No engine, no fuel; this is the first ion propulsion aircraft

No engine, no fuel; this is the first ion propulsion aircraft

ion propulsion aircraft

As a nod to the first aircraft developed by the Wright brothers, a group of MIT scientists are developing an ion-powered aircraft, a clean, noise-free technology that, despite being in its infancy, promises to change aviation forever.

ion propulsion aircraft

Modern airplanes use very powerful turbines, engines, propellers and fuels to generate the necessary thrust to promote flight. Although this technology has allowed us to revolutionize aeronautics, has a high impact on the environmentnot to mention its high noise levels.

Hoping to change this forever, Steven Barrett Associate Professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics at MIT and his students developed the prototype of the first airplane capable of flying without using engines, fuels, or even moving parts.

The first silent flight of 60 meters, of this small plane weighing just 2Kg and which looks a lot like the first airplanes, has become proof that the concept of ion propulsion works. A technology that man has dreamed of for decadesI have even been part of the imaginary of science fiction series, propelling ships through the confines of the universe.

You might be interested in this other post where we also talk about the first mini drone that flies with ionic impulse:

This tiny drone can fly without the help of propellers or moving parts

How to fly “without motor” and without making noise?

The principle of ion propulsion, although simple in its fundamentals, has proven to be quite a challenge for researchers. As Professor Barrett explains, the plane produces an “ionic wind” that feels the fuselage of the ship and generates the necessary thrust to propel it and keep it in flight, without generating noise or any type of pollution.

ion propulsion aircraft

To generate ion propulsion, the plane contains a lithium battery capable of supplying up to 40,000 volts. Half of this energy is used to positively charge a fence-like arrangement of cables at the front of the wings (hence the design so much like early aircraft), while similarly arranged thicker cables extend Along the rear of the aircraft wing, they serve as negative electrodes.

When power flows between the forward wires, they remove negatively charged electrons from surrounding air molecules, which are then drawn like a magnet to the wires at the rear of the wing. thus generating the air current and the impulse for flight.

The first 60-meter flight took place inside a gym, but the team hopes to soon be able to take their prototype to outdoor flight tests, where conditions are more variable, to perfect the technique.

ion propulsion aircraft

The team is aware that this first proof of concept is far from being a functional aircraft, but they hope that once this technology evolves, it will make great contributions to civil aeronautics, or even in small applications, such as silent drones.

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