ESAero for short) is partnering with NASA to create an all-electric X-57 “Maxwell” technology demonstrator aircraft. The Central Coast engineering firm specializes in “on-demand engineering” and ultimately plans to retrofit a Tecnam P2006T general aviation aircraft to demonstrate their technological advances in electric propulsion.
The Tecnam P2006T is a popular light twin-engine aircraft, used commonly for multi-engine flight training. ESAero’s planned timeline for incorporating design advances to the X-57 began with receiving the aircraft in 2017, followed by Mod II Flight Testing at NASA’s Armstrong Research Center during 2018. The team plans on demonstrating that their concept will save five times the energy of a comparable aircraft during cruise profile. The fuselage contains 800 lbs of batteries to power the two main electric motors mounted on the wings for cruise flight. To facilitate vertical takeoff and landing, the aircraft is outfitted with an additional 12 electric motors dispersed across the wings.
From the company’s press release: “This tooling fuselage significantly reduces overall project duration by giving engineers at ESAero and Xperimental, LLC the opportunity to perform critical experimental wing integration tasks while NASA engineers flight test the Mod II configuration at the same time,” said Tom Rigney, NASA X-57 Project Manager. “One of our key goals is to overcome the many challenges associated with integrating these new all-electric technologies and to flight test them as soon as possible. This fuselage helps us to achieve this essential goal.” said Rigney. “We want to quickly provide lessons learned to the aviation industry to help them to develop and safely fly new all-electric and hybrid-electric aircraft that have so many potential benefits.”
Why it’s important: Empirical Systems Aerospace is applying a plug-and-play approach to the electrification of aviation by combining a proven airframe with electric propulsors. The company is adopting a dispersed propulsion approach, similar to other firms such as Verdego Aero, to maximize their efficiency gains during flight. ESAero’s contract with NASA has most likely also caught the eye of Uber, as the ride-sharing company is engaged in an ongoing developmental relationship with NASA as well.