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NASA Aeronautics explores technologies to reduce aircraft noise and fuel use; get you gate-to-gate safely and on time; and transform aviation into a new economic engine at all altitudes. COVID-19 has dealt a particularly damaging blow to aviation, but we’re here–working with industry and government partners to regain public confidence; accelerating new technology development through stable research and development investments; and achieving rapid adoption of those new technologies.


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 Press Releases

  • NASA Aeronautics 2020 Technical Excellence Highlights

    Work on X-59 QueSST Wing Nears Completion
    April 30, 2020
    Assembly work on NASA’s X-59 Quiet SuperSonic Technology (QueSST) aircraft continues at a steady pace, as the main wing nears completion at the Lockheed Martin Skunk Works® facility. Aided by robotic technology, the X-59 QueSST team recently finished drilling the composite wing skins by utilizing a Combined Operation: Bolting and Robotic AutoDrill system (COBRA). The automated robotic system removes the necessity of multistep labor-intensive operations, combining what would have traditionally taken multiple personnel to complete into a single process. Automated systems such as the COBRA are just one of many advanced tools NASA and the Skunk Works team is leveraging to make the Low-Boom Flight Demonstration a success.

    NextGen Aircraft Design is Key to Aviation Sustainability
    April 16, 2020
    For NASA’s aeronautical innovators designing the next generation of passenger-carrying airplanes, it’s about environment, efficiency, electrification, and economy. The focus is on a future airliner that might carry 150-175 passengers, flies at subsonic speeds, and could supplement or replace aircraft in the 2030 timeframe. It must move through the air easier, possibly use electricity to augment or power the propulsion system, and it must be as lightweight as is safely practical. As a result, NASA is focusing on four technologies – electrified aircraft propulsion, small core gas turbine, transonic truss-braced wing, high rate composites – to help deal with those efficiency challenges related to aerodynamics, propulsion, and weight.

    NASA, Partners Work with FAA to Develop UAS Road Map
    April 15, 2020
    NASA and its industry partners are taking unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) closer to operating in harmony with other aircraft in the national airspace. The technology and procedures developed has been assisting the FAA to develop the rules for certification of UAS to safely coexist with other air traffic. The goal is to enable new commercial and public service opportunities, such as real-time surveillance of fires, infrastructure inspections for pipelines, and medical transportation in the future. Work since then has included multiple simulation efforts and six specific flight tests series that focused on validating these simulations and supporting the development of minimum operational performance standards for detect and avoid systems.

    NASA Successfully Tests Telemetry Signal on Agency’s First All-Electric X-plane
    April 13, 2020
    Recent ground testing on NASA’s X-57 Maxwell successfully demonstrated the aircraft’s ability to transmit its telemetry signal, allowing the team the capability to track mission-critical data during flight. This data will be received on the ground during X-57’s flight tests, where it will be monitored in real time by the project team during flight operations, and recorded for post-flight analysis to measure X-57’s success in meeting its objectives, as NASA seeks to help set certification standards for future electric aircraft. This mission data will help NASA researchers validate whether the X-57 successfully meets its design drivers: demonstration of increased energy efficiency, zero in-flight carbon emissions, and flight that is quieter for communities.

    First Flight of NASA’s 2020 Unmanned Aircraft Demonstration Activities
    April 9, 2020
    NASA took first flight of its Systems Integration and Operationalization (SIO) demonstration activities in partnership with the FAA, General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc. (GA-ASI), and other industry partners to conduct demonstrations of potential commercial applications using different sizes of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS). SIO aims to help accelerate the safe integration of UAS for commercial applications into the National airspace by tackling key challenges that currently prevent routine UAS operations. NASA plans to document best practices and lessons learned from the SIO activity and provide it to the UAS community to help facilitate industry wide progress toward routine commercial unmanned aircraft operations.

    One Word Change Expands NASA’s Vision for Future Airspace Mobility
    March 23, 2020
    As the idea of using drones and small, piloted electric-powered vehicles began to take off, the initial attention widely was focused on their use in the skies over dense urban locations. As interest in the potential of urban air mobility (UAM) exploded around the world, and NASA continued to lead discussions and host technical demonstrations with its industry partners, it became clear that there was broader interest in these capabilities. Moving forward, UAM-related work will continue as a subset to the overall advanced air mobility (AAM) mission, which has defined two categories of operations (local and intraregional) based on the distance planned to be flown.

