Imagine an airplane engine that has no moving parts, gives no harmful exhaust and makes no noise. That's what researchers…
Imagine an airplane engine that has no moving parts, gives no harmful exhaust and makes no noise. That’s what researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the United States have created by adapting a technology that was previously used only in spacecraft so that it can operate airplanes.
Ion units have been used on spacecraft since the 1960s and work by pushing out a stream of charged particles that propel the ship forward. In addition to being carbon neutral, they are less likely to go wrong and cheaper to maintain than conventional engines because they have no propellers, turbines or fuel pumps to break down. The only problem was that in the earth’s gravity it was not enough to overcome the importance of the batteries needed to drive them. Up until now.
The current new research, published in Nature paves the way for silence drones in the near future. With further advances in material and power conversion, silent crew airplanes and eventually commercial flights can also be on the horizon. In fact, this breakthrough can be the first step in changing how we all fly around the world in the future.
All airplane engines work by pushing backwards so the craft moves forward. Usually this air is if cold air is powered by electric propellers or hot air fired by jet engines. Ion propulsion instead sends out charged particles or ions generated in the gap between two high voltage voltages between them. The ions interact with the air and create an ion wind that is sent backward and drives the aircraft forward.
As with propelled solar powered aircraft, railway vessels are powered by electricity and therefore do not need to transport fuel other than batteries filled with charged particles. The new survey shows that with some smart battery change and how the power is converted, it is possible to lower the battery weight sufficiently to allow this technology to fly.
A boat with the ion device also needs a large front area to properly generate the ion wind. But it would usually make the aircraft heavier, so the researchers must balance these conflicting constraints. They designed a wing tip that was small enough to reduce the risk and make the test cheaper and easier while being large enough to use standard remote control components.
The researchers flew 10 flights with an aircraft with a five-meter wing, weighing less than 2.5 kilos. They could fly it for up to nine seconds at a distance of 45 meters at a speed of five meters per second. The craftsman needed about 20 seconds to build up his power and then launched with a mechanical bungee system.
Although this flight time and distance may not seem the same, scientists point out that they actually resemble them. The first aircraft invented Wright Brothers 1903. Making further advances in materials and power electronics, and optimization of the aircraft could make it possible for the ship to fly faster and longer. It may also be possible to use solar panels to generate the power needed to drive the drive.
One of the major advantages of a self-propelled craft is its near zero levels of noise. So it’s likely that the technology will find its first application in silent drones. Its lack of moving parts should make it relatively easy to scale the system down for smaller boats and make it easier to scale up. But larger crafts also need a bigger boost. Building a jondriven airline would have to increase the amount of power in relation to the size of the boat 300 times.
But see how far we have come since Wright Brothers first flight. Heaven may be the limit of this new technology.
Jason Knight is a senior teacher in fluid mechanics at the University of Portsmouth, United Kingdom
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