“IN THE LONG-TERM FUTURE, PLANES SHOULDN’T HAVE PROPELLERS AND TURBINES. THEY SHOULD BE MORE LIKE THE SHUTTLES IN STAR TREK, THAT JUST HAVE A BLUE GLOW AND SILENTLY GLIDE”
A group of engineers at MIT have built the firstever aeroplane capable of flying without any moving parts. The aircraft uses an ion drive that produces a flow of ions powerful enough to propel it forwards, in place of the more traditional propellers or turbine blades.
This means it doesn’t depend on fossil fuels to fly and is completely silent. The inspiration for the design came from sci-fi TV shows. “In the long-term future, planes shouldn’t have propellers and turbines. They should be more like the shuttles in Star Trek, that just have a blue glow and silently glide,” said Prof Steven Barrett, from MIT’s department of aeronautics and astronautics. “This is the first-ever sustained flight of a plane with no moving parts in the propulsion system. This has potentially opened new and unexplored possibilities for aircraft which are quieter, mechanically simpler, and do not emit combustion emissions.”
MIT’s ion-drivepowered plane takes its first flight In the near term, ion propulsion systems could be used to fly drones, but in the long term they could be paired with more conventional combustion systems to create more fuel-efficient, hybrid passenger planes and other large aircraft, according to Barrett. The ion drive is powered by lithium-polymer batteries and generates an ‘ionic wind’ – a stream of ions produced when a current is passed between a thick and thin electrode – which provides enough thrust to keep the craft airborne.
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