    New Spinoff Publication Shares How NASA Innovations Benefit Life on Earth
    March 18, 2020
    As NASA pushes the frontiers of science and human exploration, the agency also advances technology to modernize life on Earth, including drones, self-driving cars, and other innovations. NASA’s diverse missions spur the creation and improvement of thousands of new products that improve life for people around the world. Dozens of the latest examples are featured in the newest edition of NASA’s Spinoff publication, (including how NASA is working to shape the coming revolution of autonomous vehicles on the roads and in the air). Spinoff highlights the successes of the agency’s Technology Transfer program, which is charged with finding the widest possible applications for NASA technology.

    X-59 QueSST More than the Sum of Its Parts
    March 11, 2020
    A tradition employed by the aerospace community is continuing with the assembly of NASA’s X-59 Quiet SuperSonic Technology aircraft at the Lockheed Martin Skunk Works® factory in California. Perfectly acceptable components from other aircraft are finding new life as parts installed on the experimental X-59, whose mission is to open a new era of commercial supersonic air travel over land. Landing gear from an Air Force F-16 fighter, a cockpit canopy from a NASA T-38 trainer, a propulsion system part from a U-2 spy plane, and a control stick from an F-117 stealth fighter are among the repurposed parts to be used.

    What is the Fatigue Countermeasures Lab?
    March 4, 2020
    The Fatigue Countermeasures Lab at NASA’s Ames Research Center in California studies the way fatigue affects people with complex tasks to perform. The realms for these tasks can be as diverse as aviation and spaceflight, NASA space mission operations, military settings, and operating self-driving cars. By learning how sleep and its bedfellows interact – that includes alertness and circadian phase, or where you fall in your usual sleep/wake cycle at a given moment – the Fatigue Countermeasures Lab team can explore solutions to help people manage fatigue and do their jobs safely.

    Air Taxi Ride Quality: Seeking a Smooth Ride at the Vertical Motion Simulator
    February 26, 2020
    NASA's Vertical Motion Simulator (VMS) allows researchers to study the limits of what makes a comfortable air taxi ride. These vehicles will take off vertically before slowing down to a hover and landing. NASA can help aircraft designers ensure a ride that's comfortable to most future passengers by identifying how much and what kind of motion people will tolerate. Out-the-window graphics, along with the motion of the VMS cockpit contribute to the feeling of a real flight. NASA will share what it learns from these tests with the developing air taxi sector to help us all have a smooth ride across the city of the future.

    DATR Supports Space Communication, Research Flights
    February 20, 2020
    NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center’s Dryden Aeronautical Test Range (DATR) engineers are working on interfaces with the onboard flight test instrumentation system that will permit the range to manage unique, real-time telemetry and video data formats. These formats are new to the center and will be needed when the X-59 Quiet SuperSonic Technology flight demonstrator begins testing at Armstrong. The new capabilities will permit ground processing of data acquired by flight test equipment during the Low Boom Flight Demonstration. This equipment will support early flights of the X-59 at Lockheed Martin Skunk Works, also located in Palmdale.

    All-Electric X-57 Undergoes Structural Ground Tests
    February 18, 2020
    Currently in its first configuration as an all-electric aircraft, the X-57 Maxwell underwent a series of structural ground tests, giving engineers a look at the vehicle’s predicted characteristics during flight. In addition to testing the X-57’s cruise motor controllers, which are critical for providing power to the aircraft’s electric motors, similar ground vibration testing took place on the wing and fuselage. These tests are helping NASA examine the integrity of the component for flight conditions. NASA will share X-57’s electric-propulsion-focused design and airworthiness process with regulators, as well as the industry, to help advance certification approaches.

    Shaking Things Up for the X-59
    January 28, 2020

    NASA’s X-59 QueSST aircraft is on a mission to achieve supersonic speeds over land that create no more than a sonic “thump” to those below. This mission will provide data that could convince regulators to change the rules governing the speed of non-military aircraft over land. To achieve this, NASA engineers are designing new systems to support this concept, like the eXternal Vision System (XVS). After successful in-flight tests, researchers are now testing the structural integrity of the XVS through a series of vibration tests. Next, the XVS will undergo temperature and altitude tests at a facility that could provide forced air at the expected flow rates and temperatures expected on the X-59.

  • NextGen Aircraft Design is Key to Aviation Sustainability

    experimental aircraft with a braced wing inside a windtunnel
    Seen here in a California wind tunnel is an aircraft design developed by NASA and Boeing for the Subsonic Ultra Green Aircraft Research Project. Now known as the Transonic Truss Braced Wing, this design is what the next generation airliner might look like.
    Credits: NASA Ames / Dominic Hart

    For NASA’s aeronautical innovators, when it comes to designing the next generation of passenger-carrying airplanes, you can think of it as being about four E’s: Environment, efficiency, electrification, and economy.

