- MIT researchers build work plan without moving parts
- Tours in "ionic winds" for 60 meters
- "Now the possibilities for this type of propulsion system are viable"
Airplanes that fly without moving parts are now a reality.
You may have seen them in Star Trek, sliding through space silently in ionic winds.
MIT Associate Professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics Steven Barrett saw them when he was a child. And now he has developed the ionic plane powered by wind energy from his childhood dreams.
Here is in action:
It is the first time an airplane flies without moving parts.
"In the long-term future, airplanes should not have propellers and turbines," says Barrett. "They must be more like the buses in & # 39; Star Trek & # 39 ;, which have only a blue glow and glide silently."
What can stand it are these lines of yarn tied in front of the model:
The "ionic wind" is better known as "electroaerodynamic impulse" and, in fact, is based on a principle that was first identified in the 1920s.
It describes the wind, or impulse, that is produced when a current is passed between a thin electrode and a thick one. If enough voltage is applied, the air between the electrodes can produce enough thrust to propel a small aircraft.
But in practice, the reality of this has never progressed beyond enthusiasts by raising small models tied to large sources of tension outside their workbench.
Nine years ago, on a sleepless night at a hotel, Barrett, who worked at the airport, went to work on the back of an envelope to find a way to turn theory into a viable propulsion system.
And recently, in the gym at MIT's duPont Athletic Center, they made an airplane with a wingspan of 5 meters to fly 60 meters without the aid of moving parts.
They repeated the flight 10 times, with the airplane repeatedly producing enough momentum to sustain it at similar distances each time.
"This was the simplest plan we could design to prove the concept that an ionic plane could fly," says Barrett.
"It's still far from an aircraft that could carry out a useful mission. It needs to be more efficient, fly longer and fly out."
Ions, how do they work?
The energy comes from a battery of lithium polymer batteries in the fuselage.
But the key to making it work came from members of Professor David Perreault's Power Electronics Research Group at the Electronics Research Lab.
They designed a power supply that converted the output of the batteries so they could provide electricity at 40,000 volts – enough to positively charge the wires through a light-weight converter.
Here's the technical explanation of what happens next via MIT News:
Once the wires are energized, they act to attract and remove negatively charged electrons from the surrounding air molecules, like a giant magnet that attracts iron filings. The air molecules that are left behind are newly ionized and in turn attracted by the negatively charged electrodes on the back of the plane.
As the newly formed cloud of ions flows toward the negatively charged wires, each ion collides millions of times with other air molecules, creating a boost that propels the aircraft forward.
We've seen ion units before. NASA has a system called HiPEP, and Sydney University student Patrick "Paddy" Neumann has a system he wants to use to allow long trips through space.
But none of these have to fight against gravity.
Barrett's team can now try to improve the efficiency of their design, to produce more ionic wind with less strain.
"It took a long time to get here," says Barrett. "Going from basic principle to something that really flies was a long journey of characterizing physics, so designing it and making it work.
"Now the possibilities for this type of propulsion system are feasible."
See more videos of the test:
You read more about the test results in the journal Nature.
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