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Volume 563 Issue 7732, 22 November 2018

A first for flight

For more than 100 years, aeroplanes have taken flight thanks to engine-based propellers and turbines, mostly powered by fossil fuels. In this week’s issue, Steven Barrett and his colleagues reveal an alternative: a plane powered by a near-silent engine that has no moving parts. Solid-state propulsion systems use electric fields to ionize the molecules in the air, which then collide with neutral molecules, resulting in an ionic wind that generates thrust. It had been thought that thrust-to-power limitations would prevent such systems from propelling planes but the researchers demonstrate this is not so with the sustained flight of a solid-state aeroplane. Weighing 2.45 kilograms, the plane has a 5-metre wingspan and carries a battery stack and power converter that produces around 500 watts. In the test flights, the plane achieved a thrust-to-power ratio comparable to that of a jet engine, although the overall efficiency was lower. This proof of concept opens up possibilities for electroaerodynamic propulsion, which could lead to quieter, low-emissions aeroplanes.

Cover image: Christina Y. He

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    Aeroplanes use propellers and turbines, and are typically powered by fossil-fuel combustion. An alternative method of propelling planes has been demonstrated that does not require moving parts or combustion.

    • Franck Plouraboué
  • News & Views |

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    This Perspective discusses developments in LED-based solid-state lighting for physiological and agricultural applications, and the anticipated benefits in terms of health and productivity.

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    A solid-state propulsion system can sustain powered flight, as demonstrated by an electroaerodynamically propelled heavier-than-air aeroplane.

    • Haofeng Xu
    • Yiou He
    • Steven R. H. Barrett
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    Organic light-emitting devices containing radical emitters can achieve an efficiency of 27 per cent at deep-red and infrared wavelengths based on the excitation of spin doublets, rather than singlet or triplet states.

    • Xin Ai
    • Emrys W. Evans
    • Feng Li
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    The carboxy terminus of human UDP-α-d-glucose-6-dehydrogenase is structurally disordered, but has sequence-independent effects on the conformation of the enzyme and binding of an allosteric inhibitor, suggesting a reason for the persistence of intrinsically disordered peptide segments in the proteome.

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    • Zachary A. Wood

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