    Like a set of Russian matryoshka nesting dolls, they fit within each other to provide a whole idea, one that especially resonates with what Earth Day is all about – working toward a cleaner environment at a time of global concern over climate change.

    “Conceptually, it’s really quite simple,” said Robert Pearce, NASA’s associate administrator for aeronautics.

    “In order to lessen our impact on the environment we must increase aircraft efficiency in every way we can, integrate electrification to aid or replace current propulsion methods, and do it all in a way to benefit the economy,” Pearce said.

    To be clear, we’re not talking here about coming up with a future airliner that flies faster than sound, or a smaller personal air taxi or package delivery aircraft of the type that will be part of Advanced Air Mobility. NASA already has resources dedicated to that.

    Instead, the focus is on a future airliner that might carry 150-175 passengers, flies at subsonic speeds and could supplement or replace aircraft such as the Boeing 737 or Airbus 320 in the 2030 timeframe.

    More specifically, starting with the environment – keep that vision of nesting Russian dolls handy for the next few sentences – the goal is to make aviation sustainable.

    To make aviation sustainable you must reduce aviation’s impact on climate change.

    To reduce aviation’s impact on climate change you must reduce greenhouse emissions.

    To reduce greenhouse emissions – carbon dioxide being the biggest contributor – you must reduce the amount of fuel burned.

    To reduce fuel burn, you must make the aircraft design more efficient. It must move through the air easier, possibly use electricity to augment or power the propulsion system, and it must be as lightweight as is safely practical.

    As a result, NASA is focusing on four technologies to help deal with those efficiency challenges related to aerodynamics, propulsion and weight.

    “These are technologies that will build from the foundation laid during previous NASA projects such as the Environmentally Responsible Aviation project and studies on future aircraft designs that we called N+3,” said James Kenyon, NASA’s manager for the Advanced Air Vehicle Program.

    NEAT facility tests next generation electric aircraft power systems.
    The NASA Electric Aircraft Testbed facility in Sandusky, Ohio – which includes a vacuum chamber seen here – will be used to test concepts for enabling future airliners to be propelled by hybrid-electric or all-electric systems.
    Credits: NASA/ Bridget Caswell, Alcyon Technical Services

    1. Electrified Aircraft Propulsion

    Electrification in aviation is all about how you manage to propel your airplane forward so you can reduce the amount of fuel burned but still get the desired power during every phase of flight – from taxi, to takeoff, to cruise, to landing and taxi again.

    “At the large aircraft level, maybe it’s not fully electric. But if I can use electricity to help me out with certain parts of the flight envelope, I can design my engine differently and make it more efficient overall,” Kenyon said.

    This can mean an all-electric airplane in which electric motors turn propellers or fan blades to generate thrust. Such a capability could enable all sorts of new ways airplanes could be designed, either by modifying current airplanes or coming up with new configurations.

    NASA’s work on the all-electric X-57 Maxwell provides a glimpse of what might be possible.

    Another configuration is a hybrid set up where both conventional jet engines and electricity are used to turn the fans during flight. The jet engines also can power generators to directly supply electricity to the electric motors, or to charge batteries for the electric motors to use later.

    “Our plans are to test increasingly more powerful electric systems, up to one megawatt of power, first in a laboratory on the ground, and then later in flight on a testbed aircraft yet to be selected,” said Fay Collier, NASA’s director for flight strategy in the Integrated Aviation Systems Program.

    2. Small Core Gas Turbine

    NASA, Air Force and industry researchers are conducting tests with a Pratt & Whitney F117 turbofan engine on a C-17.
    On the wing of an Air Force C-17 is a typical high-bypass turbofan jet engine. NASA researchers are studying ways to make the core of engines like this smaller in diameter in order to increase fuel efficiency.
    Credits: U.S. Air Force Photo

    Another way to get more fuel efficiency out of an engine is to change its configuration in terms of how air flows through it and at what pressures and temperatures.

    For years, jet engines of the type seen on big commercial airliners have become more efficient by changing the amount of air flowing through the hot jet core of the engine vs. flowing around, or bypassing, the core through its fan blades – something called the bypass ratio.

    In general, the higher the bypass ratio the more efficient the engine can be at generating thrust. But there is a limit – or at least there has been a limit – as to how big you can make that bypass ratio.

