T Builds Revolutionary New Plane With No Moving Parts

Illustration of the MIT aircraft with wired wings and flaps flying through clouds

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

"This is the first-ever sustained flight of a plane with no moving parts in the propulsion system", said Steven Barrett, associate professor of aeronautics and astronautics at MIT.

Instead of propellers or turbines, the aircraft is powered by electrohydrodynamic thrust or the so-called "ionic wind", a phenomenon first identified in the 1960s.

An nearly silent experimental plane, developed by an MIT scientist, inspired by the Star Trek series he watched when he was a kid, flies without using any types of propellers or jets.

Barrett admits to being inspired by Star Trek.

Prof Barrett said he watched the TV series avidly at home when he was growing up in England.

It was the idea behind the shuttlecrafts that effortlessly skimmed through the air with no moving parts, noise or exhaust in Star Trek.

"This made me think, in the long-term future, planes shouldn't have propellers and turbines", he said. As a kid, Barret was inspired by the shuttles that glided through the air silently without any moving parts.

The teams final design resembles a large, lightweight glider.

The aircraft, which weighs over two kilogrammes and has a five-metre wingspan, carries an array of thin wires, which are strung like horizontal fencing along and beneath the front end of the plane's wing.

Multi-coloured blueprint of the MIT aircraft design against a black background

According to The Telegraph, the plane looks like something out of Star Trek and runs on batteries.

The team not only showed that it was possible for ion-driven craft to fly but also - due to the relative lack of drag created by the electrodes - predicted that efficiency would increase in lockstep with speed, potentially opening the way for bigger, faster planes in future. This is enough to induce "electron cascades", ultimately charging air molecules near the wire. Cranked up with enough voltage, the "ionic wind" system can produce enough thrust to propel a small aircraft in steady and sustained flight. Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) engineers are attempting a revolutionary change. Barrett said he's also interested in finding out out whether ion propulsion could lead to a different kind of aircraft, such as fixed-wing fliers with no visible propulsion system or controls surfaces such as rudders and elevators.

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".

The researchers conducted 11 test flights in which V2 flew about 60 metres, typically flying less than 2 metres off the ground.

The silent aircraft has obvious applications as a stealth drone, as it would not be detected by infrared scanners.

Barrett's team is working on producing more ionic wind with less voltage and increasing the design's thrust density. Ionic wind propulsion systems could be used to create drones that are completely silent, and therefore far less annoying to the people they buzz and swoop over.

"We've only had a few years to develop this technology", said Dr Barrett, adding: "conventional propulsion has had 100 years, so we have some catching up to do". "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".

He expects ion wind propulsion systems to be used to fly less noisy drones.

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