A revolutionary electronic aircraft propulsion system inspired by Star Trek has been tested on a working model for the first time. The new technology uses a battery, power electronics and a high voltage to produce and accelerate streams of ions - or charged atoms - that transfer energy to air molecules providing thrust to the plane.
Scientists have developed a radical new approach toward flying in the form of a small, lightweight and virtually noiseless airplane that gets airborne and flies with no moving parts like propellers or turbine blades.
Researchers have demonstrated a design for an aircraft that could fly on its own power without any need for moving parts, potentially changing flight forever. He was particularly drawn to the futuristic shuttlecrafts that effortlessly skimmed through the air, with seemingly no moving parts and hardly any noise or exhaust.
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.
The voltage is pumped into an array of thin wires that are strung along and beneath the front end of the glider wings.
According to The Telegraph, the plane looks like something out of Star Trek and runs on batteries. The fuselage carries a series of lithium-polymer batteries and a power converter that can generate up to 40,000 volts of electricity.
Once the wires are energized, they act to attract and strip away negatively charged electrons from the surrounding air molecules, like a giant magnet attracting iron filings.
This produces a rush towards negatively charged wires at the back of the plane.
An aerospace engineer in France not associated with the project said the technology will need to be scaled up and its efficiency increased for practical and real world applications.
Known only as Version 2, the plane was powered by a process called "electroaerodynamic propulsion" which was first proposed in the 1960s.
The team, which also included Lincoln Laboratory staff Thomas Sebastian and Mark Woolston, flew the plane in multiple test flights across the gymnasium in MITs duPont Athletic Center the largest indoor space they could find to perform their experiments. They flew the plane at a distance of 60 meters, a feat that was repeated 10 times.
Before reaching that point, this MIT aircraft could be employed in airplane-like drones for performing several tasks such as environmental monitoring and surveillance. The silent operation makes this an attractive alternative to existing drones, which are noisy and expected to grow in demand across many industries. Barrett said he's also interested in finding out out whether ion propulsion could lead to a different kind of aircraft, such as fixed-wing fliers with no visible propulsion system or controls surfaces such as rudders and elevators.
"We've only had a few years to develop this technology", said Dr Barrett, adding: "conventional propulsion has had 100 years, so we have some catching up to do". Its propulsion system has no moving parts.
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