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GKN Aerospace completes successful first flight of additive manufactured optical ice detection probe

GKN Aerospace has successfully flown an enhanced ice protection system (IPS) that allows for a more targeted and efficient defense against ice accretion.

GKN flew its patented Optical Ice Detector (OID) on board the Atmospheric Research Aircraft (ARA) operated by the Facility for Airborne Atmospheric Measurements (FAAM), based at Cranfield, UK. The titanium probe housing was created by GKN’s laser powder-bed manufacturing process.

The OID features a small sensor head that is designed to be fully compatible with GKN Aerospace’s Internet Protocol Suite (IPS) technology, as well as in standalone devices. The sensor head incorporates optical fibers arranged to emit laser light into any ice that forms over the head, and collect the laser light that is reflected by the ice.

This head can be integrated into any ice accreting surface on the aircraft or in the internal areas of gas turbine engines. In particular, the use of the OID would allow more precise control of an aircraft’s IPS, by only activating the system in areas where ice is actually accreting, rather than the current method where the whole IPS is activated in response to icing conditions.

During the course of the first flight, the OID successfully detects numerous ice accretion events. The sensor’s detection of ice matched the performance that it demonstrated in GKN Aerospace’s Icing Research Tunnel in Luton, UK. The OID confirmed the presence of ice, as well as measured its thickness and rate of accretion.

As well as the OID, the flight was also the first time GKN Aerospace’s new Type 8 Spraymat Ice Protection heater mats have flown, which provided the OID with de-icing capability. Type 8 Spraymat offers improved thermal performance, lower weight, increased reliability, and reduced cost of manufacture to enhance GKN Aerospace’s already world-leading IPS heater mats.

During preparation for the flight, FAAM provided full support to GKN Aerospace in the design, certification, and mounting of the OID flight unit to their ARA, a specially modified BAe 146-301. GKN Aerospace was the first commercial customer for FAAM, which has previously worked exclusively with research institutions and government bodies.

July 5, 2017

Written by Michael Jones


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