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Additively Manufactured Optical Ice Detector by GKN Aces In-Flight Test

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GKN Aerospace has successfully flown an enhanced ice protection system (IPS) that allows for a more targeted and efficient defence against ice accretion. The UK company is the global leader in electro thermal IPS and 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 enabled 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 IPS technology, as well as in standalone devices.  The sensor head incorporates optical fibres 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 detected numerous ice accretion events. This was the first flight of the OID and the successful detection of ice matched the ice detection performance that it demonstrated in GKN Aerospace’s Icing Research Tunnel in Luton, UK. The OID confirmed the presence of ice, as well as measuring its thickness and rate of accretion.

Russ Dunn, Senior Vice President of Engineering, Technology and Quality for GKN Aerospace said: “This successful first flight of GKN’s OID technology was the result of positive collaboration between our additive manufacturing and ice protection teams and marks a significant milestone in maturing the capability.”

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.

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