Researchers from MIT developed a new airplane that uses charged molecules to fly
A new aircraft developed by researchers from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) is powered by ionic wind instead of propellers and turbines. Ionic wind is flow of charged molecules or ions in one direction to push the plane in the other. The novel approach completely eliminates noise and enables use of these aircrafts for monitoring environmental conditions or capturing aerial imagery as it does not disturb natural habitats below. The aircraft weighs around 2.5 kilogram and has a 5-meter wingspan. The researchers performed 10 indoor test flights, in which the aircraft traveled 40 to 45 meters for around 10 seconds at an altitude of around half a meter.
High-voltage electric field around a positively charged wire, called an emitter, generates ionic wind. The electricity supplied by batteries causes collision between electrons in the air and atoms and molecules. These atoms and molecules later release other electrons, which helps to create an array of positively charged air molecules around the emitter. These molecules are then drawn to a negatively charged wire. This movement of molecules between the two wires is called ionic wind, which pushes a plane forward. According to the researchers, the current design uses four sets of these wires.
To develop right aircraft design and light enough batteries researchers used mathematical equations to optimize various features of the airplane such as shape, materials, and power supply. The team then built prototypes of promising designs, which were launched via a bungee system for tests at the MIT indoor track. The aircraft successfully competed 10 flights. The researchers stated that the aircraft requires further upgrades before sanctioning its use for various real world applications. The aircraft flew only 12 seconds for its longest flight. Although the aircraft can maintain steady flight for a short time once launched, it is not capable of taking off using ionic wind. The research was published in the journal Nature on November 21, 2018.