FLYING — Without combustion or moving parts — IONIC WIND

This topic has little, if anything, to do with gene-environment interactions. Yet — the possibilities and potential applications of this concept might be be a game-changer to our future generations. Anyone who has watched the Star Wars movie series has seen “future cars and other vehicles” floating through the atmosphere — with no signs of moving parts or combustion engine exhaust. Are these vehicles being run by nuclear fission, or nuclear fusion? To our knowledge, the originator of Star Wars George Lucas has never revealed what he was thinking, but “electroaerodynamics” (EAD) is a means of generating propulsive forces in fluids; and one can consider Earth’s atmosphere as “a fluid”.

Ions generated in an ambient fluid (when under the influence of an applied electric field) can be accelerated by the Coulomb Force (A force exerted by stationary objects (with electric charge) — on other stationary objects (with electric charge). If charges are same, then the force is repulsive; if charges are opposite, the force is attractive. The strength of the force is determined in physics by Coulomb’s Law). These ions collide with neutral molecules, and couple the momentum of accelerated ions with the momentum of the bulk fluid. The result is an IONIC WIND — that produces a thrust force in the opposite direction to ion flow. In the attached article [also attached editorials], authors describe the generation of ions, using a corona discharge (a self-sustaining electrical discharge brought on by ionization of a fluid, such as air, surrounding a conductor that is electrically charged). This corona discharge is induced by applying a constant high electric potential across two asymmetric electrodes; high electric fields (near the smaller electrode) accelerate electrons and produce a cascade of ionizations — by successive electron collisions with neutral molecules.

EAD propulsion is a method of manipulating and moving fluids without need for any moving surfaces — which makes it attractive for a number of applications (e.g. heat-transfer enhancement, ion-drag pumps). Additional advantages of being nearly silent and producing no combustion emissions make EAD particularly attractive as a propulsion system for airplanes. EAD could potentially mitigate the harmful impact of current airplane propulsion systems on the environment. In the case of designing drones, EAD could enable the design of quieter, smaller aircraft that interact more closely and innocuously (e.g. no fossil fuel emissions) with the urban environment.

The solid-state nature of EAD could also enable miniaturization to an extent not possible with conventional propulsion. Of course, the feasibility of EAD as a method of propulsion is confronted by the challenges of producing sufficient thrust, while achieving low aircraft drag and weight. Although there have been a number of design proposals for heavier-than-air EAD airplanes, no such aircraft has flown — until this experiment described herein.

Authors [see attached] were able to fly a fixed-wing airplane, having a 5-meter wingspan, ten times, showing that it achieved steady-level flight. All batteries and power systems, including a specifically developed ultralight high-voltage (40-kV) power converter, were carried on-board. This project shows that conventionally accepted limitations in thrust-to-power ratio and thrust density — which were previously thought to make EAD unfeasible as a method of aircraft propulsion — are in fact surmountable..!! Authors have provided a proof-of-concept for EAD airplane propulsion. This watershed experiment (once it can be shown to be reproduced, and expanded upon) opens up enormous possibilities for aircraft and aerodynamic devices that are quieter, mechanically simpler, and are not producing combustion emissions. J

Nature 22 Nov 2o18; 563: 532–535 [article] & pp 476–477 [News’N’Views] & p 443 [Editorial]

COMMENT: Yes, this is a fantastic article. I read this the day my issue of Nature arrived. Totally cool!

In case you’re wondering why it traveled only “~ 50 meters on each flight” (Fig. 3b), note the indoor tennis courts shown in Fig 2; the MIT scientists shut down the ionic wind device, so that it wouldn’t crash into the wall! Note also in the ‘Acknowledgments’ section:

“…we thank the MIT Department of Athletics, Physical Education, and Recreation for access to space for indoor flight testing …” Next, I want to see that device fly across the Charles River!

This entry was posted in Center for Environmental Genetics. Bookmark the permalink.