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Electroaerodynamic (EAD) propulsion has the potential to offer solid state, near-silent, highly distributed thrust.
While the effect has been known about for over a century, interest has increased because of work at the MIT Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics in 2013 that indicated that EAD propulsion may be an efficient means of propulsion.
Subsequent research indicates that EAD propelled vehicles may be viable at least at the small-UAV scale, and potentially larger. Current efforts focus on a fixed wing demonstrator, which aims be the first untethered flight of an air vehicle that is electroaerodynamically propelled. If successful, this would be the first flight test of new form of air-breathing propulsion for almost 30 years (since the scramjet).
The outlook for EAD propulsion remains highly uncertain. However, recent theoretical and experimental work at MIT indicates that it does have the potential to perform well at high altitude and may offer sufficient thrust density for a variety of purposes.
Beyond a first demonstration flight, research is also directed towards surface thrusters — so that the majority of an air vehicle’s surface can contribute to propulsion, acting almost like a slipstream for the aircraft.