Arthur J. Villasanta – Fourth Estate Contributor
Boston, MA, United States (4E) – The world’s first ever aircraft with no moving parts whatsoever and propelled in flight by ion wind propulsion, also called “electroaerodynamic thrust,.” has been successfully tested by researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).
Instead of propellers or turbine engines, this revolutionary light aircraft called “Version 2 EAD Airframe” (or V2) is powered by an “ionic wind” — which is a silent but mighty flow of ions produced aboard the plane. These energetic ions generate enough thrust to propel the plane over a sustained, steady flight.
The prototype V2 weighs only 2.45 kg and has a wingspan of 5 meters.
To get airborne, V2 relies on generating an electrical field near an array of thin filaments called “emitters” at the front of the wing that ionize the air. This means electrons are removed and charged molecules called ions are created.
These positively charged ions are attracted to negatively charged structures on the plane called “collectors.” As they move towards the collectors, the ions collide with air molecules, transferring energy to them. These relentless collisions create a flow of air called an ionic wind that gives the plane its thrust.
MIT researchers conducted successful flight tests at an indoor campus gymnasium of the unmanned airplane powered by electroaerodynamic thrust, which is a form of propulsion whose physical principle first identified in the 1920s.
This propulsion describes a wind, or thrust, that can be produced when a current is passed between a thin and a thick electrode. If enough voltage is applied, the air in between the electrodes can produce enough thrust to propel a small aircraft.
During their tests, the MIT team conducted 11 test flights where V2 flew about 60 meters, typically flying less than 2 meters off the ground.
V2 is classified as a solid-state machine because it has no moving parts. It was was built to be as light as possible using materials like carbon-fiber, balsa wood, polystyrene plastic, shrink-wrap plastic and Kevlar.
“This is the first time that an airplane without moving parts has flown,” said MIT aerospace engineer Steven Barrett, who drew inspiration from Shuttlecraft used by the starship Enterprise in “Star Trek.”
“This has potentially opened new and unexplored possibilities for aircraft which are quieter, mechanically simpler, and do not emit combustion emissions.”
He expects ion wind propulsion systems to be used to fly less noisy drones. In the longer-term, he envisions ion propulsion paired with more conventional combustion systems to create more fuel-efficient, hybrid passenger planes and other large aircraft.
Barrett and his team at MIT published their results in the journal Nature.
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