A group of MIT engineers have built the first plane capable of flying without any moving parts by creating an “ionic wind”.
In what seems to be straight out of science fiction, the researches have made a propulsion system that works by ionizing air behind the aircraft using an electric field, which in turn creates thrust, and also a blue glow similar to the Star Trek ships.
Fruition of a century old theory
Conceptual ion drives are nothing new, the theory was formulated in the early 1900s, though prominent rocket scientists like Robert Goddard and Konstantin Tsiolkovsky worked on the concept, it was always considered a science fiction than reality till 1950s.
That’s when the “Cold War” started to take shape and while the ion drives were experimented with but the fact that at the time the technology wasn’t advanced enough to produce enough thrust for flight, the concept never “took off” (sorry, couldn’t resist the pun).
NASA’s Space Electric Rocket Test I (SERT I)
Ion drives couldn’t take off on earth, and this is not a pun, ion drives literally couldn’t take off on earth because the technology wasn’t advanced enough to achieve enough thrust to break free from Earth’ gravity, so NASA tested an actual prototype in space instead. The SERT I was operated for only about 30 minutes in space but it told the scientists that it is a viable form of thrust even though the technology wasn’t up to the speed (OK I’m not gonna stop) at the time. Though it took almost half a century for NASA to use it in an actual rocket that wasn’t just a prototype. Enter Dawn.
DAWN of a new era
In 2007, NASA launched the first spacecraft propelled by only an ion propulsion system, named Dawn.
Dawn went past Mars, to the asteroid belt to study two of the three known protoplanets there, Vesta and Ceres.
The first flight on earth
It took over a century for the ion-propelled flight to become reality on earth, and finally in a research published in Nature, the researchers from MIT announce the first plane without any moving parts propelled purely by an ion drive with enough thrust to achieve a short flight.
While the flight time was barely 9 seconds, it’s not too diffirent from what the Wright brothers achieved in their first flight.