Advancements in tech are happening so fast it’s hard to keep up.
In aviation, the way that we travel is also changing every day, from biometrics to planes powered by mustard gas.
The latest offering from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) is being hailed as one of the “most significant advances in flight since the early experiments of the Wright brother more than 100 years ago”.
According to The Telegraph, the plane looks like something out of Star Trek and runs on batteries.
It has no moving parts like a propeller or a turbine engine, which is especially unusual for an aircraft. Instead, the plane is kept in flight by an ionic wind system.
Take a look:
The aircraft is 16ft (4,87 metres) long and completely silent. The thrust it needs to fly is provided by colliding electrically charged air molecules.
Professor Steven Barrett, lead researcher on the project at MIT in Massachusetts, told the Telegraph that the plane’s first flight, which is detailed in the journal Nature, was “super exciting”.
He said: “This is the first time an aeroplane with no moving plants has flown. It’s taken nine years of work to get here, and it’s a hundred years since the ionic wind was first discovered”.
In the tests, the battery-powered unmanned aircraft, that weighs just five pounds, managed sustained flights of 197 ft in an MIT gym hall.
Barrett was inspired by Star Trek, which he watched as a child. The way that the spaceships glided silently through space inspired him to create a plane that would do the same.
Ionic wind, also known as electroaerodynamic thrust, was first identified in the 1920s and explored by scientists and engineers in the US and at Britain’s Royal Aircraft Establishment at Farnborough in the 1960s, but they were only able to produce very low levels of thrust, insufficient for flight.
To overcome this obstacle, the MIT test aircraft carries an array of thin wires strung beneath the front end of its wings.
A high voltage current passed through the wires via a lightweight power converter strips negatively charged electrons from surrounding air molecules.
This produces a cloud of positively charged ionised air molecules that are attracted to another set of negatively charged wires at the back of the plane, like a giant magnet attracting iron filings
As they flow towards the negative charge, the ions collide millions of times with other air molecules, creating the thrust that pushes the aircraft forward.
One of the biggest challenges faced by the MIT design team was coming up with a power supply that would generate 40 000 volts from the plane’s battery output.
So while it will still be a couple of years before the technology advances enough to power a passenger aircraft, an unmanned aircraft could be on the cards soon.
It’s all pretty mind-boggling stuff.
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