Wednesday 18 September 2019

'Star Trek' inspires ion wind propulsion plane

 

The experimental aircraft was created by engineers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Photo: Steven Barrett/Handout via REUTERS
The experimental aircraft was created by engineers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Photo: Steven Barrett/Handout via REUTERS

John von Radowitz

A revolutionary electronic aircraft propulsion system inspired by 'Star Trek' has been tested on a working model for the first time.

The five-metre wingspan glider-like plane has no propellers, turbines or any other moving parts, and is completely silent.

Instead, an "ionic wind" of colliding electrically charged air molecules provides the thrust needed to make it fly.

In the tests, the battery-powered unmanned aircraft, that weighs just 2.25kg, managed sustained flights of 60 metres at an average height of just 0.47 metres.

But its inventors believe that, like the early experiments of the Wright brothers, such small beginnings will eventually transform the face of aviation.

In the near future, ion wind propulsion could be employed to power quiet drones, the team predicts.

Further down the line, the technology could be paired with more conventional propulsion systems to produce highly fuel efficient hybrid passenger planes.

Lead researcher Dr Steven Barrett, from Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the US, revealed that he was partly inspired by the TV sci-fi series 'Star Trek', which he watched as a child and was impressed by the futuristic shuttle crafts that skimmed through the air producing hardly any noise or exhaust.

"This made me think, in the future, planes shouldn't have propellers and turbines," said Dr Barrett. "They should be more like the shuttles in 'Star Trek' that have a blue glow and silently glide."

Irish Independent

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