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NASA’s X-57 Electric Research Plane

NASA’s X-57 Electric Research Plane


With 14 electric motors turning propellers and all of them integrated into a uniquely-designed wing, NASA will test new propulsion technology using an experimental airplane now designated the X-57 and nicknamed “Maxwell.” This artist’s concept of the X-57 shows the plane’s specially designed wing and 14 electric motors. NASA Aeronautics researchers will use the Maxwell to demonstrate that electric propulsion can make planes quieter, more efficient and more environmentally friendly.

“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, during his keynote speech Friday in Washington at the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) annual Aviation and Aeronautics Forum and Exposition.

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.

Several other benefits would result as well. “Maxwell” will be powered only by batteries, eliminating carbon emissions and demonstrating how demand would shrink for lead-based aviation fuel still in use by general aviation.

Energy efficiency at cruise altitude using X-57 technology could benefit travelers by reducing flight times, fuel usage, as well as reducing overall operational costs for small aircraft by as much as 40 percent. Typically, to get the best fuel efficiency an airplane has to fly slower than it is able. Electric propulsion essentially eliminates the penalty for cruising at higher speeds.

Finally, as most drivers of hybrid electric cars know, electric motors are more quiet than conventional piston engines. The X-57’s electric propulsion technology is expected to significantly decrease aircraft noise, making it less annoying to the public.

Image Credit: NASA Langley/Advanced Concepts Lab, AMA, Inc.

Future NASA Missions Spark Out-of this-World Ideas

Future NASA Missions Spark Out-of-this-World Ideas

Researchers Matt Simon, left, and Erica Rodgers look over a prototype Multigenerational Independent Colony for Extraterrestrial Habitation, Autonomy, and Behavior health (MICEHAB) habitat module.

Researchers Matt Simon, left, and Erica Rodgers look over a prototype Multigenerational Independent Colony for Extraterrestrial Habitation, Autonomy, and Behavior health (MICEHAB) habitat module.

It takes all sorts of innovative concepts — some might even say wild ideas — to get humans to another planet.

Thousands of engineers and researchers are in the middle of tackling that challenge now as NASA works to send a crew to Mars in the 2030s. There are all sorts of technical hurdles to overcome that take some creative thinking — whether it’s developing lightweight, flexible inflatable spacecraft heat shields to be able to land more mass or designing a robotic grappling arm to capture an asteroid.

Those are a couple of ideas imagined and championed at NASA’s Langley Research Center that are now being worked on for possible use in future missions.

“In our branch we are encouraged to come up with far-out ideas that could help advance space exploration, ” said researcher Erica Rodgers. “There is even an innovation fund set aside every year to promote this kind of brainstorming and collaboration with our colleagues and students.”

Check out the official article:

Watch the MICEHAB Video:

Jason Welstead Selected for AIAA Best Paper

Jason Welstead Selected for AIAA Best Paper

SACD/Aeronautics Systems Analysis Branch, Jason Welstead was selected as AIAA Best paper for “Conceptual Design of a Single-Aisle Turboelectric Commercial Transport with Fuselage Boundary Layer Ingestion,”AIAA 2016-1027.

The selection made from the AIAA Aerospace Sciences Meeting 2016 by the AIAA Aircraft Design Technical Committee will present a Certificate of Merit to recognize such technical and scientific excellence.

Jason will receive the certificate at a recognition luncheon, during the AIAA Aviation and Aeronautics Forum and Exposition (AIAA AVIATION 2016), 13-17 June 2016, at the Washington Hilton, Washington, D.C.

Further information and registration for the conference may be found at

Historic Flirtey Drone Donated to the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum

Historic Flirtey Drone Donated to the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum

NASA Langley made history with this partnership. Langley will continue to support the research, development, test and evaluation needed to leverage emergent autonomous technologies to create solutions that will change what flight looks like for the next 100 years!

(April 28, 2016)— The Flirtey drone used to make the first FAA-approved drone delivery in the United States has been accepted into the collection of the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum, which displays the Space Shuttle Discovery, the SR-71 Blackbird and the first aircraft operated by FedEx.

