PHOTO CAPTION: LEAPtech demonstrator wing mounted on test truck.

This 18-Motor Wing Could Be the Future of Electric Flight

NASA begins testing a highly-unusual wing on which are mounted 18 small electric motors and propellors that could pave the way to the new age of green flight.

Published: 20-Mar-2015

NASA is mandated to not only send craft into space, but to explore ways to make atmospheric flight safer and more efficient. One of the latest investigative efforts, in collaboration with two California aerospace firms, Empirical Systems Aerospace (ESAero) in Pismo Beach and Joby Aviation in Santa Cruz, is an unusual wing design called Hybrid-Electric Integrated Systems Testbed (HEIST). The 31-foot span is seen above mounted to a Kenworth truck that will be used to test the wing up to speeds of 70 mph.

Mounted along the leading edge of the wing are 18 propellors, each powered by small electric motors. The theory behind the concept goes something like this: the propellors speed up the air over the wing, which in turn produces more lift and allows the wing to be narrower, reducing its drag. Additionally, the multiple motors can each be fine tuned electronically, for improve aircraft handling.

The wing already has been tested up to 40 mph at Oceano County Airport on California’s Central Coast. It is now preparing to undergo tests across a dry lakebed at Edwards Air Force Base.

Assuming the tests prove successful, NASA plans to follow up by mating the new, narrow wing and multiple motors onto a Italian-made Tecnam P2006T twin-engine aircraft like that in the insert photo below.

NASA LEAPtech demonstrator concept

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