Silent plane with no moving parts makes ‘historic’ flight

Scientists Have Created A Star Trek-Like Plane That Flies Using 'Ion Thrusters' And No Fuel

First ever plane with no moving parts takes flight

The team demonstrates the brief flights of small, lightweight prototypes featuring this technology in the video above.

This is not the first time that researchers have explored aircraft without moving parts.

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

"I was a big fan of Star Trek, and at that point I thought that the future looked like it should be planes that fly silently, with no moving parts - and maybe have a blue glow".

Barrett started noodling with the concept of an ion propulsion systems about nine years ago. He eventually came upon “ionic wind, ” also known as electroaerodynamic thrust — a physical principle that was first identified in the 1920s and describes a wind, or thrust, that can be produced when a current is passed between a thin and a thick electrode. "If enough voltage is applied, the resulting wind can produce a thrust without the help of motors or fuel".

Barrett says he's confident that the system can be scaled up, and he sees the most immediate applications in the world of drones.

The aircraft which has a 5-metre wingspan and weighs 2.45-kg.

The aircraft is driven by an array of wires strung below its wings, which strip electrons from air molecules - which then flow towards negatively charged wires at the back of the plane.

The fuselage of the plane holds a stack of lithium-polymer batteries. These ions are attracted to negatively charged structures on the plane's other end called collectors.

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Instead, an "ionic wind" of colliding electrically charged air molecules provides the thrust needed to make it fly.

The team, which also included Lincoln Laboratory staff Thomas Sebastian and Mark Woolston, flew the plane in multiple test flights across the gymnasium in MITs duPont Athletic Center — the largest indoor space they could find to perform their experiments. So far, the plane has already flown as a distance of 60 meters (the maximum distance within the gym) 10 times.

Prof Guy Gratton, an aerospace engineer and visiting professor at Cranfield University, said: "It's clearly very early days: but the team at MIT have done something we never previously knew was possible in using accelerated ionised gas to propel an aircraft".

Ionic technologies have always been a staple of sci-fi movies. The system may be used to propel small drones and even lightweight aircraft, as an alternative to fossil fuel propulsion. Nevertheless, this is not really a weakness but rather an opening for future progress, in a field which is now going to burst.

The team is working on ways of producing more ionic wind with less voltage.

Another advantage of the propulsion system is that it is completely silent, making it potentially ideal for implementation in urban areas. Ideally, Barrett would like to design an aircraft with no visible propulsion system or separate controls surfaces such as rudders and elevators.

In an editorial, the journal Nature, which published the study, said its success would encourage other sectors to re-visit technology that was long thought to be confined to sci-fi films.

The end result is a propulsion system that is entirely electrically powered, nearly silent, and with a thrust-to-power ratio comparable to that achieved by conventional systems such as jet engines.

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