International Field Research Effort Tackles Engine Icing

 - June 3, 2014, 1:40 AM

An international field research campaign led by Airbus and NASA has gathered a wealth of data on icing conditions in convective weather, especially on ice crystals that cause engine icing. The eight-week effort ended in March in Darwin, Australia, and the researchers expect to publish their report early next year. The partners in the project hope to gain a better understanding of icing conditions that will allow them to devise mathematical models for equipment manufacturers to use when designing detection systems. The research should also help civil aviation authorities shape more suitable certification standards.

The field effort involved researchers from two programs: high-altitude ice crystals (HAIC) and high ice water content (HIWC), funded by the European Union and NASA, respectively. A modified Dassault Falcon 20 carried the project’s various sensors aloft, among them a NASA-supplied probe that measured the total water content of clouds carrying high concentrations of ice crystals in the vicinity of oceanic and continental thunderstorms. Another sensor was a multibeam Doppler radar, which provided 3-D characterization of the dynamic and microphysical properties of ice clouds. A camera took photos of the crystals. In fact, the Falcon could not carry all the sensors simultaneously.

In addition to the two pilots, the aircraft carried two or three scientists. The Falcon was most often flying near the clouds, as opposed to into them. One goal of the research was to understand what happens when the pilots believe they are avoiding risk by simply staying out of a cloud, said Michel Guérard, Airbus v-p for product safety operations. Although technical glitches on the engines–unrelated to the flying environment–foreshortened the campaign slightly, “the objectives were broadly met,” he told AIN.

In the second half of this year, researchers will conduct a follow-on data collection campaign in South America. In 2016, Airbus plans to fly one of its aircraft equipped with a crystal icing detection system. The promoters of the HAIC/HIWC project also hope to improve NASA’s existing icing wind tunnel and to build one in Europe.

They emphasize the experiment will provide the first modern extensive data set of the core and non-core areas of tropical oceanic deep convection and less vigorous tropical continental convection. “The research compiled during the flight campaign will build on or redefine what we know about ice crystal icing at high altitudes,” said Tom Ratvasky, the NASA Glenn project scientist supporting the campaign.