The world’s first motorless plane soared from the pages of science fiction to the modern day in a haze of blue lights and supercharged air molecules Wednesday, U.S. physicists said.
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“The future of flight shouldn't be things like propellers and turbines… It should be more like what you see in Star Trek with a kind of blue glow and something that silently glides through the air,” said Steven Barrett, the brain behind the latest prototype.
With the help of electro aerodynamics, scientists from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), “Version 2” successfully covered a distance of 55 meters at a steady speed of 4.8 meters-per-second.
“I started looking into this and went through a period of about five years, working with a series of graduate students to improve fundamental understanding of how you could reduce ionic winds efficiently, and how that could be optimized,” he said.
Some 40,000 volts of electricity surge between a pair of thin metal bars to power the mini plane, transforming nitrogen atoms into positively charged ions through millions of molecular collisions.
The extreme voltage is roughly 166 times the amount needed to power an average home.
Mitchell Walker, an aerospace engineer at Georgia Institute of Technology cheered his colleague’s achievement, saying, “The biggest challenge is [ion thrusters] need 20,000 or 30,000 volts just to work. High voltage on an aircraft doesn’t come easy.
"You want to play with 40,000 volts on an aircraft? That technology didn’t exist. Steve [Barrett] found a clever way to get that efficient conversion.”
Barrett said, “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.”