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NASA Researchers Help Hunt Ice Crystals Down Under

DARWIN, Australia, Feb. 27, 2014 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- NASA researchers are part of an international team working to improve aviation safety by studying high altitude ice crystals during a flight campaign now under way in Darwin, Australia.


NASA and its North American partners are supporting the European Airbus-led High Altitude Ice Crystals (HAIC)/High Ice Water Content (HIWC) field campaign in the "land down under" through March. The primary goal of the campaign is to fly into weather that produces specific icing conditions so researchers can study the characteristics present.  NASA's Glenn Research Center in Cleveland is supplying an isokinetic probe, as well as instrument and meteorological ground support. Mounted under the wing of a French Falcon 20 aircraft, the probe measures the total water content in clouds that have high concentrations of ice crystals in the vicinity of oceanic and continental thunderstorms.

"The data captured during the HAIC/HIWC campaign will add to the ground-based icing research our agency has already conducted in Glenn's Propulsion Systems Laboratory where a full scale engine was tested under high altitude ice crystal icing conditions," said Tom Ratvasky, Glenn's project scientist supporting the campaign.

NASA's Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va., and NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York, are also participating. Engineers and scientists from Langley are contributing sensors expertise. One team is analyzing data from the Falcon's onboard weather radar. Another is capturing satellite imagery to help forecast where the jet might encounter the best icing conditions. Goddard scientists are providing expertise in cloud resolving modeling, using the in-situ flight data to improve current cloud modeling algorithms to predict the high ice concentrations in these environments.

"The aviation industry around the world is very interested in this research. That's because ice crystals at high altitudes are not normally detected by onboard weather radar and visibly do not appear to be a danger to pilots," said Steve Harrah, HAIC/HIWC weather radar principal investigator at NASA Langley.

"However, if those crystals are ingested into a turbofan engine and reach its core, they can cause a temporary loss of power – with no warning," added Ratvasky.

Turbofan engines ingesting ice crystals is not new. However, its impact on aviation is becoming more widely known because of an increase in exposure to these conditions caused by increases in worldwide commercial aviation traffic, flying at higher altitudes with more efficient bypass engines. 

"The research that will be compiled during the flight campaign will build on what we know about ice crystal icing at high altitudes and help us better understand the physical processes that cause high concentrations of crystals in certain areas," said Ratvasky.  "What we learn will help inform aviation regulatory agencies internationally and help further development of technologies that may one day detect the presence of ice crystals or mitigate ice crystals' effects when encountered during flight."

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