De-icing Systems of the Aircraft
De-icing is a very important procedure that removes snow, ice, and frost from the skin of an aircraft. De-icing may come in the form of mechanical methods, heat, chemicals, or combinations of the three to create an ice protection system. This is critical for both the safety of the aircraft, as well as those within them as ice can affect the aerodynamic properties of the aircraft, damage engines, and cause issues that can warrant delays and danger. In this blog, we will discuss a few of the common methods and de-icing technologies that aircraft utilize, as well as the advantages and disadvantages of each.
Chemical de-icers are commonly used on commercial airlines, and they typically come in the form of de-icing fluids that are sprayed across the skin of the aircraft before a flight operation. Chemical de-icers are sprayed to melt frozen fluids and prevent water’s ability to bind by lowering their freezing point. These various chemicals and compounds may also vary in their power and effect. Once all frozen fluids are removed by a heated chemical spray, an anti-icing agent is then sprayed across the skin to prevent reformation. While this is effective, it is a very time sensitive process that must be done as the aircraft is ready to depart so that there is not enough time for fluids to freeze once again before other de-icing technologies take over.
During flight, there is a variety of equipment that make up the ice protection system. Pneumatic de-ice boots are common on low speed aircraft and are located on the leading edges of the wing and tail where ice formation is most common. To remove buildup of ice, rubber coverings of the boot inflate on intervals which cause the ice to crack and fall off. The advantages of this system is that it is automatically controlled and uses compressor bleed air. Nevertheless, the de-ice boot may increase stalling speed and is ineffective at the removal of ice behind the boot.
Bleed air itself may also be harnessed for deicing on the leading edge surfaces of wings, engine inlets, and air data probes. This warm bleed air is directed from the engine into a cavity beneath the icy surface. This causes the area to warm up past the freezing point of water, melting ice and preventing reformation. The main disadvantages of this system include the need for optimal timing, as activation that is too late can cause ice to melt into the engines or running the risk of a runback.
De-icing technologies such as an electrically heated surface may also be used, protecting surfaces such as the windshield from buildup to preserve pilot visibility. These surfaces function regardless of engine operation, and they may be reliable as long as there is a source of electricity. Electrically heated surfaces are fairly effective at maintaining clear vision of pilots and melting ice on other equipment, but they may cause damage to sensitive areas if left on during ground operations and are unable to prevent ice buildup on larger surfaces on the wings or tail.
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