MIT flies first-ever aircraft with no moving parts

22 November, 2018, 19:15 | Author: Tara Reeves
  • A plane powered by supercharged air particles

Part of the reason is that ionic wind systems get more efficient at higher speeds, something the 11 miles per hour speed limit of their prototype doesn't allow for.

It's completely silent and emits no greenhouse gases, and the glider was designed by scientists at MIT.

Inspired by Star Trek, researchers from MIT have successfully demonstrated that a plane can fly silently using 'ionic wind, ' without needing any moving parts such as propellers, turbine blades, and fans.

In the near future, ion wind propulsion could be employed to power quiet drones, the team predicts.

Engineers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology added to that growing list this week with the unveiling of an ion-powered aircraft that can fly with absolutely no moving parts.

Put into plain English, here's how MIT explained the potential advancement in air-flight technology.

He said: "This is the first time an aeroplane with no moving plants has flown".

He was especially impressed by the show's futuristic shuttle crafts that skimmed through the air producing hardly any noise or exhaust.

"This made me think, in the long-term future, planes shouldn't have propellers and turbines", he said.

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Barrett started noodling with the concept of an ion propulsion systems about nine years ago. Unlike planes and drones, this aircraft doesn't produce any emissions.

This breakthrough has not been possible before because our technology simply wasn't advanced enough.

“It was a sleepless night in a hotel when I was jet-lagged, and I was thinking about this and started searching for ways it could be done, ” he recalls. Ideally, Barrett would like to design an aircraft with no visible propulsion system or separate controls surfaces such as rudders and elevators. "It turned out it needed many years of work to get from that to a first test flight".

To make the flight, an onboard battery pack in the fuselage supplied 20,000 volts of electricity to an array of wires attached to the width of the plane underneath the wing.

Once the wires are energized, they act to attract and strip away negatively charged electrons from the surrounding air molecules, like a giant magnet attracting iron filings. These positively charged ions are attracted to negatively charged structures on the plane called collectors. When the ions move to the collectors, they collide with air molecules and transfer energy to them, creating a flow of air that thrusts the plane in the opposite direction.

The researchers conducted 11 test flights in which V2 flew about 200 feet (60 meters), typically flying less than 6.5 feet (2 meters) off the ground. They repeated the flight 10 times, with similar performance.

What might look like a Star Wars aircraft-lookalike uses "ionic wind" to propel itself through the air. Such technology had been around for a while, helping to power spacecraft beyond Earth's atmosphere, one aerospace engineer told Scientific American.

The prototype flight "will stimulate both awe and anxiety", it said. “[Outside of drone applications], it is hard to infer how much it could influence aircraft propulsion in the future. Nevertheless, this is not really a weakness but rather an opening for future progress, in a field which is now going to burst. Down the line, the team hopes to combine ion propulsion with traditional thrust systems to create larger hybrid aircraft, potentially even cargo and passenger planes. “Going from the basic principle to something that actually flies was a long journey of characterizing the physics, then coming up with the design and making it work.


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