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Scientists Have Created A Plane That Flies Using Ion Thrusters And No Fuel

Saman Javed



Scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have created a plane which flights without propellers or jet engines, meaning it uses no fuel.

The team said the electro aerodynamic-powered plane uses a propulsion system to fly, which opens up possibilities for aircrafts that are ‘quieter, mechanically simpler’ and do not produce fossil fuel emissions.


One of the researchers, Steven Barrett, said the future of flight ‘shouldn’t be things with propellers and turbines’.

‘[It] should be more like what you see in Star Trek, with a kind of blue glow and something that silently glides through the air,’ he said.

Take a look at the plane here:


The aircraft, which was created over the course of two years from 2016–2018, has a wingspan of 5 metres and weighs around 2.45 kilograms.

A number of thin electrodes run across the plans wings, while the back of the plane has a curved surface, called an aerofoil, to produce the lift that happens in a regular plane wing.

There are also thin wires at the front of the plane, which as charged to positive 20,000 vaults. The aerofoil at the back is charged to negative 20,000 volts, creating a strong electric field.

As for how the plane works, at the front of the plane, electrons are removed from nitrogen molecules in the air to produce ions. These are then accelerated towards the back, creating an ionic wind as they go which gives the plane thrust to move through the air.


Speaking to IFLScience, Barrett said:

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.

Scientists have carried out 10 test flights of the aircraft, in which the plane flew around 60 metres in 12 seconds. At this speed, it has a thrust efficiency of 2.6%.


The group said that as the speed increases, the efficiency of the thrusts would also increase. In theory, when moving at 670 miles per hour, the plane could be 50% efficient.

The mechanics behind the aircraft are similar to how ion engines are used in spacecrafts.


While the plane is still only a prototype, scientists believe that the future possibilities are very promising.


Barrett said that in the future, the system could be used to power small, silent drones as they would not need noisy propellers.

‘I don’t yet know whether you’ll see large aircraft carrying people any time soon, but obviously I’d be very excited if that was the case,’ he said.

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Topics: Science, Airplane, Carbon Emissions, MIT, Now


IFLScience and 1 other
  1. IFLScience

    Scientists Have Created A Star Trek-Like Plane That Flies Using "Ion Thrusters" And No Fuel

  2. MIT

    MIT engineers fly first-ever plane with no moving parts

Saman Javed
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