    That’s because the engine – core and fan blades – must be contained in a housing, or nacelle. This is a safety feature to contain and minimize any danger that might arise should an engine catastrophically fail in flight.

    The problem is the nacelle of an engine hanging off the wing of an airliner can only be so big in diameter before it starts dragging on the ground. A minimum clearance is required, and you can only make the landing gear so long before it weighs too much or takes up too much room when stowed.

    So, if you can’t make the overall engine wider in diameter, yet you want to increase the bypass ratio so more air flows around the core, then the solution is to make the core smaller in diameter. This is one of the goals of the small gas turbine research effort.

    The research will take advantage of earlier work with exotic metals, ceramics, and unique internal geometries to manage the increased temperatures and pressures that are a natural result of managing combustion in tighter quarters.

    3. Transonic Truss-Braced Wing

    Tackling the challenge of increasing the aerodynamic efficiency of an airplane moving through the air will be researched through continued studies of the Transonic Truss-Braced Wing (TTBW) aircraft concept.

    One of the designs that came out of earlier research projects into future aircraft designs, the TTBW is essentially a classic tube and wing airplane but with a wing that is extremely long and thin. So long and thin, in fact, that it needs a little help on both sides of the fuselage to hold it up.

    Such a wing stretched out to the proper length – known as a high-aspect ratio wing – generally creates the same amount of lift as the thicker, shorter wings you see on airliners today, but does so with much less drag.

    “You could get some of the benefits of the thin wing without the truss, but the truss allows us to really extend the wing out to maximize its benefits,” Kenyon said. “We can even fold up the wing tips so airport gates don’t need to be rearranged.”

    Although other revolutionary aircraft designs have been studied – such as the Double Bubble and Blended Wing Body – the TTBW technology shows the most promise for being ready the soonest.

    “We think the TTBW design and associated technology could be ready for manufacturers and airlines to consider using within the 10-year-future timeframe we’re looking at, while the others might need another five to 10 years,” Kenyon said.

    4. High Rate Composites

    Composite materials have been used in aerospace settings for decades. They can be fabricated into complex shapes, are structurally stronger and weigh much less than the same parts made from metal. They also last longer and are easier to repair when damaged.

    But there remain opportunities to increase use composites in aviation, especially in the construction of big airplanes. Although the industry has made progress – fifty percent of Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner is made of composite material – much work still needs to be done.

    Two challenges related to a significantly increased use of composites need to be overcome.

    The first has to do with reducing the time it takes go from concept, through design, fabrication, testing and then certification of materials by federal regulators charged with ensuring public safety.

    The second has to do with increasing the rate at which composite parts – especially larger structural components – can be manufactured.

    NASA’s recently completed Advanced Composites Project addressed the first challenge.

    “The project attacked that and put into place a lot of tools. From design methods to better modeling capabilities, inspection methods, and processes for automating parts of the fabrication that allow us to reduce the time to certify,” Kenyon said.

    To address the second challenge, NASA is planning a new technical effort focused on tackling the barriers for manufacturing composites at a high rate.

    “What we need to address now is coming up with ideas for how composites can be manufactured in a way that is reliable, repeatable and results in a quality product that can be routinely certified as safe,” Kenyon said.

    Environmental and Economic Benefits

    As plans for conducting research related to these four technologies continues to be made and executed, some might ask why is NASA doing this?

    The answer is that all these efforts are part of NASA Aeronautics’ Strategic Implementation Plan, which was developed through listening to the needs of other government agencies, industry, academia and other stakeholders in the future of aviation.

    And the incentive for doing this work goes well beyond the sincere desire to help the planet’s environment.

    “We can invest in the things that are for the greater good, but we don’t build, produce, or operate commercial airplanes. We just develop technologies so that industry can competitively bring these to market as desired,” Kenyon said.

    The good news is that the same set of technologies that can reduce carbon emissions are those that reduce fuel burn, which in turn reduce operating costs for the airlines. And if these new airplanes are attractive to the airlines, then manufacturers will want to build them, improving their bottom line as well.

    “This all lines up our incentives so we can all work together in terms of something that is good for the climate, for sustainability, is something good for the market, and helps the U.S. maintain its role as a world leader in aviation,” Kenyon said.

    Jim Banke
    NASA Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate

  • One Word Change Expands NASA’s Vision
    for Future Airspace Mobility

    Advanced Air Mobility graphic showing unmanned air vehicles in flight over rural and city areas.
    Advanced Air Mobility, with its many vehicle concepts and potential uses in both local and intraregional applications, is shown in this illustration.
    Credits: NASA

    NASA’s aeronautical innovators are embracing a more inclusive vision for the future of air travel in at least one major research area, and the terminology they will use from now on will reflect that more comprehensive view of what’s on the horizon.

