Scientists create a Star Trek-like plane that uses zero fuel and ‘silently glides through the air’ thanks to ion thrusters
Star Trek fans, listen up! Scientists have developed a Star Trek-like plane that uses ‘ion thrusters’ and no fuel at all!
The futuristic jet is powered by ion thrusters instead of fuel like conventional aircraft, IFL Science reports.
Steven Barrett from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) published his work process in Nature. In the paper, Barrett described in detail how he and his team came up with the idea of creating an electroaerodynamic-powered plane.
In a video interview, the Professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics says:
“The future of flight shouldn’t be things with propellers and turbines and should be more like what you see in Star Trek, with a kind of blue glow and something that silently glides through the air.”
Although the Star Trek franchise originates from the 1960s, our technology was not advanced enough to make the building of such an innovative fuel-free plane possible. Until now.
While conducting elaborate tests between 2016 and 2018, the MIT team used an aircraft with a wingspan of 5m(16 ft) that weighed 2.45kg(5.4lbs). Its wings are covered up in electrodes, which create a strong electric field. This way, they produce an ionic wind, which gives the plane thrust. Prof. Barrett explains:
“The basic idea is that if you ionize air, which means removing an electron from it, you can accelerate the air with an electric field. Like the force you get if you rub a balloon on your head.”
During the ten probing flights, the plane successfully flew about 60m(200ft) in about 12 seconds. The trust efficiency was estimated to be about 2.6%. However, as the speed increases, the efficiency of the system increases as well, exactly like a regular jet.
The experts working on the cutting-edge technology used a technique similar to how ion engines are used in some spacecraft to travel through space. The main difference is that while those spacecraft rely on ionizing fuel, the Star Trek-like plane does not require propellant.
By 2018, the futuristic plane was only a prototype. However, it has a tremendous potential to become a real game-changer way before the 23rd century.
For now, the team works on implementing the thrust system into powering drones. The aeronautics expert says:
“Drones today are quite noisy and irritating. Now, we wouldn’t want our urban environments to be polluted by all this noise, so developing a way of propelling drones that’s silent or near-silent would be advantageous in that context.”
Of course, more tests are about to follow in the coming years to perfect the Star Trek-like plane technology. After all, as Captain Jean-Luc Picard once said, “Things are only impossible until they’re not.”