First Plane With No Moving Parts Takes Flight

first_img MIT engineers built and flew the first-ever plane with no moving parts.In place of propellers and turbines, which require fossil fuels or battery packs, the aircraft is powered by an “ionic wind.”The phenomenon, as described in an MIT news release, is a “silent but mighty flow of ions” produced aboard the vehicle, which generate enough thrust to propel it over a “sustained, steady flight.”“This is the first-ever sustained flight of a plane with no moving parts in the propulsion system,” Steven Barrett, associate professor of aeronautics and astronautics at MIT, said in a statement. “This has potentially opened new and unexplored possibilities for aircraft which are quieter, mechanically simpler, and do not emit combustion emissions.”Don’t hold your breath for noiseless commercial flights any time soon, though: Ion wind propulsion will likely first be applied to drones.And eventually—after we’re all traveling via high-speed hyperloops and personal jet packs—the system could be scaled up to create more fuel-efficient, blissfully silent passenger planes.Inspiration for technology comes partly from Star Trek, which Barrett says he watched “avidly” as a kid, enthralled by the futuristic shuttle crafts that appeared to lack moving parts and generate little noise or exhaust.“This made me think, in the long-term future, plans shouldn’t have propellers and turbines,” he said. “They should be more like the shuttles in Star Trek, that have just a blue glow and silently glide.”Of course, it’s called “science fiction” for a reason. But that didn’t stop Barrett from trying.For years, ionic wind (also known as electroaerodynamic thrust) has been a hobbyist’s project; designs are mostly limited to small desktop “lifters” tethered to large voltage supplies.In fact, it was widely assumed impossible to produce enough ionic wind to propel a larger aircraft over constant flight.But Barrett proved everyone wrong when he and a team of MIT researchers designed an experimental plane that actually works.A general blueprint for an MIT plane propelled by ionic wind (via MIT Electric Aircraft Initiative)Complicated science aside (read the full study, published in the journal Nature, if you’re really interested), the plane performed well, producing enough ionic thrust to sustain flight for an entire 60 meters.“This was the simplest possible plane we could design that could prove the concept than an ion plane could fly,” Barrett said. “It’s still some way away from an aircraft that could perform a useful mission. It needs to be more efficient, fly for longer, and fly outside.”Moving forward, the team is working to produce more ionic wind with less voltage, and aims to increase their design’s thrust density.Barrett envisions an aircraft with no visible propulsion system or separate controls like rudders and elevators.“It took a long time to get here,” he said. “Now the possibilities for this kind of propulsion system are viable.”More coverage on Begins Construction on NASA’s Quiet Supersonic AircraftWatch: Scary Cockpit Footage of Plane Landing in ThunderstormAirbus, Rolls-Royce, Siemens Team Up for Hybrid-Electric Aircraft Stay on target Machine Learning Estimates Risk of Cardiovascular DeathMIT’s Color-Changing Ink Lets You Customize Shoes, Phone Cases last_img

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