Manned aircraft are sprayed with deicing fluid before taking to the skies in cold weather. Once in the air, pilots continuously monitor the aircraft just in case further deicing efforts are needed. Unfortunately, deicing is not so easy in the arena of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). So it is no surprise that the aerospace community is excited to hear about new technology coming out of Norway.
The technology makes UVAs safer by continuously monitoring for ice buildup and, when necessary, automatically deploying mitigation procedures. As use of the technology expands, UAVs will no longer be limited to warmer climates and seasonal flights.
Continuous Monitoring In-Flight
According to a recent analysis by Janes, most UAVs are designed to be utilized in warm climate regions like the Middle East. In cases where a UAV might have to fly under conditions conducive to icing, the most common strategy for preventing problems is to simply wait until conditions improve. Such limits might no longer be necessary thanks to the new Norwegian technology.
The system, developed by UBIQ Aerospace, is a multi-functional system that approaches icing from multiple fronts. The first thing it does is continually monitor atmospheric conditions for any signs that icing might become a problem. If conditions warrant, atmospheric monitoring automatically boots up a deicing system built into the aircraft’s structure.
That system begins secondary monitoring designed to determine whether or not ice is building up on the aircraft. At the point that ice accumulation is enough to pose a threat to the vehicle, a mitigation system is activated. The surface of the vehicle is heated to loosen the ice just enough so that it flies off by itself.
Aerospace Survives on Sensors
An autonomous deicing system is big news for the aerospace industry. Right off the bat, it changes the way engineers and flight planners think about UAVs. Eliminating icing problems opens the door to significantly more flight time along with flights in areas that were previously avoided. But why stop there?
Aerospace survives on sensors in the 21st century. As such, it is easy to see how the same technology could be adapted for manned aircraft. An autonomous deicing system could either completely replace current systems or act as supplemental systems to provide additional redundancy.
The beauty of automated systems is their ability to make aircraft safer by eliminating human error. Of course, autonomous systems are not necessarily error-free themselves. But they are less likely to encounter the kinds of errors that often lead to drastic results – especially when proper redundancy is built in.
Giant Flying Sensors
At Rock West Solutions in California, developing sensors for aerospace applications is daily work. They say that modern aircraft are more like giant flying sensors than actual airplanes. They are essentially sensors with wings.
It would be interesting to take a World War I pilot and place him in the cockpit of a modern fighter. Likewise with a pilot who flew during the earliest days of commercial aviation. Put that same pilot in the cockpit of a Boeing 787 Max and he would be blown away by the number of sensors that keep the plane in the air.
Even the comparably smaller UAVs this post refers to are pretty much sensors with wings. The vehicles are almost always used for surveillance, requiring all sorts of sensors for monitoring everything from electronic signals to atmospheric data.
UAV manufacturers now have the ability to equip their vehicles with automatic deicing systems. The systems make UAVs safer while simultaneously increasing their potential under a variety of weather conditions. It is good stuff.