Since the first manned flight was accomplished by the Wright brothers more than 100 years ago, literally every aircraft in the sky has flown only with the help of moving parts such as propellers, turbine blades and fans, which are powered by the combustion of fossil fuels or by battery packs that produce a persistent and annoying noise. We could only dream about futuristic shuttle crafts that effortlessly skimmed through the air, with seemingly no moving parts and hardly any noise or exhaust.
But it seems that science fiction is becoming a reality. In paper, published in Nature journal, MIT researchers, who was inspired by the Star Trek movie, reported that they have created and flown the first plane without any moving parts. It became possible thanks to the concept known as “ionic wind” – the wind is generated in the air between two electrodes when current goes between them. When enough voltage is applied, a thrust can be produced with the “ionic wind” to power a small plane without the need for any moving parts. The idea was first introduced in the 1920s but never widely spread and was successfully applied only in avionics.
Application of this technology would give us many opportunities in the future such as safety, low noise levels, maintenance, and environmental benefits over traditional planes. But this idea also entails many challenges for scientists that they will have to solve. Prospective aircrafts powered by “ionic wind” would require sustainable supply of electricity in order to create sufficient voltage to propel the plane. A small 2,45 kilograms MIT’s plane model needs around 40.000 volts to get off the ground and scaling it up to the size of commercial aircraft will create huge weight problems that the design would need to overcome.
Obviously, there is still long way to make this concept widely used but some things may become possible in the foreseeable future. Not talking about using this technology for drones, it also creates some prospects for hybrid planes. Steven Barret, MIT professor and one of the plane creators, believes that this technology could be used in conjunction with jet engines to make the overall craft more fuel efficient by re energizing the air that passes over the aircraft and eliminating drag.
The First steps to create our future are done. Now, looking forward to the continuation of the story.