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NASA Pilots, Engineers Gets Virtual Flight Experience with the X-57 Maxwell Simulator

Dec 07, 2016 07:10 PM EST

As the saying goes, practice makes perfect. That is exactly what pilots and engineers at NASA's Armstrong Flight Research Center in Edwards, California are doing.

Using an interactive simulator explicitly designed by Armstrong's flight control engineers and technicians according to the advanced specifications of NASA's X-57 Maxwell, the space agency's first piloted electric X-plane in 20 years, pilots get a virtual flight experience of the X-plane and are prepped up for its flight testing phase in 2018.

According to a feature article by NASA, X-57 will be the agency's first X-plane to feature a fully distributed electric propulsion system, which researchers believe will demonstrate higher cruise energy efficiency and less carbon emission and aircraft noise.

Through the simulation process, pilots and engineers are acquainted with X-57's system, trained for more time-efficient maneuvers and reaction times, and come up with emergency procedures for different scenarios.

For principal investigator for the X-57, Sean Clarke, data gathering and analyzing from the simulator is a group effort from the X-57 team.

"Two of our test pilots have been flying it actively, and the controls group here at Armstrong is critical in getting the simulator working in this interactive way," said Clarke. "The chief engineer, Matt Redifer, and I are down here regularly, looking at the performance and making sure that the fidelity is high enough that we're getting good data from it," Space Daily writes.

Currently, X-57 is still going through a series of design modifications, to which the simulator will be updated accordingly as well. The X-57 team will be flying the interactive simulator at a phase in the project in which the electric system is in the process of being integrated into the aircraft, which Clarke believes is an advantage.

 "This is a critical activity, so that the pilots get experience with our experimental wing, and experimental motors before we actually put them on the airplane. That way, we are optimizing the time in the flight test phase of the project so that the aircraft is not tied up with the pilots learning the performance at that time," he explained.

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