Researchers unveil de-icing tech designed for large UAVs

By Luke Geiver | February 26, 2015

When large-scale unmanned aircraft vehicles (UAVs) fly at elevations capable of producing ice, flights can be terminated due to the formation of ice on the wings. Thanks to new research from Battelle, an Ohio-based research institution serving several industries, large UAVs can stay in the sky when ice is present in the air. A team of researchers has created the trademarked HeatCoat technology—based on carbon nanotube coating that can be heated through minimal power—that once applied to a UAV’s wing surface, can minimize or melt an ice formation.

The carbon coating can be applied as a thin film or sprayed on. The heating element can also be installed on new UAVs or retrofitted on existing platforms. Once applied, the coating is monitored by smart controls installed on the unit. The controls monitor temperature conditions and the presence of ice before providing a low amount of power that activates the heating element. According to Battelle, the system is lighter than traditional ice protection systems, can operate on less power and has no moving parts.

“Battelle has made a long-term investment in this technology because we think it is so promising,” Ron Gorenflo, HeatCoat systems product manager, said. The technology is past the point of readiness, Gorenflo said, and the team is now looking for a partner to help complete further testing.

Other products used to eliminate or minimize ice formation on large manned or unmanned aircraft include heating the wing surface with hot engine air, inflating rubber boots to break ice from the surface or releasing antifreeze fluid from the wing. “These more traditional solutions can be too complex, too heavy or draw too much power to be effective, especially on UAVs, which have limited payload and power capacities,” Battelle said.

To date, the product has been tested in an aerial testing tunnel that generated icing conditions encountered during a typical flight. The tunnel provided temperatures as low as -22 degrees Fahrenheit and air speeds up to 182 knots.

Initial testing for the carbon nanotube technology started in 2010. For more on the technology and to view a video explaining how it works, click here