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expert reaction to ionic wind air travel

Researchers publishing in Nature have demonstrated an aircraft with no moving parts where thrust is generated by an ionic wind system.


Prof Guy Gratton, aerospace engineer, and visiting professor at Cranfield University, said:

“This is very clever application of the principle of ion thrusters to an aircraft, using high voltages to ionise then accelerate the air at high speeds.  So far they have only been used on spacecraft, usually to help a satellite stay in position in orbit.

“It’s clearly very early days: but the team at MIT have done something we never previously knew was possible, in using accelerated ionised gas to propel an aircraft.  Aeronautical Engineers around the world are already trying hard to find ways to use electric propulsion, and this technology will offer something else that in the future may allow manned and unmanned aircraft to be more efficient, and non-polluting.  In particular, the fact that they have already got this out of the laboratory, and flown a battery driven model aircraft – albeit so far on a very small and controlled scale – is very exciting.

“Ion Thrusters were first suggested by Star Trek in the 1960s, but developed for real by scientists and engineers in the USA and at Britain’s Royal Aircraft Establishment at Farnborough.  They are only able to produce very low amounts of thrust, but are extremely efficient because they accelerate particles to an extremely high speed using electricity, rather than having to burn any kind of fuel.”


 ‘Flight of an aeroplane with solid-state propulsion’ by Haofeng Xu et al. was published in Nature at 6pm UK time on Wednesday 21 November.


Declared interests

None received.

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