In 2018, MIT professor, Steven Barrett, made a demo plane that flies on ionic engine. It flew for 60m inside the gym. It was said to be the first flight with no moving parts thanks to its ion engine (despite the controversial claim made by Ethan Krauss who filed self contained ion base flight in 2014).

It works by laying out copper electrode and a thick tube of aluminum on a pair on top of the wing. Running electricity creates a movement in ionized molecules pushing the surrounding air to create wind.

Ion flight comes with several benefits:

  1. Low Maintainence/Manufacturing Cost
  • In contrary to turbine base engine with heavy mechanical rotation. Not to mention the heat. Parts are therefore prone to wear and tear.
  • It will likely drop the price of manufacturing as well. With the modern electric cars, the argument goes; the parts required is far less than the gasolin cars since there's no need to move heat energy to mechanical energy. The result is much lower manufacturing cost.

2. Environmentally Friendly

  • It is obvious. We are going carbon neutral society. Europe is banning gasoline cars by 2035. That seems technically feasible given how popular Tesla is already to the consumers. That's not so, in case of flight. Unlike cars, flying needs to carefully consider the weight to energy ratio. If it contains more batteries to boost power, it will be too heavy to fly. Lithium ion batteries are not said to hold enough power to take off commercial planes even in decades to come.
  • Ion base engine produces zero carbon dioxide. It is clean. We might be able to reach carbon neutral goal.

3. Quieter

  • We've become accustomed to the noise. But noise pollution in the city is a serious concern.
  • FAA banned supersonic in 1973 because of its sonic boom noise. The same thing can be said around the airports. One of the reasons airports are located far apart from the city (often 20-30km) is its noisy concern for neighborhood.
  • This quieter alternative will enable much better integrated in-city usages of the flight capacity.

4. Possibility of Far Better Energy Efficiency

  • Ionic wind produces 110 newtons of thrust per kilowatt, compared with a jet engine’s 2 newtons per kilowatt (self-tested report from the MIT team)
  • That has theoretical improvement of 55 fold.

In the Nature YouTube, it's spun controversial discussion. Some claim the energy efficiency is way too low compared to carbon fuel and it will never spin out practicality. The other claims it's unsafe because it creates Ozon and the ion flight will never be used in the city like drones. It seems that the idea is not attractive to those who did it for their science fairs in their childhood.

In the short term, being able to create enough thrust for takeoff seems the largest obstacle.