Air travel is the safest, speediest way to get from one place to another, but you know what would make it even better? If planes didn’t have to worry about pesky engines and messy fuel. I mean, if a plane could just go we’d all be better off, right? Well leave it to MIT to come up with a solution.
A new paper by researchers from the institute describes how they managed to build a plane that flies without a traditional propulsion system. The concept model, which weights just over five pounds, relies on what is known as electroaerodynamic propulsion to generate wind, and thereby lift, while also pushing the vehicle forward. It’s like magic, only it’s science.
As MIT Technology Review explains, the concept has actually been around for decades already, but putting the idea into action is harder than it sounds.
The system requires a pair of electrodes, one positioned in front of the other. By pumping large electric voltage into one electrode and allowing ions to form in the air and flow from one electrode to the other. As the charged particles slam into other air molecules it creates wind which then flows over the plane’s wings and the plane goes airborne.
If this sounds wild it’s actually a technology that you might be familiar with without even realizing it. If you’ve ever seen a bladeless fan, where air flows through a hoop with nothing pushing it along, that’s the same idea. In this case, the air is hitting an aircraft’s wings instead of your face.
As you can see from the video, the concept plane is rather small and incredibly light. This isn’t a technology that could actually replace propellers or jet engines any time soon, but the scientists believe there’s still ways it could benefit air travelers. If a system based on electroaerodynamic propulsion were added to a traditional passenger jet it could significantly improve fuel efficiency.