    Bottom line: The thinking on Urban Air Mobility (UAM) has advanced so much that it was decided Advanced Air Mobility (AAM) was a better term to use.

    “To be clear, in this move we’re primarily talking about updating the words we are using to describe our efforts. We are still doing UAM work, but now we consider it part of a bigger picture we call Advanced Air Mobility,” said Davis Hackenberg, NASA’s AAM mission manager.

    Other than a few name changes here and there, nothing substantial has changed with NASA’s goals in this area.

    “We’re still talking about helping industry safely develop an air transportation system to move people and cargo between places previously not served or underserved by aviation, using revolutionary new aircraft that are only just now becoming possible,” Hackenberg said.

    During the past few years as the idea of using unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), or drones, and small, piloted electric-powered vehicles really began to, well, take off, the initial attention widely was focused on their use in the skies over dense urban landscapes.

    It’s an idea that for many immediately call to mind scenes from “The Jetsons,” “Blade Runner,” or just about any planet featured in “Star Wars.”

    “That’s where the early market studies showed there was a realistic potential for a high payoff on investment. Large cities offered a high population of customers using many types of services and promised a positive influence on the economy,” Hackenberg said.

    “From this emphasis of flying UAS over larger cities we sort of naturally branded it Urban Air Mobility and it stuck. This was late in 2017, but it didn’t take long before we got the sense that maybe ‘urban’ wasn’t the perfect word.”

    As interest in the potential of UAM exploded around the world, and NASA continued to lead discussions and host technical demonstrations with its industry partners, it became clear to everyone there was much broader interest in these capabilities. UAM-related services could benefit everyone, not just those who live in a big city.

    This thinking was most recently emphasized in a recent report by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine entitled “Advancing Aerial Mobility – A National Blueprint.” Their decision to use the word “advanced” instead of “urban” was intentional and echoed the view that UAM is more than just for urban dwellers.

    “We knew this all along, of course. UAM was never meant to be just for midtown Manhattan, but we had implemented this term and gotten used to it. Finally, we decided it was time to start talking about this in a new way,” Hackenberg said.

    “Industry was telling us this, the National Academies made it clear in their report, and we were talking about it internally, so it was decided now is the right time.”

    Moving forward, UAM-related work will continue as a subset to the overall AAM mission, which has defined two categories of operations based on the distance planned to be flown: local and intraregional.

    Local flights will be considered as starting from any single point and then extending out about 50 miles and back, maybe a little father. While intraregional flights will be longer flights, say from Philadelphia to New York City.

    “So, our UAM work will continue in our thinking as being local, except there will be more buildings and people involved, as opposed to that starting point and 50-mile radius being in a more rural area,” Hackenberg said.

    Another Name Change

    With the rethinking that led to the decision to emphasize AAM overall instead of simply UAM, a similar recasting is taking place with a previously announced series of technical exercises involving drones or small aircraft of various sizes and the future of aviation.

    Say goodbye to the UAM Grand Challenge and hello to the AAM National Campaign.

    “It’s still the same series of field demonstrations we’ve already announced and worked with industry and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to develop. But we think the change to the AAM National Campaign is more aligned with what we want to do and already are doing,” said Hackenberg.

    The idea is to demonstrate in a real-world environment the readiness of companies’ vehicles and airspace operators’ systems to fly a full range of passenger transport and cargo delivery scenarios under varying weather and traffic conditions.

    The original UAM Grand Challenge took its inspiration from a series of Grand Challenges begun in 2004 and hosted by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).

    DARPA’s event each time challenged industry to find a technical solution to a problem and then come to a specific place to demonstrate their solutions and prove they could meet DARPA’s need. A cash prize was offered.

    As the concept for NASA’s UAM Grand Challenge evolved it began to look less like a sibling of the DARPA event and more like a distant governmental third cousin.

    “When we started, we thought it would be a deal where everyone would come to our test range. It became less of a single-event Grand Challenge in one location and more of a multi-event national campaign that would take place at multiple locations over a number of years,” Hackenberg said.

    Moreover, as it became clear that more and more of the technical demonstrations would involve rural scenarios as well as urban settings, it seemed a rebranding of the UAM Grand Challenge was called for in the same spirit as the switch from UAM to AAM.

    And thus the AAM National Campaign was christened.

