Pilot and student pilot community. Share your pilot lessons or aviation stories.

Types of Icing on an Aircraft

in Aerodynamic Factors

Structural Icing

Structural icing refers to the accumulation of ice on the exterior of the aircraft. Ice forms on aircraft structures and surfaces when super-cooled droplets impinge on them and freeze. Small and/or narrow objects are the best collectors of droplets and ice up most rapidly. This is why a small protuberance within sight of the pilot can be used as an “ice evidence probe.” It is generally one of the first parts of the airplane on which an appreciable amount of ice forms. An aircraft’s tailplane is a better collector than its wings, because the tailplane presents a thinner surface to the airstream.

Induction Icing

Ice in the induction system can reduce the amount of air available for combustion. The most common example of reciprocating engine induction icing is carburetor ice. Most pilots are familiar with this phenomenon, which occurs when moist air passes through a carburetor venturi and is cooled. As a result of this process, ice may form on the venturi walls and throttle plate, restricting airflow to the engine. This may occur at temperatures between 20° F (-7° C) and 70° F (21° C). The problem is remedied by applying carburetor heat, which uses the engine’s own exhaust as a heat source to melt the ice or prevent its formation. On the other hand, fuel-injected aircraft engines usually are less vulnerable to icing but still can be affected if the engine’s air source becomes blocked with ice. Manufacturers provide an alternate air source that may be selected in case the normal system malfunctions.

In turbojet aircraft, air that is drawn into the engines creates an area of reduced pressure at the inlet, which lowers the temperature below that of the surrounding air. In marginal icing conditions (i.e., conditions where icing is possible), this reduction in temperature may be sufficient to cause ice to form on the engine inlet, disrupting the airflow into the engine. Another hazard occurs when ice breaks off and is ingested into a running engine, which can cause damage to fan blades, engine compressor stall, or combustor flameout.  When anti-icing systems are used, runback water also can refreeze on unprotected surfaces of the inlet and, if excessive, reduce airflow into the engine or distort the airflow pattern in such a manner as to cause compressor or fan blades to vibrate, possibly damaging the engine. Another problem in turbine engines is the icing of engine probes used to set power levels (for example, engine inlet temperature or engine pressure ratio (EPR) probes), which can lead to erroneous readings of engine instrumentation operational difficulties or total power loss.

The type of ice that forms can be classifi ed as clear, rime, or mixed, based on the structure and appearance of the ice. The type of ice that forms varies depending on the atmospheric and flight conditions in which it forms. Significant structural icing on an aircraft can cause serious aircraft control and performance problems.

Clear Ice

A glossy, transparent ice formed by the relatively slow freezing of super cooled water is referred to as clear ice.  [Figure 2-16] The terms “clear” and “glaze” have been used for essentially the same type of ice accretion. This type of ice is denser, harder, and sometimes more transparent than rime ice. With larger accretions, clear ice may form “horns.” [Figure 2-17] Temperatures close to the freezing point, large amounts of liquid water, high aircraft velocities, and large droplets are conducive to the formation of clear ice.

Figure 2-16. Clear Ice.

Figure 2-16. Clear Ice.

Figure 2-17. Clear Ice Buildup.

Figure 2-17. Clear Ice Buildup.

Rime Ice

A rough, milky, opaque ice formed by the instantaneous or very rapid freezing of super cooled droplets as they strike the aircraft is known as rime ice. [Figure 2-18] The rapid freezing results in the formation of air pockets in the ice, giving it an opaque appearance and making it porous and brittle. For larger accretions, rime ice may form a streamlined extension of the wing. Low temperatures, lesser amounts of liquid water, low velocities, and small droplets are conducive to the formation of rime ice.

Figure 2-18. Rime Ice.

Figure 2-18. Rime Ice.

Mixed Ice

Mixed ice is a combination of clear and rime ice formed on the same surface. It is the shape and roughness of the ice that is most important from an aerodynamic point of view.


Comments on this entry are closed.

Previous post:

Next post: