Inside NASA's X-Plane Program

An artist's rendering of the X-57 electric aircraft.

An artist's rendering of the X-57 electric aircraft. NASA

In five to 10 years, we may be passengers in these experimental aircraft.

For decades, NASA has been developing experimental aircraft and testing them in the Mojave Desert. The space and aeronautics agency is still trying to make aircraft that are faster, quieter and more fuel efficient.

The latest experimental craft? The X-57, a flight demonstrator for new propulsion technologies.

"The first thing you'll notice when you see our plane is the distributed electric propulsion technology," said Sean Clarke, principal investigator of the X-57 at NASA Armstrong. "We actually have 12 small motors spread out along the leading edge of our wing."

All these motors help keep the plane aloft at low speeds, but they also help out at higher speeds.

"We expect to demonstrate with this aircraft that we can use five times less energy at high-speed cruise flight than we normally do for traditional aircraft," Clarke said.

Pilots are currently testing the aircraft in a variety of scenarios, from average to extreme, through a simulator. But with a change in motors, comes a change in interface. NASA has incorporated a digital display normally used in race cars into the X-57 to help the pilot keep track of various throttle settings.

To learn more about NASA's experimental aircraft, check out this video below from Wired