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MIT researchers build plane that flies with no moving parts

Ion drive: The first flight

Researchers at MIT have developed a small plane that uses ions to fly:

Instead of propellers or turbines, the light aircraft is powered by an “ionic wind” - a silent but mighty flow of ions that is produced aboard the plane, and that generates enough thrust to propel the plane over a sustained, steady flight.

The first flight lasted just 10 seconds and about 180 feet in an MIT gym - the duPont Athletic Center - but recall that the Wright brothers' first flight was just 60 seconds and traveled 852 feet.

The research team is headed by Steven Barrett, associate professor of aeronautics and astronautics, who says he was initially inspired by Star Trek shuttle craft, gliding silently through space and planetary atmospheres.

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Now it's time for an outdoor test flight, but maybe not when it's as nastily windy as it has been the past day.

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...we called that a 'glider'.

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Gliders depend on a variety of factors to stay aloft; the goal here is to build something like a drone, only without the noise, so something that can stay aloft under its own power for quite a long time (they picture them being used for good, but, of course, to use the Star Trek analogy, presumably the Romulans and the Dominion had the equivalent of shuttle craft as well).

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the cool kids used to build UFO like things with the ion thruster aimed down so the gizmo would hover in silence.

It was neat, but after a while, the whole room would smell like ozone. And it had to be in a room because there was no way to have a high voltage power supply light enough to hover, so you were always tethered to a 20A outlet.

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Steam is much more reliable!

This should be using steam!

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You have to be some kind of Einstein to run these things- or maybe a Tesla or Volta?

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"Yes sir. You sort of have to be Albert Einstein to run the nuclear power plant that we have here as well, but we’re doing that very well."

At least I think it was somebody from MIT. Maybe it was somebody from the Navy responding to the president's confusion over how to launch missiles from ships or something, I don't know.

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The Navy is shifting over to electromagnetic launchers for aircraft taking off from aircraft carriers. Trump doesn't understand this and seems to have a steam fixation, and so he was questioning the shift in technology.

41 and 43 had a bit more experience with aircraft carrier takeoffs and landings.

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.

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They don't mention who designed the airfoils, but I bet Mark Drela (also from MIT) was involved somehow. Sailplane modelers owe a lot to Drela as a lot of the airfoils used by model sailplanes are his design.

Nothing cooler than watching a plane you threw into the air rise up until you almost can't see it.

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Not a first, to be technical: ramjet and rocket powered planes can also be built with no moving parts, and, for some definitions of moving parts which don't include rotational or pivotal parts, a plane with almost any type of engine could, theoretically at least. Another consideration would be the control mechanisms and it isn't clear to me how this plane's systems differ in that regard.

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You could, I suppose, use wing warping rather than flaps and aerilons... but I think that might not work for heavier wings on heavier planes.

I wonder if you can vary the electrical current to alter the ion flow, rapidly enough that is, to use thrust for directional control?

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Well to be truly technically correct -- no aircraft other than a glider can fly without moving something besides the aircraft -- One of Prof. Newton's if I remember correctly

But for the sake of argument -- let us ignore the ions and the entrained un-ionized air molecules flowing out of the back of the "engines"

The key to making it fly without moving parts is that such ion-drag engines can be of nearly any size and shape and placed essentially anywhere on the craft -- so instead of ailerons you have distributed thrust along the wings. Similarly you can distribute thrust along the tail and horizontal stabilizer to get the effect of a rudder and elevators. Fuhrer you could install thrusters in front to allow the plane to pivot in place, etc.

However, as someone noted -- you do need to generate a sufficient voltage to produce sufficient ionization to get the ion-drag effect to be significant. So miniature HV supplies are required -- although nothing at all like a 20A @ 120 VAC input is needed for miniature planes.

This is not just "Pie in the Sky" [pun] I have had in my office for at least a decade an Ionic Breeze air cleaner from Sharper Image -- it has been quite effectively cleaning the air in a 10 sq m [100 sq ft] sized space with no maintenance except for cleaning the accumulated deposits off the electrodes

And -- if it does produce Ozone -- the odor is undetectable

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MIT was NOT "the first ion propelled aircraft of any kind to carry their power supply, as their video and paper say." Their craft is much less efficient than others, they are not the largest. Size was not the limit in the past.

They are the second in the world to be able to claim that they built an ion propelled craft that can carry its power supply. Their craft though, was launched with the assistance of a bungee cord, and large wings thereby reducing the power needed for its 9 second flight.

The first solely ion propelled aircraft to carry its power supply, is covered under US Patent No. 10,119,527. This patent covers all ion propelled aircraft that carry their power supplies against gravity since 08/07/2014. Here is the website with videos that show it fly for around 2 minutes: www.electronairllc.org.

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The first ion propelled aircraft with onboard power can be found elsewhere by googling, ion propelled and onboard power. The first one is orders of magnitude more efficient than the much later MIT bungee glider. The MIT device is really many decades behind in technology.

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