The six-rotor drone delivered medication to a rural medical clinic in Wise Virginia on July 17, 2015 after the medication was flown to a regional airport by a remotely operated NASA winged aircraft. The carbon fiber and aluminum drone has a delivery system that works by lowering the package in a controlled manner while the drone hovers in place. Built-in safety features include an automatic return-to-safe-location in case of low battery, low GPS signal or communication loss. Through participation from NASA’s Langley Research Center, Virginia Tech and the Mid Atlantic Aviation Partnership, Flirtey’s delivery showcased the massive commercial potential of drone delivery in the United States and around the world.

Flirtey CEO Matt Sweeny said, “Flirtey’s delivery was the ‘Kitty Hawk moment’ for the drone industry and it is fitting that our delivery drone will now be part of the same institution that displays the Wright Flyer”. “With Flirtey’s leadership, the enormous potential and inevitability of delivery by drone is clear,” said Sweeny “Flirtey is proud to be a part of the Smithsonian’s unequaled aviation collection.” The drone was delivered to the National Air and Space Museum’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, which is located near Washington Dulles International Airport. The center displays the some of the most important artifacts and advancements in aviation history. The drone will be put on exhibit after it has been prepared for long-term display by museum collections specialists. “This is a tremendous milestone for our team. When drones are as common place as mail trucks, delivering anything you desire, people will look back at this as where it all began and be inspired to realize the next great chapters in our dreams of flight,” said Flirtey co-founder Tom Bass. Flirtey is continuing its collaboration with the Virginia Tech Institute for Critical Technology and Applied Science, the Mid Atlantic Aviation Partnership, the NASA Langley Research Center, the Appalachian College of Pharmacy, Rx Partnership, the Health Wagon, Remote Area Medical, and the Business and Economic Development Office of Wise County, Virginia, and is planning to expand its drone delivery service in the United States.

Photos of the delivery:

About Flirtey Flirtey is the premier independent drone delivery service, with a mission to create the fastest, most efficient and customer-centric delivery service in the world. The U.S.-based startup has worked with NASA, the University of Nevada, Reno, and Virginia Tech University to create the leading technology and logistics systems for a mass-market drone delivery network. Learn more at

About the Let’s Fly Wisely Partners The Let’s Fly Wisely Partners include cofounder and chief executive officer of Flirtey, Inc., Matthew Sweeny; cofounder and chief operations officer of Flirtey, Inc., Tom Bass; advisory board member of Flirtey, Inc., Shyam Chidamber; director of NASA Langley Research Center, David E. Bowles; president of Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Timothy D. Sands; the Mid-Atlantic Aviation Partnership represented by Jon Greene and Rose Mooney; executive director of Health Wagon, Dr. Teresa Gardner; clinical director of Health Wagon, Paula Meade; executive director of RX Partnership, Amy Yarcich; The Appalachian College of Pharmacy adjunct associate professor of pharmacy, Dr. Shamly Abdelfattah; chief executive officer of Ryan Media Lab (formally SEESPAN Inc.), Mark A. Ryan and partner Kyle Mark Ryan; Remote Area Medical president, Stan Brock; manager of Lonesome Pine Airport, Jarrod Powers; Wise County/City of Norton Clerk of Court Jack Kennedy; and Wise County UAS event coordinator, Andrianah Kilgore; and many other supporters.

Sky for All: Air Mobility for 2035 and Beyond Challenge

Sky for All: Air Mobility for 2035 and Beyond Challenge

NASA has launched a world-wide challenge to seek concepts and technologies to contribute to a breakthrough airspace design and concept of operations that will allow the air vehicles of 2035 to safely and efficiently participate in dense and diverse traffic. The estimates are that, twenty years from now, millions of vehicles piloted by humans or machine intelligence may traverse the U.S. airspace every day. The Ab Initio (clean slate) Design element of the NASA Safe Autonomous Operations Systems (SASO) Project is asking innovators to cast aside the restraints of current transportation models and develop concepts and technologies for a clean-slate, revolutionary model for the airspace of the future.

The HeroX challenge website is at

LaRC to help UAVs delivery medicine

LaRC to Help UAVs Deliver Medicine

The Washington Post has highlighted the upcoming  Wise County (Virginia) “Let’s Fly Wisely” demonstration that NASA LaRC is supporting.  Click here to see the full Washington Post article.  Also see this prior post for more information.

“Unmanned aerial vehicles — drones — will deliver medicine to the Wise County Fairgrounds in part to study how the emerging technology could be used in humanitarian crises around the world.

