NASA Testing New Composite Wing Concept

NASA is set to test a wing concept that it says may herald the future of electric planes

The Leading Edge Asynchronous Propeller Technology (LEAPTech) project is a collaboration with two other aerospace companies and consists of a 31 foot, carbon composites wing section with 18 electric motors powered by lithium iron phosphate batteries.

Over the next several months, NASA researchers will perform ground testing of the Hybrid-Electric Integrated Systems Testbed (HEIST) wing. After successful testing at speeds of around 40mph, NASA plans to mount it to a specially modified truck and go up to speeds of around 70mph. Eventually the wing will be mounted to a Tecnam P2006T aircraft and flown by test pilots.

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Joby Aviation, one of the companies behind the new wing concept say that the thrust from all the motors and props increase air velocity over the wing, drastically boosting lift. Each motor is computer controlled and can be operated independently at different speeds for optimised performance. Key potential benefits of LEAPTech include decreased reliance on fossil fuels, improved aircraft performance and ride quality, and aircraft noise reduction.

LEAPTech has the potential to achieve transformational capabilities in the near-term for general aviation aircraft, as well as for transport aircraft in the longer-term

The project is part of NASA’s plan to move aircraft into electric propulsion, within a few years NASA hopes to fly a piloted X-plane, replacing the wings and engines of a Tecnam P2006T with an improved version of the LEAPTech wing. Using an existing airframe will allow engineers to compare the performance of the flight demonstrator with that of the original P2006T.

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