    “We’re still challenging industry to come in and perform operational scenarios that would ensure UAM safety and show the public this is real and can be done. We’re just going to use a name that makes more sense” Hackenberg said.

    Jim Banke
    Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate

  • Work on X-59 QueSST Wing Nears Completion

    Team watching the COBRA at work.
    Credits: Lockheed Martin

    Assembly work on NASA’s X-59 Quiet SuperSonic Technology, or QueSST, aircraft continues to march on at a steady pace, as the main wing nears completion at the Lockheed Martin Skunk Works® facility in Palmdale, California. Aided by robotic technology, the X-59 QueSST team recently finished drilling the composite wing skins by utilizing a Combined Operation: Bolting and Robotic AutoDrill system, simply known as COBRA. The automated robotic system removes the necessity of multistep labor-intensive operations: drilling, countersinking and inspecting holes all at once, combining what would have traditionally taken multiple personnel to complete into a single process. The automated machinery marks a step forward in the manufacturing speed and accuracy of the X-59, as all inspection records are digitally recorded and later reviewed in developing the next stage of precision crafted parts for the aircraft.

    Automated systems such as the COBRA are just one of many advanced tools NASA and the Skunk Works team is leveraging to make the Low-Boom Flight Demonstration a success. Progressing forward, the team will continue to work on the single-piece wing, center fuselage and empennage structural sub-assemblies.

    Close up view of the COBRA (an automated robotic system) autodrilling the wing composite.
    Credits: Lockheed Martin
    Close-up of COBRA (an automated robotic system) autodrilling.
    Credits: Lockheed Martin
    COBRA, a robotic autodrill system.
    Credits: Lockheed Martin
  • NASA Successfully Tests Telemetry Signal on
    Agency’s First All-Electric X-plane

    Telemetry testing begins on the X-57 Maxwell, NASA’s first all-electric X-plane, as the operations crew at NASA’s Armstrong Flig
    Telemetry testing begins on the X-57 Maxwell, NASA’s first all-electric X-plane, as the operations crew at NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center records the results. Telemetry testing is a critical phase in X-57’s functional test series. In addition to confirming the ability of the X-57 aircraft to transmit speed, altitude, direction, and location to teams on the ground, telemetry testing also confirms the ability to transmit mission-critical-data, such as voltage, power consumption, and structural integrity.
    Credits: NASA/Ken Ulbrich

    Recent ground testing on NASA’s first all-electric X-plane, the X-57 Maxwell, successfully demonstrated the aircraft’s ability to transmit its telemetry signal, allowing the team the capability to track mission-critical data during flight.

    This data will be received on the ground during X-57’s flight tests, where it will be monitored in real time by the project team during flight operations, and recorded for post-flight analysis to measure X-57’s success in meeting its objectives, as NASA seeks to help set certification standards for future electric aircraft.

    Completion of this round of tests, which took place at NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center in Edwards, California, marked continued progress on X-57’s functional ground testing phase – a necessary step toward taxi and flight tests.

    Banner Image: Telemetry testing begins on the X-57 Maxwell, NASA’s first all-electric X-plane, as the operations crew at NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center records the results. Telemetry testing is a critical phase in X-57’s functional test series. In addition to confirming the ability of the X-57 aircraft to transmit speed, altitude, direction, and location to teams on the ground, telemetry testing also confirms the ability to transmit mission-critical-data, such as voltage, power consumption, and structural integrity. X-57’s goal is to help set certification standards for emerging electric aircraft markets.  NASA Photo / Ken Ulbrich

    “We are doing telemetry testing to confirm that we will be able to monitor data on the ground during future flights,” said X-57 Deputy Operations Engineering Lead Kirsten Boogaard. “It is important to make sure that everything works on the ground before we begin flight testing, first to ensure the safety of the flight, and also to ensure that our mission data will be received by the control room during flights.”

    NASA’s first all-electric X-plane, the X-57 Maxwell, in its final configuration.
    This artist’s concept image shows NASA’s first all-electric X-plane, the X-57 Maxwell, in its final configuration, flying in cruise mode over NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center in Edwards, California. In Mod IV test flights, X-57’s high-lift motors will deactivate during cruise mode, and their propeller blades will fold in to the nacelles to reduce drag. The motors will reactivate and use centrifugal force to spin the blades back out to provide necessary lift for landing. X-57’s goal is to help set certification standards for emerging electric aircraft markets.
    Credits: NASA Langley/Advanced Concepts Lab, AMA, Inc

    This mission data will help NASA researchers validate whether X-57, which is a converted Tecnam P2006T aircraft, successfully meets its “design drivers” – technical challenges to drive lessons learned and best practices. These design drivers include demonstration of an increase in energy efficiency, zero in-flight carbon emissions, and flight that is much quieter for communities on the ground. 