Organizers expect the July 17 flights to the Remote Area Medical clinic to make history as the first federally approved package deliveries in the United States.”

The next UAS Event – July 17 in Wise County

The Next UAS Event – July in Wise County

This mission is one that the GL-10 concept could address.

New aircraft designs, missions, and markets are blazing trails for the next era in aviation.  Langley is collaborating with the Mid-Atlantic Aviation Partnership at Virginia Tech and others in a UAS demonstration that is described as a “Kitty Hawk moment for Wise County and the USA” because it will represent the very first commercial delivery of goods in the nation by drone, albeit in a tightly controlled research and testing.

Read all about it at –


NASA Administrator’s highlights at Aviation 2015

NASA Administrator’s Highlights at Aviation 2015

UAS – Many critical technologies being funded and under development (e.g., sense and avoid and proximity warning technologies) are important.

Greased Lightening (GL-10) –  “I love it.  This will generate a lot of interest in propulsion and UAS. “

Green aviation – The accomplishments within ERA will help us realize savings in fuel and reduce emissions leaving our children a better planet.

Supersonic flight – Developed computational methods to accurately design aircraft shape to minimize the supersonic low boom and validated methods and designs in WT tests.  The Administrator is passionate about making supersonic flight a reality.

Hypersonics – “I am the eternal optimist…. We need to help Dave Bowles maintain the hypersonic WT with the people who know more about fundamental hypersonics than anyone else in the world….We need to stabilize our funding for hypersonics.”

Facilities – We need to find ways to modernize and upgrade our facilities.  We want our facilities to be open and available to our researchers whenever they need them because they are part of our baseline infrastructure.

From UAS to Hypersonics, SACD is there!

SACD/NIA Host Another Successful RASC-AL Competition

SACD/NIA Host Another Successful RASC-AL Competition

University Students Win NASA/NIA Space Engineering Design Contest

Future astronauts may someday explore Mars using winning concepts from NASA’s 2015 Revolutionary Aerospace Systems Concepts Academic Linkage (RASC-AL) Competition.

Sixteen teams competed in the contest sponsored by NASA and the National Institute of Aerospace (NIA), which challenges graduate and undergraduate students to solve real-life space exploration challenges. This year, the competition asked teams to develop a mission with innovative approaches and new technologies allowing astronauts to be less dependent on resources transported from Earth.

The teams presented their research and designs for full-scale mission plans before industry and NASA judges during a three-day forum June 14-17 in Cocoa Beach, Florida.

“Some of the teams had ideas that NASA might be able to use as we venture out beyond low-Earth orbit,” says Pat Troutman, Human Exploration Strategic Analysis lead at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia. “The judges and I were impressed by the students’ engineering skills and innovative thinking.”

The top overall honor went to students from the University of Maryland, College Park, who presented a space architecture using the moon as a fueling stop for Mars-bound spacecraft by creating fuel from lunar surface materials. The team also placed first in the undergraduate division.

Students from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, Daytona Beach, Florida, claimed second place and University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, Minneapolis, placed third. Both of these schools presented entry, decent and landing concepts for a pathfinder mission to demonstrate placing a 20 metric ton payload on the surface of Mars. The student team from Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, placed first overall in the graduate division.

The two top overall finishers will present papers detailing their research at the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics Space Conference in Pasadena, California, in September. NASA will provide a cash award to help offset travel expenses.

The teams developed their mission focused on one of four themes that could allow astronauts to be less dependent on resources transported from Earth: Earth independent Mars pioneering; Earth independent lunar pioneering; Mars moons prospector and large-scale Mars entry, descent and landing. Deep space missions like the journey to Mars will require humans to travel for long periods of time and to live and work independently from Earth, without the frequent resupply shipments. That means understanding the impact of utilizing resources both from the moon and Mars, and figuring out if their use is viable will be critically important to sustainable human exploration.

By participating in this design competition, which is sponsored by NASA’s Advanced Space Exploration Division (AES) at NASA Headquarters and the Space Mission Analysis Branch at NASA’s Langley Research Center, students receive real-world experience that parallels current NASA human space exploration mission design planning and may augment future NASA missions.

For a complete list of teams and more information about the RASC-AL competition, visit:

For more information about the National Institute of Aerospace, please visit:

For more information about NASA’s journey to Mars: