It might sound something straight out of science fiction that a plane without any moving parts is able to stay in flight. However, researchers at MIT have achieved this feat with a 2.45 kg plane that uses electroaerodynamic propulsion to fly for 60 meters. The technology used for making this possible had been around since the 1960s, reports MIT Technology Review. However, at that time, researchers concluded that enough thrust could not be created to keep a plane in flight. Steven Barrett, a professor of aeronautics and astronautics at MIT took an interest in the research in 2009 and came up with an idea of how to refine the technology so that it could be used to fly a plane.
Electroaerodynamic propulsion is based on the concept of ionic wind. To achieve flight, the plane uses high voltage to generate ions around two electrodes. In this case, 40,000 volts was applied to do so. When the electrodes are charged, an electric field is created between them, which causes ions to be transferred from a smaller electrode to the larger one. On their way, the ions collide with normal air particles and create ionic wind, which propels the plane forward. As ions are moving between the two electrodes that create thrust, there are no moving parts involved.
While it took Barrett and his team about nine years to successfully implement the technology, this technology needs to be refined further. The plane is barely able to carry its own weight and it was tested inside a wind-free gym with only about 12 seconds of air time. “Although it is still a long way off from commercial gas turbine propulsion … electroaerodynamic propulsion has the potential to be a game-changer for short-range, small-payload drone flights,” Priyanka Dhopade, a researcher at the Oxford Thermofluids Institute, said.