First flight of revolutionary electric aircraft with no moving parts

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Even though it may sound impossible, the research team claimed that this fantastic aircraft doesn't need fossil fuel to fly.

"We provide a proof-of-concept that may open up unexplored possibilities for aircraft that are quieter, mechanically simpler, and do not emit combustion emissions", said Steven Barrett, associate professor of aeronautics and astronautics at MIT who led the research.

He expects that in the near-term, such ion wind propulsion systems could be used to fly less noisy drones.

In aviation, the way that we travel is also changing every day, from biometrics to planes powered by mustard gas.

Barrett said the inspiration for the team's ion plane comes partly from the movie and television series, "Star Trek".

Imagine an aircraft engine that has no moving parts, produces no harmful exhaust and makes no noise.

In the long term, I'm hoping for ultra-efficient and almost silent airplanes that have no moving control surfaces like rudders or elevators, no moving propulsion system like propellers or turbines, and no direct combustion emissions like you get with burning jet fuel. “They should be more like the shuttles in ‘Star Trek, that have just a blue glow and silently glide.”.

Barrett started noodling with the concept of an ion propulsion systems about nine years ago. If enough voltage is applied, the resulting "ionic wind" can produce a thrust without the help of motors or fuel and power a small plane. "When a current passes between two electrodes-one thinner than the other-it creates a wind in the air between".

What might look like a Star Wars aircraft-lookalike uses "ionic wind" to propel itself through the air. "And it turned out it needed many years of work to get from that to a first test flight". The team demonstrates the brief flights of small, lightweight prototypes featuring this technology in the video above. The field strips electrons from air molecules, turning the molecules into positively charged particles called ions.

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The fuselage of the plane holds a stack of lithium-polymer batteries.

As they flow, they collide with air molecules, creating thrust - enough for a flight of up to 197ft.

The engineers say they would also need to find ways to protect planes powered by high voltages from lightning strikes. They repeated the flight 10 times, with similar performance. But, he said, it is possible that in the coming decades, drones or aircraft might use ion propulsion for energy savings possibly coupled with solar panels. He accepts that the design needs a few more steps to climb the ladder and reach the mission.

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

It listed possible military applications including the development of silent drones and aircraft, and engines with no infrared signal and thus impossible to detect.

Going forward, Barrett's team is hoping to increase the efficiency of their design by figuring out a way to generate more thrust with less voltage.

This generates enough thrust to propel the plane over a sustained and steady flight, reports Nature.

Another advantage of the propulsion system is that it is completely silent, making it potentially ideal for implementation in urban areas. Ideally, Barrett would like to design an aircraft with no visible propulsion system or separate controls surfaces such as rudders and elevators.

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