Engineers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) said they were able to successfully navigate the first "solid" airplane that has no moving parts and is not based on fossil fuels to fly.
Flight is a milestone in "wind ion" technology and could pave the way for quieter and greener aircraft in the future, engineers said when they published their findings in Nature magazine on Wednesday.
"This is the first flight sustained by an airplane without moving parts in the propulsion system," said Steven Barrett, Associate Professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics at MIT, according to the research center's research office. "It has opened new and unexplored possibilities for aircraft that are quieter, simpler and less fuel efficient."
Almost 115 years ago, the Wright Brothers made history by launching the first flight ever made by man – a work that inaugurated a new era of human domination of the sky.
Since the first flight, most aircraft have been based on moving parts, such as propellers or turbines, to transport them through the air.
Not so much for the MIT team plan that has been developed around the concept of "ionic wind" or electrodynamic pushing.
To make the flight, a battery pack of fuselage board fed 20,000 volts of electricity into a series of cables attached to the plane under the wing. The electric field created a stream of nitrogen from the yarns to the rods behind the plane, which was strong enough to generate enough effort for a sustained flight.
Barrett, who is the lead author of the project, said the idea of the ionic plane came from the Star Trek TV series. As a kid, Barret was inspired by the shutters who slid in silence without moving parts.
This fascination led Barrett to the concept of ionic wind, which dates from the 1920s.
The team designed a lightweight aircraft, weighing about five kilograms, with a five-meter wing. Testing the design inside a gym, the team flew the plane at a distance of 60 meters, a work that was repeated 10 times.
The MIT team hopes to develop their ionic plan so they can cover more time with less tension. In closer terms, the project may have applications in making smaller aircraft, such as drones, less noisy.
"This was the simplest possible plane we could design, which could prove the concept that an ionic plane could fly," Barrett told MIT news. "It's still far from an aircraft that could do a useful job. It has to be more efficient, fly more, and fly out."