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LeapTECH Demonstrator Concept
LeapTECH Demonstrator Concept NASA Photo

NASA's Crazy 18-Engine Electric Concept Plane Could Be the Future of Flying

Mar 17, 2015

The good news for whichever test pilot winds up flying what NASA hopes will be an upcoming experimental aircraft? If they lose one engine, they'll have 17 more to fall back on.

NASA is testing an experimental 31-foot aircraft wing with 18 electric motors placed along the leading edge. The wing is made of carbon composite, while the electric engines are powered by lithium iron phosphate batteries. NASA says the unusual setup, called Leading Edge Asynchronous Propeller Technology (LEAPTech), could result in more energy-efficient and greener aircraft.

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For now, NASA will test the new wing by mounting it on top of a truck and driving across a lakebed at up to 70 m.p.h., a slightly different approach compared to the wind tunnels typically used by aerospace engineers. But if all goes well, NASA says it hopes to install LEAPTech wings and engines on a modified Tecnam P2006T — a four-seater Italian aircraft that's typically powered by two traditional engines — within two years. The image above is a concept rendering.

While the 18-motor idea might sound a little strange, NASA is hopeful the technology could offer big benefits to commercial carriers, the military and travelers alike. Via NASA:

Each motor can be operated independently at different speeds for optimized performance. Key potential benefits of LEAPTech include decreased reliance on fossil fuels, improved aircraft performance and ride quality, and aircraft noise reduction.

LEAPTech is a key element of NASA’s plan to help a significant portion of the aircraft industry transition to electrical propulsion within the next decade. According to Mark Moore, an aerodynamicist at Langley, “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.”

Read next: Here’s the Incredible Flying Car You Can Buy in 2017

PHOTOS: A Look at America's Next Space Machines

The 16.5 foot diameter, titanium structure-supported heat shield fabricated by Lockheed Martin in Denver for Orion. Textron Defense Systems, outside Boston, covered the shield’s outer surface with Avcoat™, an ablative material system used on the Apollo spacecraft. The shield will have to withstand temperatures of 4,000 degrees F (2,200 C).
The 16.5 foot diameter, titanium structure-supported heat shield fabricated by Lockheed Martin in Denver for Orion. Textron Defense Systems, outside Boston, covered the shield’s outer surface with Avcoat™, an ablative material system used on the Apollo spacecraft. The shield will have to withstand temperatures of 4,000 degrees F (2,200 C).Patrick H. Corkery—Lockheed Martin
The 16.5 foot diameter, titanium structure-supported heat shield fabricated by Lockheed Martin in Denver for Orion. Textron Defense Systems, outside Boston, covered the shield’s outer surface with Avcoat™, an ablative material system used on the Apollo spacecraft. The shield will have to withstand temperatures of 4,000 degrees F (2,200 C).
A test model of the Orion spacecraft with its parachutes was dropped high above the the Arizona desert on Feb. 29, 2012. This particular drop test—the latest of a series—studied the stability of the wake left by the Orion as it descended.
The NASA team at the Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans has completed the final weld on the first space-bound Orion capsule, on June 22, 2012. The crew compartment is within this structure, which is then enclosed in the conical exterior.
A test version of Orion arrived at the Kennedy Space Center on April 21, 2012. This model will be used for ground operations practice in advance of the first test flight.
At NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility in Louisiana, the first space-bound Orion capsule is packed up for shipment to the Kennedy Space Center for final processing and outfitting.
The vast expanse of High Bay 3 in the Vehicle Assembly Building dwarfs the Orion capsule and clean room, on May 24, 2012. The clean room is designed to keep particles inside the VAB from collecting on the outside of the spacecraft during processing.
A model of Orion floats above an underwater mockup of the International Space Station in the 40-foot (12 m) deep Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory in Houston on April 25, 2013. The model is used to practice splashdown operations for Orion's first flight test in 2014. The yellow balls on the top of the capsule are flotation balloons which would flip the vehicle into the proper orientation if it were to turn upside down after landing.
This Orion boilerplate—essentially a dead weight mock-up—is loaded on a flatbed trailer for shipment to San Diego, where it is used to rehearse water recovery in the run-up to the 2014 test launch.
A RS-25D engine built for the shuttle program will instead be used to power the SLS booster.
Four RS-25 engines—here undergoing undergoing a hot-fire test—will power the core stage of the SLS.
A version of the J-2X engine burns brightly during a 278-sec. hot fire test Nov. 27, 2012 at NASA's Stennis Space Center in Mississippi. The J-2X will power the upper stage of of the SLS.
NASA engineers and contractors testing of a 67.5-in. (171 cm) model of the SLS in a subsonic wind tunnel at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va.
The launch-abort rockets and an Orion mock-up are prepared on the pad for their test flight at the U.S. Army's White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico, on April 8, 2010.
Ground teams in White Sands, New Mexico, practice stacking test versions of Orion and its launch abort rockets, on Sept. 24, 2009.
An artist's conception of the 38-story SLS with the orion on top, inside the Vehicle Assembly Building at Cape Canaveral.
The 16.5 foot diameter, titanium structure-supported heat shield fabricated by Lockheed Martin in Denver for Orion. Text
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Patrick H. Corkery—Lockheed Martin
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