Recently, MIT engineers have designed and built an electric airplane with no moving parts. The absence of turbines and propellers is possible thanks to “ionic wind”, which occurs when ions generated by the thruster on the aircraft collide with air molecules and propel the plane forward. This ground-breaking machine makes virtually no sound and is powered entirely by battery.
The airplane made by MIT engineers has a 5 meter wingspan and weighs only 2.45 kilograms. Steven Barrett and his team have been working on this design since 2009. Barrett has said that the science fiction phenomenon, Star Trek, which he often watched during his childhood, greatly inspired him when developing the aircraft. Is it possible that the spaceships we have seen in Star Wars and Star Trek can soon become more than just geeks’ fantasies? While Barrett’s design has still got a long way to go, especially when compared to the USS Enterprise, Millennium Falcon or TIE Fighter, it is still a fantastic accomplishment.
In theory, Ionocrafts could be a game-changer in transportation of cargo and people. Still, one has to remember a revolution is still many years away. The aircraft was tested on a distance of about 60 metres, in a closed gym, under close supervision. Still, Barrett and his team have repeated the test 10 times and found that enough ions have been produced to sustain flight the entire time.
Source: Nature YouTube channel
What struck me the most is the fact that the concept of ionic wind propulsion has been around for quite some time – it was mentioned as far back as 1709, when an English scientist Francis Hauksbee published Physico-Mechanical Experiments on Various Subjects, and in the 1920s by Thomas Townsend Brown, whose research and work have influenced further discoveries. But it was not until the 1960s, when Russian pilot Alexander Prokofiev de Seversky introduced his idea of Ionocraft , that it became to feel more realistic. Still, it was not until earlier this week, in November 2018, that an actual prototype was built and tested.