The first ever “solid state” plane, with no moving parts in its propulsion system, has successfully flown for a distance of 60 metres, proving that heavier-than-air flight is possible without jets or propellers.
The solid state plan represents a breakthrough in “ionic wind” technology, which uses a powerful electric field to generate charged nitrogen ions, which are then expelled from the back of the aircraft, generating thrust. Steven Barrett, an aeronautics professor at MIT and the lead author of the study published in the journal Nature looked into what physics might make flight with no moving parts possible, and came across a concept known as the ionic wind, with was first investigated in the 1920s although no progress at first, then in 1950s, researchers concluded it wouldn't work for plans but he researched on his own with graduate students improved ways it could be optimised. In the immediate future, the MIT team hope to increase the range and speed of the plane, primarily by scaling up the size of the overall machine. Potential applications in the short term include unmanned drones, where silent flight may be beneficial, and high-altitude solar-powered flight, where the lack of moving parts could allow such a plane to soar for years on end, acting as a pseudo-satellite. In the longer term, the ability to power flight purely through electricity opens up the possibility of carbon-neutral flight, which could lower the emissions of the aviation industry globally.