The objective is to experiment with the lifter/ionocraft technology modeled on the work of Transdimensional Technologies (whose former website was http://www.tdimension.com though it no longer exists.) Lifters are also called ionocraft, but the original name for the three sided, aluminum foil craft was lifter so I'll call it that most of the time.
The lifter is a typically triangular shaped, lightweight device capable of lifting its own weight. However, it cannot also lift the weight of its high voltage power supply that powers it. The basic components are two conductive electrodes, one having a sharp edge (usually a very thin, bare copper wire on the order of 30 to 50 AWG/gauge), and the other having a smooth edge (usually aluminium foil.) The rigid structure is typically make of very thin balsa wood sticks (around 2mm or 1/16" thick) or straws. Glues such as krazy glue (filler type) or cyanoacrylate are very effective for holding it together while not requiring much and also being lightweight.
Voltages needed to power it are typically 20kV and higher. Most experimenters use a modified computer monitor as the high voltage power supply as most are capable of supplying around 28kV. Note that the power supply must also be able to supply a useful amount of electrical current since the top wire will be either leaking or collecting electrons as it ionizes the surrounding air. This requirement means your average Van de Graaff generator or Wimshurst machine may not be able to make it fly since they supply only low microamps of current.
Devices, Experiments and Calculations
Tips for getting your lifter to fly
The number one tip for getting a lifter to work is to run it in complete darkness, while taking all safety precautions such as turning on the lights and discharging the high voltage before making any adjustments. In complete darkness you can see the corona. If only one side is rising, you'll see corona only on that side. Adjust the wires so that the other sides are getting corona at the wires too. In the photo on the left below you can see corona along one side and at the corners for the other sides.
As shown below, the wires should be as directly above the foil as possible.
If you're really having problems, try making the wire dip down along the middle of each side so that the corona is mostly along the middle. If you don't then most of the corona will be at the corners, which also works.
As shown in the photo below, the wire feeding power to the foil should be the grounded wire. That's because the table is also grounded and so the wire and table won't interact with each other electrically too much.
Depending on how you shape these wires, they can also produce downward pressure on the lifter, preventing it from flying. This is another thing you can play around with to get it to fly.
The following is a video of how I make my lifters.
How a lifter works
The lifter works using a form of ion propulsion. The key is having two electrically charged objects of opposite polarity, one that's sharp and one that's smooth. In the lifter the sharp one is the wire and the smooth one is the smooth top edge of the foil (it may work with the top edge of the foil cut sharp too, but it doesn't work as well and the charge is spread a bit along its surface too so it's not considered as sharp as the wire.)
The sharp wire ionizes the surrounding air and the smoother foil doesn't, or not as much. The ionized air moves toward the smoother foil and bumps into neutral molecules on the way, transfering momentum to the neutral molecules. It's that transfer that causes the lifter to move back in the direction the ions came from.
The neutral molecules and some ionized air is what makes up the downward flowing wind that is detectable in smoke tests, the ion wind.
There is some dispute about this. Everything is claimed from antigravity, ether reaction forces to more conventional ion wind and ion cloud theories. It's claimed that the ion wind theory has been disproven with experimentally verified mathematics a few times as giving insufficient thrust. However, as you can see from the smoke test shown on the right (and more on the lifter wind tests page), there is clearly a great deal of downward airflow, mostly through the middle. The possible error in this disproof is that the experimental verification was made by measuring only the downward wind below the lifter. That doesn't take into account the downward moving air molecules that run out of momentum on the way down as more and more collisions occur. Ultimately a lot of the molecules' downward momentum is lost to heat i.e. it results in random motion.
The theory that has the most experimentally verified mathematical support is the ion cloud theory, which accounts for those molecules which did not make it all the way down. See Leon Tribe's calculations though others have also provided mathematical support for this theory.
Video - How Ion Propulsion, Lifters and Ionocrafts Work
Here's a video I made showing in detail how this ion propulsion for lifters or ionocraft work.
The following shows how I measure the lifter voltage and current, including the setup, as well as observing airflow by doing a smoke test with an incense stick. To measure the high voltage I use my Fluke 80K-40. The power supply used is my homemade 30kV high voltage power supply.
WARNING: The high voltage power supply needed for lifters or ionocrafts also puts out a dangerous amount of electrical current. It needs to do this in order to keep creating the ions for flying. This amount of current and voltage can cause injury or kill. Do not do this unless you know what you are doing and take proper safety precautions.
There are three places to get high voltage power supplies:
Also, click here for tips and tricks on high voltage wiring which I've come up with over the years.