The plane is propelled via ionic wind. Batteries in the fuselage (tan compartment in front of plane) supply voltage to electrodes (blue/white horizontal lines) strung along the length of the plane, generating a wind of ions that propels the plane forward. (Image: Christine Y. He)

Since the first airplane took flight, virtually every aircraft has flown with the help of moving parts such as propellers, turbine blades, or fans that produce a persistent, whining buzz. MIT has built the first-ever plane with no moving parts that does not depend on fossil fuels, but rather an “ionic wind” — a silent but mighty flow of ions that is produced aboard the plane, and that generates enough thrust to propel the plane over a sustained, steady flight.

The design resembles a large, lightweight glider. The aircraft weighs about 5 pounds and has a 5-meter wingspan. Currently, flying the lightweight plane requires a large area of electrodes, which essentially makes up the plane’s propulsion system. Ideally, an aircraft with no visible propulsion system or separate controls surfaces such as rudders and elevators could be built.