A hundred years back, the very first airplane took flight with the help of a huge complex design of numerous moving parts, such as fans, turbine blades, and propellers. Despite the ubiquitousness of air travel facilities across the world in the modern era, the aerospace science continues to ignite curiosity among scientists’ minds, triggering innovation movements across the aerospace industry.
Almost every aircraft in the air is powered by fossil fuels or electric batteries and moving components have been the integral parts of the conventional design. Engineers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have flown in the opposite direction to develop an ion-powered aircraft that consists of no mobile parts at all, which virtually represents “ionic wind” technology. The innovative design of the airplane eliminates the need for fossil fuels and the persistent buzz of conventional airplanes, and involves a powerful flow of ions to generate enough power to the plane for a steady and sustained flight.
An associate professor in the aeronautics and astronautics department at MIT, Steven Barrett says, “This was the first time when an airplane with no moving parts in its propulsion system has been flown successfully. We have discovered a way to build an airplane which is more silent and mechanically less complex than the conventional, turbine-powered airplanes.” He adds, “With this innovation, we have opened a new area of possibilities for exploration in the aerospace industry. The ion wind propulsion systems could be used more commonly used to develop less-noisy and fuel-efficient drones or hybrid passenger planes in the coming future.”
The MIT engineer revealed that they drew their inspiration for this discovery was one of the most popular science fiction and TV show – ‘Star Trek’. The silent flights and futuristic shuttlecrafts with attractive, shiny blue light virtually encouraged the MIT engineer to study all the principles of physics that could help him to develop aircrafts with no moving parts, such as turbines or propellers.
After countless errors, Barrett and his team could successfully design a 5-pound airplane with a wingspan of about 16 ½ feet and a power supply that can produce 40,000 volts with a lightweight converter. The newly-designed aircraft could fly over 10 times for a distance of almost 200 feet in an MIT gymnasium, which has created numerous possibilities of innovative developments, such as carbon-neutral air travel, in the aerospace industry.