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E&M Final Project: Ion Glider

 The original idea came from watching several YouTube videos about creating ion engines or motors. In these videos, two YouTubers were competing to create the most powerful solid-state ion engine. Eventually, one YouTuber was able to get a design that would work and fit well with plane wings. The channel is called “The Plasma Channel,” and his design is shown in the video: Designing A Self-Propelling Ionic Thrust Wing. While the purpose of his design is to place it on a completely ion-powered plane, I thought it could be possible to create a similarly designed thruster and place it on a glider in an attempt to boost its glide range - an intermediate step to Plasma Channel’s goal. 



Basic Design

For the sake of time and energy, rather than designing my own glider, I decided to browse the internet for appropriate 3D printable/Foam glider designs. The design I landed on is called “Glider” and is made by a user called “pachek” on - you can find it here. Once I had my platform, I had to now dive into ion motor design and wiring. Starting from the thrusters themselves, they work by using corona discharge to push charged ions in the air, creating thrust. Corona discharge relies on having one sharp electrode and one round electrode; my design uses serrated razor blades for this sharp electrode and light aluminum tubing for round one. When the electrodes are exposed to a high potential current, particles near the sharp electrode ionize quickly, allowing the arc that is produced to be spread around a large length and create thrust at the same time. To create this high-potential current, I used something called “High Voltage Generators' ' which, in reality, are just simple taser cartridges - ouch. These cartridges were powered by a 3S lipo battery, which is controlled by a radio receiver. 



The design of the actual thrusters is quite simple, as can be seen below. However, it should be noted that it took nine iterations before I was able to get the right size and width for corona discharge to occur. Once I finalized the motor design, I created two simple motor mounts that slotted around a wing segment to secure the thrusters; these mounts can also be found below.



Final Design

Eventually, after several different Ion thruster versions, I was able to get one with the right spacing to create corona discharge. Using this model, I printed around nine more thrusters for assembly. Then, I printed the mounts and all the plane parts to completely assemble the glider - however, I refrained from attaching the thrusters to do one final test before locking everything in.


Final Test

For the final test, I wired all the motors and thrusters, connecting them to the battery and high-voltage generator, as seen here. Putting the blades in the same position as the successful test, I eventually completed the circuit to see if they would all work in conjunction… they did not, and I fired several high voltage generators before I got any arcing, which unfortunately was normal and not a corona discharge. Troubleshooting this, I tried to assemble and adjust the position of everything to get the results from the earlier test to occur, but I was sadly unable to replicate the results with the time I had allotted in E&M class.  

Successful Test:



Moving Forward

As I move forward with this project over the summer, my primary focus will be on troubleshooting and refining the ion thrusters to consistently achieve corona discharge, as this is crucial for the successful operation of the glider. I plan to revisit the electrode configurations and explore alternative materials that may offer better ionization properties and durability. Additionally, I will conduct a series of controlled experiments to determine the optimal electrode spacing and alignment, ensuring reliable thrust generation. I'll ensure to set realistic goals and timelines for these improvements to keep the project on track. Engaging with other enthusiasts on forums or collaborating with a mentor who has experience in aerodynamics or electrical engineering could provide additional insights and help overcome technical challenges more efficiently.

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