Imagine a plane with no engine ― with, in fact, no moving parts at all ― not just gliding like a paper airplane, but being propelled through the air. Scientists at the Massachusetts Institute Of Technology (MIT) have made it a reality using an ion drive.
The project’s lead researcher is Steven Barrett, a professor at MIT’s department of aeronautics and astronautics. Barrett said he was inspired by the show “Star Trek,” in which spacecrafts travel rather silently and without the use of traditional fossil fuels.
The five-pound plane’s ion drive consists of electrodes near the front with a positive 20,000-volt charge and air foils near the back with a negative 20,000-volt charge. The electrodes positively ionize the surrounding air molecules, which are then attracted to the negatively charged air foils, creating an accelerating ionic wind to propel the craft. And with no propellers, turbines or moving parts in general, all this is done in complete silence.
Their most successful sustained fight so far was about 10 seconds, or a distance of 60 meters.
Barrett says that while implementing this technology in commercial travel is a long way away, the soonest use might be in the advancement of drone technology.