Instead of propellers or turbine engines, this revolutionary light aircraft called "Version 2 EAD Airframe" (or V2) is powered by "ionic wind" - which is a silent but mighty flow of ions produced aboard the plane.
This futuristic aircraft was inspired by Star Trek and the graceful journeys of the starship Enterprise, Barrett told reporters in a teleconference.
"We provide a proof-of-concept that may open up unexplored possibilities for aircraft that are quieter, mechanically simpler, and do not emit combustion emissions", said Steven Barrett, associate professor of aeronautics and astronautics at MIT who led the research.
Scientists have taken a major step towards creating an aircraft of the future, one powered by an ion drive rather than using moving parts and fuel like conventional aircraft.
Imagine an aircraft engine that has no moving parts, produces no harmful exhaust and makes no noise.
Ever since the Wright Brothers flew the world's first plane more than a century ago, aircraft have typically flown with the help of moving parts such as propellers, turbine blades and fans, and powered by the combustion of fossil fuels or battery packs. "They should be more like the shuttles in 'Star Trek,' that have just a blue glow and silently glide". Assuming the aircraft features a high enough voltage, the vehicle could be propelled through the air using ionic wind. The team demonstrates the brief flights of small, lightweight prototypes featuring this technology in the video above.
According to The Telegraph, the plane looks like something out of Star Trek and runs on batteries.
By contrast, the small plane that flew across an indoor track on the MIT campus this fall was eerily silent. The researchers used batteries and an innovative power converter to create an electrical field along a fine wire.
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Once the wires are energized, they act to attract and strip away negatively charged electrons from the surrounding air molecules, like a giant magnet attracting iron filings. These ions are attracted to negatively charged structures on the plane's other end called collectors.
This stream of ions is generated aboard the aircraft and produces enough thrust to propel the plane over sustained, steady flight.
Barrett also noted that solid state propulsion tends to miniaturise well, and suggested that smaller drones than those now possible with rotor-based flight could take-off using an ionic wind drive in the future.
They also experimented with various plane designs before crafting one of optimal size, shape and weight.
Prof Barrett said: "This was the simplest possible plane we could design that could prove the concept an ion plane could fly".
Before reaching that point, this MIT aircraft could be employed in airplane-like drones for performing several tasks such as environmental monitoring and surveillance. "The nearest term application would be for fixed-wing drones that have wing spans of a few metres to perhaps 20 metres", Barrett said.
Plouraboué said in an email to The Washington Post that the new plane creates "an opening for future progress, in a field which is now going to burst".
"It took a long time to get here", Barrett said.