Star Trek-inspired plane powered by ‘IONIC WINDS’ unveiled

Pablo Tucker
November 24, 2018

In what is truly an astonishing first in aerospace engineering, the world's first ever plane with no moving parts and propelled in flight by "ionic wind" has been tested successfully by researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). They also said that to generate enough thrust to sustain the flight, the electric field let the nitrogen ions flow from the wires to rods at the back of the plane that is enough to create sustainable thrust.

"The future of flight shouldn't be things with propellors and turbines and should be more like what you see in Star Trek", Professor Steven Barrett, of the MA... “This has potentially opened new and unexplored possibilities for aircraft which are quieter, mechanically simpler, and do not emit combustion emissions.”. So I started looking into what physics might make flight with no moving parts possible, and came across a concept known as the ionic wind, with was first investigated in the 1920s.

"This was the simplest possible plane we could design that could prove the concept that an ion plane could fly", Barrett said in the press release.

Star Trek-inspired plane powered by ‘IONIC WINDS’ unveiled

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

Dr Barrett said, 'It made me think, in the long-term future, planes shouldn't have propellers and turbines'.

A almost silent, drone-sized aircraft has shown it can fly, thanks to a scientist who was inspired by watching "Star Trek" as a child.

For starters, he had to fight the largely held notion that it was impossible to produce enough ionic wind to propel larger aircraft over sustained flights. The team demonstrates the brief flights of small, lightweight prototypes featuring this technology in the video above. Once the front wires are powered up, they attract surrounding air molecules and strip away negatively charged electrons - that's the ionization part.

According to The Telegraph, the plane looks like something out of Star Trek and runs on batteries. In this way, the batteries supply electricity at 40,000 volts to positively charge the wires via a lightweight power converter. The air molecules that are left behind are newly ionized, and are in turn attracted to the negatively charged electrodes at the back of the plane.

This stream of ions is generated aboard the aircraft and produces enough thrust to propel the plane over sustained, steady flight.

"This would be much more efficient than the current situation where you have concentrated engines that generate thrust, which have to fight against a large passive airframe that generates drag", he said.

The ionic-wind-powered drone was described in the journal Nature. Still, ionic winds could function as a secondary power source on aircraft once they're aloft, and they could be powered by solar panels, says Franck Plouraboué in an associated Nature commentary. Before the advent of V2, researchers weren't able to fly anything heavier than a few grams.

Plouraboué said in an email to The Washington Post that the new plane creates "an opening for future progress, in a field which is now going to burst". "This is the first time we've achieved level flight with an aeroplane - which is a heavier-than-air flying vehicle", Barrett added.

In the near term, Barrett and his team believe that ion propulsion, paired with more conventional combustion systems, can create fuel-efficient, hybrid passenger planes, and other large aircraft. The team is also working on improving the thrust density, which would result in a need for a smaller area for the electrical array.

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