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Say hello to Maxwell, NASA’s latest X-plane

Image: X-57 Maxwell
This artist’s concept of NASA’s X-57 Maxwell aircraft shows the plane’s specially designed wing and 14 electric motors. (Credit: NASA Langley / Advanced Concepts Lab / AMA Inc.)

NASA says it has received its first X-plane designation in a decade, for a research aircraft that has 14 electric motors built into a slimmed-down wing. The X-57 hybrid electric airplane picked up a new nickname as well: Maxwell.

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden announced the name and the number today at Aviation 2016, the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics’ annual Aviation and Aeronautics Forum and Exposition. The development highlights the first “A” in the acronym for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

“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,” Bolden said in a news release.

The X-plane designation, which applies to experimental airplane built for the government, was assigned by the U.S. Air Force in response to a NASA request. The first X-plane was the X-1 rocket plane, which became the first plane to go supersonic in 1947. The most recent NASA X-plane was the X-48 blended-wing aircraft, which was tested between 2007 and 2012.

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By Alan Boyle

Mastermind of Cosmic Log, contributing editor at GeekWire, author of "The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference," president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing. Check out "About Alan Boyle" for more fun facts.

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