The first flight of an ion-powered aircraft

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have created the first-ever aircraft without moving parts of the propulsion system. Instead of propellers or turbines, the lightweight structure is powered by ion propulsion. It is very quiet and does not emit exhaust fumes.

The propulsion system uses high-powered electrodes to ionize and accelerate air particles, creating a whirlwind of ionized air. Powerful ion jetów, whichóry is produced aboard the aircraft, generating enough propulsive power to enable continuous flight.

In contrast to the propulsionóin ionic, whichóre have been powering spacecraft for decades, this propulsion system uses air as an accelerant. Researchers say it could power silent drones.

Syndromeół scientistsóIn his achievements published in the pages of the journal „Nature”.

Since the first aircraft erectedóflew more than 100 years ago, virtually every aircraft that followed flew using moving parts, such as propellers or turbine blades. Each was also propelled using energy derived from burning fossil fuels.

Unlike typical aircraft designsów, the prototype from MIT is not dependent on fossil fuel. On top of that, it is very quiet. The aircraft was tested in a large hall before the developers showed off their achievement.

– This is the first ever continuous flight of an aircraft without moving parts of the propulsion system – Said Steven Barrett, professor of aeronautics and astronautics at MIT. – Potentially opening up new, unknown possibilities in aviation. Our airplanes are quieter, mechanically simpler and do not emit exhaust fumes – added.

Barrett, twórca and originator of the new type of aircraft admitted that in the near future such propulsion systems could be used in drones, which would make them less noisy. But in the further future, combined with conventional combustion systems, hybrid passenger and transport aircraft can be created, whichóre would be more fuel efficient.

Barrett also revealed that his inspiration was the TV series „Star Trek”, którego he was a big fan as a child. It was there that he first saw futuristic shuttles with no moving parts, whichóre effortlessly moved through the air with almost no noise.

– This caused my thoughts to swirl wokó³ planeów without propellers or turbines. I thought that in the long run our aircraft should be similar to the shuttle’sów "Star Trek", które have only a blue glow and make no sound at all – mentioned Barrett.

About nine years ago, Barrett began looking for a wayóIn designing a propulsion system for the aircraftóIn no moving parts of the propulsion system. He eventually came across Thomas Townsend Brown’s work from the 1920s, whichóry experimented with the wind of ionized air. He described the wind or thrust, whichóry can be generated when current flows between a positively charged electrode of thin copper wire and a negatively charged electrode of thick aluminum plate.

If a high enough voltage is applied, on the order of thousands of voltsów, coronal discharge occurs – powerful electric field „snatches” electrons from the air, które form a cloud of charged ionów. Under such conditions, an ion wind is generated between the electrodes, whichóry can produce enough thrust to propel a small aircraft.

For years, only hobbyists took advantage of this effect by playing around in their garages with small structures capable of hovering in the air. It was assumed that it was impossible to generate enough ionic force to propel a larger plane during a long flight.

Barrett dissected this concept whichóryth once during a sleepless night at a hotel. – I did some calculations on the envelope and discovered that it could be a viable propulsion system. But before the first flight próbnego, it took many years of work – explained Barrett.

The team’s final design resembles a large, lightweight glider. The aircraft weighs about 2.5 kilogramsów and has a 5-meter wingspan. Under the wings it has a thin wire net mountedów and electrodes. Inside the aircraft are lithium-polymer batteries, whichóre provide energy at the level of 40,000 voltsóin and create „ion wind”. The structure can fly at a speed of less than 20 kilometersów per hour and needs no fuel.

While flyingów test aircraft flew a distance of 60 metersów – so much has the gymnasium at MIT’s duPont Athletic Center. Researchers found that the design produced enough ionic force to sustain flight for an extended period of time. PowtóThey repeated the flight 10 times with similar performance.

– This is the simplest possible design, whichórą we could design to prove that an ion plane can fly. It is still far from the aircraft, whichóry can perform a useful mission. It needs to be more efficient, fly longer and, above all, outwardly – noted Barrett. TeamóBarrett’s bench continues to work on increasing the efficiency of their design.