    The success of X-57’s ability to meet these objectives will be measured by comparing data from the electric aircraft’s future flight tests to the performance of a baseline, combustion-driven P2006T aircraft.

    “This is important research data to monitor during flight. We need to be able to track the X-57’s position, speed, and altitude to see if we’re reaching our flight conditions,” said X-57 Flight Systems Lead Yohan Lin. “At the same time, the system needs to transmit sensor information such as cruise motor traction bus voltage, current, and propeller speed so that the electric aircraft’s performance can be assessed.”

    Telemetry testing was conducted by establishing a Radio Frequency (RF) link between the aircraft and the downlink equipment of a NASA telemetry van. The X-57’s two antennas, a top and a bottom antenna, were tested together first in the flight configuration, and then each antenna individually.

    The transmitter was operated by an avionics technician in the X-57 cockpit, based on instructions from the test conductor. The instrumentation engineer and telemetry technician monitored the downlink signal in the van, and was able to confirm that the data messages were being received as expected.

    Among the data monitored throughout the tests, the X-57 team specifically looked at  RF power. This measurement allowed engineers to observe the signal strength of the overall transmission. The team also looked at the bandwidth and center frequency of the signal pattern, to determine if the system is operating within the bounds of the allocated frequency range.

    NASA engineers put the X-57 through its initial telemetry tests at AFRC.
    NASA engineers put the X-57 Maxwell, NASA’s first all-electric X-plane, through its initial telemetry tests at NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center in California, testing the aircraft’s ability to transmit data to teams on the ground. The data is packaged and transmitted down to ground assets, where it’s decoded into a format that can be presented to a flight control team to look at screens in real time for flight operations.
    Credits: NASA Photo / Ken Ulbrich

    The testing indicated no major anomalies in the X-plane’s ability to transmit data.

    “This checkout verifies that we are operating at the right specifications,” said Lin. “The next step will be functional testing of the cruise motors at high voltage, and we’ll be monitoring certain critical parameters using this telemetry system.”

    As X-57 Operations Engineering Lead Michael Quinton points out, this functional ground testing phase was indicative of things coming together over multiple areas for the X-plane, and was a big step in leading toward taxi and flight tests.

    “One of the best parts of our recent testing was getting an opportunity for all of our discipline engineers and technicians to come together, and support a single, real-time event.”

    Matt Kamlet
    NASA Armstrong Flight Research Center

  • NASA Looks to University Teams to
    Advance Aviation Technology

    Students from a current ULI team discuss results of their research.
    Students from a current ULI team discuss results of their research.
    Credits: Hans Sati Goertz, University of Tennessee

    Editor's Note: This release was edited on April 14 to update the list of members of the Oklahoma State University team.

    NASA has selected five teams led by university faculty and students to examine a range of technical areas in support of the agency’s aeronautics research goals.

    Known as the University Leadership Initiative (ULI), the project will provide a total of $32.8 million to the five teams during the next four years.

    “Each of these teams is working on important problems that definitely will help break down barriers in ways that will benefit the U.S. aviation industry,” said John Cavolowsky, director of NASA’s Transformative Aeronautics Concepts Program in Washington, D.C.

    This is the third time NASA Aeronautics has reached out to the academic community in this way. Five teams were selected in 2017 and three teams announced in 2019.

    Unlike other NASA-funded research programs in which the agency specifies the project goals, universities are asked to come up with a compelling investigation, so long as that technical challenge addresses one of the strategic research thrusts of NASA.

    Another key goal of ULI is for the student researchers involved to gain experience in leading a multidisciplinary team made up of partners from other universities and industry, especially representing those who traditionally have not applied their skills to aviation problems.

    “We’ve also sought to emphasize inclusion of universities that serve underrepresented student populations and I think we’ve been successful this year in achieving that goal,” said Koushik Datta, ULI project manager at NASA’s Ames Research Center in California's Silicon Valley.

    For the first time, a ULI team will be led by a historically black university, North Carolina Agricultural & Technical State University in Greensboro. Moreover, team leader Oklahoma State University in Stillwater is known for graduating the most Native American students of any school in the nation.

    The five team leaders and their research topics are:

    North Carolina Agricultural & Technical State University

    The team seeks to develop a novel integration of secure and safe autonomous systems used on unmanned Advanced Air Mobility (AAM) aircraft with the goal of advancing their technical readiness level and be ready for industry to consider using these technologies. The team intends to validate these systems with flight tests of multiple aircraft.

