Plane flies for the first time using ionic propulsion

Credits : Youtube screenshot / Nature video

American researchers have made a historic first. They have managed to create a mini plane that is propelled by an ionic wind.  This type of propulsion has never been used before. 

A historic flight !

In November 2018, researchers from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT ) announced that they have managed to fly a plane using ionic propulsion. This flight, which is the first of it’s kind, was also explained in detail in a letter published in the Nature journal.

This type of propulsion requires an electric field to accelerate ions. These same ions then collide with the air, creating an ionic wind (or coronal wind) which helps to propel the device forward.

A mini prototype version

Staying completely silent as it doesn’t have a combustion engine, this plane does not pollute.  Indeed it’s shape makes you think of a sort of drone made up of a single wing and a wired propulsion device.  The engine also has a high pressure battery which is tasked with generating an ionic wind.

It’s dimensions are very small. The wings measure only 5 metres wide and weigh 2.45 kilograms.  During a series of test flights carried out in the MIT headquarters – therefore in an interior environment – the small plane flew for 55 metres at a speed of 4.8 metres per second. 

Credits : YouTube screenshot /Nature video

Other applications being studied

Steven Barrett of MIT Aerospace explains how this experimental prototype gives us hope for an alternative future for aviation. On the other hand, it will be up to scientists to replicate the experiment on a larger scale and perhaps one day manage to create a size that is big enough for other applications.

“No other device as ever flown using ionic wind except from little “lifter” devices which only weigh a couple of grams,” explains the specialist

Let us remember that ionic wind has been known about for almost a century.  However tests into  this type of propulsion were abandoned in the 1960s.  The main reason for abandoning this project was that ionic propulsion would be not very effective at low speeds.


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