Scientists Create “Star Trek” Airplane That Doesn’t Need Fuel

By Mark Horowitz

Scientists working at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) announced that they developed an airplane that flies without propellers or jet engines, so it requires no fuel.

The team of researchers that developed the aircraft say that it works using a propulsion system that is “quieter, and mechanically simpler” than other designs that are currently on the market.

Steven Barrett, one of the scientists on the team, 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.”

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Development on the mindblowing aircraft began in 2016, and they already have a working prototype. The prototype has a wingspan of roughly 16 feet and weighs around 5.4 pounds.

The plane’s wings are covered with thin electrodes, and the body of the plane is created aerodynamically with a curved surface at the back to give the airplane more lift.

There are wires all over the plane that are charged to a positive 20,000 vaults, while an aerofoil at the back is charged to negative 20,000 volts.

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, which creates an ionic wind that gives the airplane enough thrust to move through the air.

“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,” Barrett told IFLScience. “Like the force you get if you rub a balloon on your head.”

The researchers say that they have carried out 10 test flights with the aircraft. During the test flights, the airplane flew about, in which the plane flew nearly 200 feet in 12 seconds.

Barrett said that this technology is not ready for commercial use yet, but hopefully, someday it might be.

“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.

The researchers involved with the project hope that this invention can someday eliminate the need for fuels in air travel.

In 2019, around 18.27 billion gallons of fuel were consumed by U.S. airlines, compared to a high of 18.43 billion gallons in 2007.

While the consumption of airline fuel in the United States has increased in recent years, it is yet to surpass the levels seen prior to the 2008 recession.

Their research was published in the scientific journal Nature.


Mark Horowitz is a graduate of Brandeis University with a degree in political science. Horowitz could have had a job at one of the top media organizations in the United States, but when working as an intern, he found that the journalists in the newsroom were confined by the anxieties and sensibilities of their bosses. Horowitz loved journalism, but wanted more freedom to pursue more complex topics than you would find on the evening news. Around the same time, he began to notice that there was a growing number of independent journalists developing followings online by sharing their in-depth analysis of advanced or off-beat topics. It wasn’t long before Horowitz quit his internship with a large New York network to begin publishing his own material online.

Image: IFLScience

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