Silent plane with no moving parts make historic flight

Silent plane with no moving parts make historic flight

PARIS - The blue glowing jets of science fiction spacecraft came a step closer to reality on Wednesday as US physicists unveiled the world’s first solid-state aeroplane powered in flight by supercharged air molecules.

More than a century on from the Wright brothers’ first artificial flight, scientists hailed the "historic" test of the new technology, which could eventually slash greenhouse-gas emissions from aviation.

Ever since Orville and Wilbur Wright’s momentous glide in the winter of 1903, aircraft have been driven by propellers or jets that must burn fuel to create the thrust and lift needed for sustained flight.

A team of experts from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology managed to unlock a process known as electroaerodynamics, previously never seen as a plausible way to power an aircraft.

They were able to fly the new plane, with a wingspan of five metres (16 feet), a distance of 55 metres at a speed of 4.8 metres-per-second.

That’s hardly supersonic, but the implications of this unprecedented mode of flight could be stratospheric. "The future of flight shouldn’t be things like propellers and turbines," said Steven Barrett, who designed the prototype.

"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."

At first glance, the plane itself doesn’t look lightyears away from other renewable aircraft, such as the Solar Impact II craft that in 2015-16 used energy from the Sun to fly around the world.

Unlike Solar Impact, Barrett’s plane doesn’t have any propellers or solar panels -- or any moveable parts whatsoever.

Instead of engines, it is powered by a system comprising two main sections.

At the front of the plane sit a series of parallel electrodes made up of lightweight wires that produce an enormous voltage -- +20,000v -- supercharging the air around it and splitting away negatively charged nitrogen molecules known as ions.

At the plane’s rear are rows of aerofoils set to -20,000v. The ions automatically move from a positive to negative charge, dragging with them air particles that create the so-called "ionic wind" to provide the aircraft with lift. - APP/AFP