A modified Tecnam P2006T twin-engine airplane has been chosen to move NASA’s Leading Edge Asynchronous Propeller Technology (LEAPTech) project from ground runs to flight testing in research to transition general aviation aircraft to electronic propulsion.
“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,” the agency said in a news release.
NASA aerodynamicist Mark Moore said in the news release that the technology “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.”
In coming months, NASA will ground test a 31-foot carbon composite wing section with 18 electric motors powered by lithium iron phosphate batteries. The wing section will be mounted on a truck which will be driven at speeds to 70 mph for tests at Edwards Air Force Base. In January, the experimental wing called the Hybrid-Electric Integrated Systems Testbed (HEIST) was tested at California’s Oceano County Airport, NASA said.
“Each motor can be operated independently at different speeds for optimized performance,” NASA said, noting potential benefits including “decreased reliance on fossil fuels, improved aircraft performance and ride quality, and aircraft noise reduction.”
Flight testing is to follow “within the next couple years,” with the wings and engines of a Tecnam P2006T removed and replaced with an updated version of LEAPTech wings and motors. “Using an existing airframe will allow engineers to easily compare the performance of the X-plane with the original P2006T,” NASA said.
The four-seat P2006T manufactured by Tecnam, of Italy and Sebring, Florida, is powered by two Rotax 912S 100-horsepower engines. The aircraft was introduced to the U.S. training and rental market by the certified and light-sport aircraft manufacturer that opened a 21,000-square-foot showroom and maintenance facility in Sebring in 2014.
The LEAPTech project began in 2014, in partnership with California companies Empirical Systems Aerospace in Pismo Beach and Joby Aviation, in Santa Cruz.