The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has announced it is in the process of developing an experimental electric airplane. Their new model, the X-57, could cut operational costs by 40 percent compared to other gas-powered planes of the same size. This plane would not only have a much smaller carbon footprint but be a tremendous relief for the pocketbooks of travelers.
“With the return of piloted X-planes to NASA’s research capabilities – which is a key part of our 10-year-long New Aviation Horizons initiative – the general aviation-sized X-57 will take the first step in opening a new era of aviation,” said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden.
NASA predicts the plane could be on the runway within four years and hopes it will be followed by several other larger models. However, it will, at first, only be used for purposes better suited for smaller airplanes. It will likely be several years at least before the technology reaches a stage where it can power massive passenger or cargo jets making long distance trips. There are a couple reasons for that.
First, the X-57 plane NASA is currently developing has 14 electric motors in total and will require around 800 pounds of batteries. That leaves little space for passengers. Second, the current model only has enough power to fly for an hour or so. NASA scientists hope the development of the X-57 will motivate others in the aerospace industry to invest their energies into developing energy efficient jets.
“NASA’s aeronautical innovators hope to validate the idea that distributing electric power across a number of motors integrated with an aircraft in this way will result in a five-time reduction in the energy required for a private plane to cruise at 175 mph,” reads NASA’s description.
In April, the Solar Impulse, a plane powered by solar energy, landed in California after making a two and a half day trip across the Pacific. That plane could only reach 40 mph, as opposed to the X-57’s predicted 175.