NASA's LEAPTech Project to Change the Future of Aviation
In the last couple of decades the aviation industry has been accused of leaving a huge and indelible carbon footprint on the planet. However, NASA could be about to change that as it begins testing a unique experimental plane at its Armstrong Flight Research Center. If the project is successful, we could see many aircraft powered by eco-friendly electric motors instead of aviation fuel.
The LEAPTech project
The Leading Edge Asynchronous Propeller Technology project or ‘LEAPTech’ as it’s fondly known will test a redesigned wing incorporating tighter propulsion-airframe integration, made possible using electric power. If successful, the idea would make flight more efficient and safer, as well as benefiting the environment. There would be economic benefits too as flying would become considerably cheaper.
A wing section constructed using a carbon composite material will undergo ground testing over the next few months. The 31 foot wing’s 18 electric motors are powered by lithium iron phosphate batteries. The wing, known as the ‘Hybrid-Electric Integrated Systems Testbed (HEIST)’ will be set on a special truck. Testing the experimental wing in this way without actually getting airborne reduces risk and should provide the NASA team with valuable data.
The HEIST wing section testing will take place on a dry lake bed at Edwards Air Force Base. The wing section will be mounted on the specially adapted truck and driven at speeds of up to 70mph. Following successful ground tests it’s hoped that the wing can be tested on a small piloted X-plane demonstrator. A bastardised Tecnam P2006T will be fitted with modified LEAPTech wings and used for the first series of test flights.
Using an existing plane but replacing the wings with LEAPTech will enable researchers to compare performance. As each of the wings' motors can be operated independently and at varying speeds, aircraft performance should be improved, as should ride quality and noise reduction.
The future of aviation
NASA views LEAPTech as a vital element of its plans to assist the aviation industry in its transition to electrical propulsion within the next 10 years. It’s hoped that ultimately both passenger and cargo planes will be powered using electric motors.
As the population increases and the world becomes a smaller planet, more and more weight is being placed on the aviation industry to transport both people and cargo all around the world. It’s hoped that electrically powered flight will enable aviators to continue to expand this service but at a lower cost to both the earth and to its inhabitants.
Image source: international-pilot.com
About Alison Page
Alison is a small business owner, freelance writer, author and dressage judge. She has degrees in Equine Science and Business Studies. Read her full story at http://www.theladywriter.co.uk