It’s Electric! NASA Glenn Engineers Test Next Revolution Aircraft

electric aircraft
Engineers conduct the first test of an electric aircraft engine in NASA’s Electric Aircraft Testbed (NEAT) at Plum Brook Station. Credits: NASA

Electric cars are nothing new, they’re more efficient, produce less noise and emit less carbon into the atmosphere; which is exactly why engineers from NASA Glenn Research Center are taking this technology to the skies.

“As large airline companies compete to reduce emissions, fuel burn, noise and maintenance costs, it is expected that more of their aircraft systems will shift to using electrical power,” said Dr. Rodger Dyson, NASA Glenn Hybrid Gas Electric Propulsion technical lead.

Using Plum Brook Station’s newest facility – NASA’s Electric Aircraft Testbed (NEAT) – these engineers design, develop and test systems for the next revolution in aviation — electric aircraft.

During NEAT’s first test in September, Dyson’s team used 600 volts of electricity and successfully tested an electrical power system that could realistically power a small, one or two person aircraft.

Once complete, NEAT will be a world-class, reconfigurable testbed that will be used to assemble and test the power systems for large passenger airplanes with over 20 Megawatts of power.

“What we’re hoping to learn now is how to make it more efficient and light-weight,” said Dyson. “Next year we’re going to upgrade the size of these motors — we’ll use the same technology to test the higher-power stuff next.”

By increasing efficiency and reducing weight, the technology developed here can eventually be applied to larger, commercial aircraft, potentially resulting in reduced flying costs for airline companies and travelers.

NEAT’s future is bright, and Glenn’s engineers are hopeful it will spark a change in the airline industry.

“We look forward to making a difference in aviation,” said Dyson.