An airplane without propeller or turbine made its first flight.

An airplane without propeller or turbine made its first flight

A new aircraft developed by a team of researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) manages to move without moving parts. His secret: ionic propulsion.

A new generation aircraft has just been created. Its particularity: devoid of moving parts. To advance, the device devised by a team at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) uses an ion engine, a propulsion mode that also has the advantage of being quiet.

This experimental technology has given excellent results during the various test phases and could be applied in the construction of the drones of tomorrow.

Ionic wind and propulsion

"The flights of the future will not be characterized by propellers and turbines, but rather look like what you see in" Star Trek "with that kind of blue glow and something that hovers silently in the air," enthuses Steven Barrett, principal investigator of the study published in the journal Nature. "The idea [of using what we call an" ionic wind "] goes back at least to the 1920s."

If the aircraft itself resembles a traditional (reduced-scale) aircraft, instead of a traditional engine, there is a much more exotic mode of propulsion: a series of wires preceding a set of metal blades with an aerodynamic profile. . Together, these elements act as an electrode allowing the aircraft to move forward.

The thin wires at the front of the unit are crossed by a high voltage electric current - more than 20,000 volts. Upon contact, the nitrogen of the atmosphere acquires an electric charge. The blades at the back are calibrated at -20,000 volts, and attract ionized nitrogen to them like a magnet. In its acceleration, the gas carries with it the surrounding air molecules, creating an artificial wind that propels the plane.

Limitations and applications

Thanks to this method, the researchers managed to accomplish a sustained flight of 10 seconds over a distance of 60 meters. As Barrett points out, the tests were limited by the means available: in this case, a closed gymnasium not allowing particularly long flights. Of course, the device also has its own limitations.

The voltage required for the breakdown of air (that is, its ability to become electrically conductive) varies with altitude, and can quickly become a disabling constraint. It will therefore be easier to apply this technology to small devices flying at low altitude, such as drones, at first. With the proliferation of these devices, the technology of Barrett and his team would avoid saturating the cities of noise pollution.


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