What MIT’s Ion Aircraft Means to the Drone Industry

When we think about the future of drone integration into the national airspace, especially for package delivery, one topic very few have thought about is how will this effect noise pollution?

The majority of drones to date have loud propellers, in some cases like octocopters, many loud propellers. This could be a problem when there are multiple flights happening at once within the low altitude airspace. Imagine looking up in the sky and seeing three, four, or five Amazon drones delivering packages to your neighbors hearing the propellers constantly buzzing by.

MIT is working on this issue with their silent aircraft that has no moving parts. How can that be? An aircraft with no moving parts you say, that’s impossible?

Well here is how it works.

In the 1920s a physical principle identified a way to have wind pass between a thin and thick electrode. If there is the right amount of voltage applied, it theoretically can produce thrust to propel a smaller aircraft. Spring forward to MIT associate professor of aeronautics, Steven Barrett. Barrett believes “in the long-term future, planes shouldn’t have propellers and turbines, they should be more like shuttles like in ‘Star Trek,’ that have just a blue glow and silently glide.”

Barrett and his MIT team took a 5 pound aircraft, carrying wires and batteries and flew it indoors for 60 meters multiple times. This simple aircraft proved the concept.

An aircraft can be propelled by ions flowing towards negatively charged wires, having the ion collide millions of times with air molecules, thus creating thrust.

This project has huge potential in the unmanned aircraft space, where in denser populated areas, noise pollution could become a larger issue in the near future.



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