Some 115 years after the first powered flight, scientists have developed a radical new approach toward flying in the form of a small, lightweight and virtually noiseless airplane that gets airborne with no moving parts like propellers or turbine blades.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) engineers on Wednesday described successful flight tests at an indoor campus gymnasium of the unmanned airplane powered not by engines that burn fossils fuels but by ion wind propulsion, also called electro-aerodynamic thrust.
The aircraft, called Version 2 EAD Airframe, or V2, weighs only 5.4 pounds with a wingspan of 16-1/2 feet.
“This is the first time that an airplane without moving parts has flown,” said MIT aerospace engineer Steven Barrett, who drew inspiration from fictional shuttlecraft from “Star Trek.”
Electrical field strength near an array of thin filaments called emitters at the front of the wing ionizes air, meaning electrons are removed and charged molecules called ions are created. These positively charged ions are attracted to negatively charged structures on the plane called collectors. As they move towards the collectors, the ions collide with air molecules, transferring energy to them. This creates a flow of air that gives the plane its thrust.
Only time will tell whether the test flights at the duPont Athletic Center in Cambridge, Massachusetts, will become historic like the 1903 test flights of the first airplane by Wilbur and Orville Wright at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. And the engineers readily acknowledge their V2 prototype is inefficient and limited.