Engineers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have successfully achieved sustained flight of an aircraft using a solid-state ion drive engine. Solid state “ionic wind” propulsion means quieter aircraft that need less maintenance. The environmental benefits of not burning fossil fuels are obvious. The team published their findings in the journal Nature on Wednesday.
“This is the first-ever sustained flight of a plane with no moving parts in the propulsion system,” said Steven Barrett, associate professor of aeronautics and astronautics at MIT. “This has potentially opened new and unexplored possibilities for aircraft which are quieter, mechanically simpler, and do not emit combustion emissions.”
Although the team is far away from building an aircraft capable of carrying passengers, they do see potential for a useful drone aircraft. It is a fair assumption that soon there will be many more drone aircraft in our immediate environment. Drones undertaking surveillance and making deliveries for instance. Current drones do create noise and having an ionic winds powered aircraft will help cut down on noise pollution.
The principles of an ion drive engine are simple. A positive electrode is charged to a high voltage and a trailing electrode is negatively charged. Positively charged ions within the air are attracted at high speed to the negatively charge electrode. Enough mass of ions creates air movement similar to jet propulsion and is enough to generate thrust.
So, let’s watch this space. If you want to see the aircraft in action then take a look at the team’s YouTube video.