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Brief Published: 4 Jul 2016

Future of Flight: Nasa's Electric Aeroplane

Nasa X-57

Nasa has unveiled plans for a new electric-powered aeroplane. The X-57 (nicknamed “Maxwell”) will run only on battery power, eliminating carbon emissions.

The plane’s long, thin wings will be embedded with 12 small electric motors, with two larger motors at each wing tip. These replace the gas-fuelled piston engines on traditional aircraft.

As many as five transport-scale X-planes are currently being planned as part of the Maxwell-led initiative. Nasa hopes the initiative will accelerate the adoption of aviation advances that reduce fuel use, emissions and noise. Researchers predict the technology could save the airline industry $255bn during its first 25 years in use.

“The full potential of these technologies can’t be realised in the tube-and-wing shape of today's aircraft,” said Jaiwon Shin, associate administrator for Nasa's Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate. “We need the X-planes to prove, in an undeniable way, how that tech can make aviation more Earth-friendly, reduce delays and maintain safety for the flying public.”

For a deeper dive into the innovations transforming the way people move from A to B, see our Radical Transport report.