NASA is building an all-electric test plane called X-57, nicknamed "Maxwell."
It will feature a long, thin wings lined with 12 small electric motors. On each wing tip, NASA will put two larger engines.
“This all comes back to that traditional aircraft design process,” says Sean Clarke, NASA engineer and co-principal investigator for electric propulsion and the X-57. “I’m given a certain performance envelope: Make this thing go fairly fast, using as little fuel as possible.”
During takeoff and landing, the 12 small motors kick on for about 30 seconds. Once it’s moving, the X-57’s version of shifting into high gear is shutting off those 12 engines and letting the two larger end-wing propellers take over.
Once complete, the aircraft will be able to operate solely on battery power. An electrically-powered plane will reduce noise pollution as well as air pollution. While modern aviation still requires lead based fuels, a battery-powered flight would eliminate this big source of pollution.