Carbon neutral air travel is on the horizon. Using groundbreaking ‘ionic wind’ technology, the world’s first-ever ‘solid state’ plane has successfully flown over 60 meters without the aid of moving parts or a propulsion system, lending credence to the potential for heavier-than-air flight without jets or propellers. Might it be paired up with your aircraft caddy in the not-too-distant future?
Using a powerful electric field to generate charged nitrogen ions, and then expelling them from the back of the aircraft to generate thrust, this latest aircraft invention was inspired during MIT Aeronautics Professor Steven Barrett’s childhood. A big fan of Star Trek, Barrett envisioned a future with silently-flying aircraft, operating with no moving parts such as propellers, turbines, or jets.
Ahead of Its Time
Investigating the physics that might make such flights possible, he came across the concept of ionic wind, which was initially investigated in the 1920s. It didn’t make much of a splash at the time, with researchers concluding it wouldn’t work for airplanes.
However, Barrett wasn’t deterred. He and a team of graduates worked to improve their understanding of how it might be possible to produce ionic winds efficiently, and how those winds might be applicable to propelling an aircraft.
The battery-powered, nearly silent miniature prototype that resulted from their research led to the creation of a propulsion system with a thrust-to-power ratio comparable to that of conventional jet engines. Though the technology is in its infancy, the successful flight of the amazingly thin, light-weight aircraft could pave the way for highly-efficient, non-polluting air travel. Future tests will seek to scale-up the plane’s size and range.