    The team will receive $8 million over four years. Team members include Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana; Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta; Aurora Flight Sciences in Manassas, Virginia; Alaka’i Technologies Corporation in Hopkinton, Massachusetts; General Atomics Aeronautical Systems in Poway, California; and Northrop Grumman Corporation in Linthicum, Maryland.

    Oklahoma State University

    The team will look for ways to improve real-time weather forecasting of low-level winds and turbulence in both rural and urban environments with an eye to improving safety for Unmanned Aircraft Systems flying in AAM operations.

    The team will receive $5.2 million over four years. Team members include the University of Oklahoma in Norman; University of Nebraska Lincoln; University of Kentucky in Lexington; Virginia Tech University in Blacksburg; National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado; Vigilant Aerospace Systems Inc. in Oklahoma City; AirXOS, part of GE Aviation, in Boston; and the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma.

    Stanford University

    The team will seek to develop tools that ensure machine learning in autonomous systems used by unmanned AAM aircraft work as expected in real-time, as well as to employ fault detection and recovery methods if they do not, particularly in situations involving taxiing, landing and collision avoidance.

    The team will receive $8 million over four years. Team members include the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge; Georgia Tech in Atlanta; University of New Mexico in Albuquerque; Hampton University in Hampton, Virginia; University of California, Berkeley; MIT Lincoln Laboratory in Lexington, Massachusetts; and United Technologies Research Center Inc. in Berkeley, California.

    University of Delaware

    Using a composite supply method already developed under a Defense Advanced Research Project Agency program, the team plans to demonstrate the ability to produce aerospace-quality components at a rate comparable to that of the automotive industry.

    The work supports a NASA research goal to find ways to help manufacturers increase the rate at which they can produce hardware using composite materials.

    The team will receive $5.9 million over four years. Team members include Southern University and A&M College in Baton Rouge, Louisiana; Joby Aviation in Santa Cruz, California; Spirit AeroSystems Inc. in Wichita, Kansas; Advanced Thermoplastic Composites Manufacturing in Post Falls, Idaho; American Composite Manufacturers Association in Arlington, Virginia; Arkema Inc. in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania; and SGL Carbon in Charlotte, North Carolina.

    University of South Carolina

    The team seeks to develop tools and technology to help better understand and safely use a composite tape made of thermoplastic in designing and manufacturing parts for an AAM vehicle. Two structural parts typical of an AAM vehicle – a fan blade and airframe shell component – will be designed and built to demonstrate the technology.

    The team will receive $5.7 million over four years. Team members include the University of Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg; Boise State University in Boise, Idaho; Benedict College in Columbia, South Carolina; The Boeing Company in Chicago; Joby Aviation in Santa Cruz, California; Toray Advanced Composites USA in Morgan Hill, California; Ingersoll Machine Tools Inc. in Rockford, Illinois; Smart Tooling in Xenia, Ohio; C. A. Litzler Co. Inc. in Cleveland; Schrӧdinger in New York City; and Collins Aerospace in Melbourne, Florida.

    A fourth round of ULI request for proposals is anticipated to be announced soon. An online virtual workshop for interested participants is currently scheduled for Thursday, April 30. More information is available at this ULI website.

  • More Pieces of the X-59 are Coming Together

    The wing and cockpit sections of NASA’s X-59 QueSST are coming together at Lockheed Martin’s Skunk Works, in CA.

    The wing and cockpit sections of NASA’s X-59 Quiet SuperSonic Technology (QueSST) are coming together at Lockheed Martin’s Skunk Works® factory in Palmdale, California. Major structural components still to be added include the long, forward nose and rear section – known as the empennage – that includes the tail and single jet engine. Nearby, although not seen in this picture, Lockheed Martin technicians and engineers are completing other assembly tasks, with fabricating the composite wing skins with the help of a sophisticated robot already done.

    When complete, Lockheed Martin and NASA will put the X-59 through a series of ground and test flights to ensure not only its air worthiness, but also its ability to create a sonic boom that can barely be heard – if at all – by people on the ground while it flies supersonic at a cruise altitude overhead.

    The X-59 will then be flown over select communities in the United States – still to be chosen – so residents can help provide information to NASA about their reaction to the sound of the sonic “thump.” This scientifically gathered data will be presented to regulators with the hope they will change rules that currently prohibit commercial supersonic air travel over land.


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