Video of Ion-Driven Plane in Flight

A few days ago I put up a piece about an article in the I, which reported that scientists at MIT had successfully built and flown a plane propelled by ions. These are charged particles. The plane had a series of electrically charged wires running in front and behind it. These turned the air running between them into a stream of charged particles, which were directed around the plane to propel it through the air.

I found this video of it in flight from the Sci-News channel on YouTube. There’s a brief explanation of the principle behind it, which describes the ionized air which gives the plane thrust as an ionic wind. It then shows the plane moving a short distance without the power switched on. This is then followed by the plane flying a far greater distance using the ionic power system. The video calls it the first solid-state propulsion system, and then describes it as ‘flight without propulsion’. Which sounds like the line about travelling through folding space in Dune: ‘Travelling without motion’. The explanatory blurb for the video states that the system could be used to create cleaner, quieter planes.

It’s a fascinating form of aircraft propulsion, and as I blogged about it the other day, it’s similar to the nuclear thrust engines used on some spacecraft. These use a grid of electrically charged filaments to direct a flow of ions away from the craft to generate thrust, although in this case the charged particles come from a nuclear reactor.

However, I am slightly alarmed by the possibility that this will be used to create silent drones, as mentioned in the I article and by one of the commenters on this video on YouTube. The last thing this planet needs is more refined killing machines, especially drones which are being used to kill civilians, including children – dubbed ‘fun-sized terrorists’ by the American drone pilots. And there is a real dehumanizing effect in using drones in combat. The drone operator is remote, miles away from the carnage they’re inflicting, and so the killing can seem unreal. As one angry trainer remarked when he hauled one operator from the controls for going way to far, ‘This isn’t a computer game’.

Hopefully this technology will be used to produce cleaner, greener, more efficient aircraft, rather than yet more engines of destruction.

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