Why is icing on UAVs important?

In-flight icing of drones is a severe hazard that significantly limits the usage of autonomous unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). The UAV Icing Lab has the mission to provide knowledge and solutions for the operations of unmanned aircraft in icing conditions.

Atmospheric icing is a well known phenomenon in the Nordic countries. Icing on power lines and structures is a great challenge that has been the focus of research for many years. In recent years, the topic of icing on wind turbines has become a threat to the advancement of renewable energies. Icing in manned aviation is an ongoing threat that has been researched since the early 1940s.

Today, a new challenge with regards to icing is emerging: icing on UAVs. Drone technology is a fast-growing and emerging technology with a wide range of applications. For example, drones are used for delivering urgent medical supplies in Rwanda, to provide broadband access to remote areas, to perform search and rescue missions and to explore scientific research questions.

Icing can be a severe hazard for these applications. Our research has shown that ice will accumulate on the body, wing, propeller, and airspeed sensor of drones in icing conditions. The ice is disturbing the aerodynamics which leads to a significant decrease in performance. There are many cases where icing conditions have led to drone crashes. This is why today it is a best practice to not fly drones in bad weather conditions. However, for the success of many of the aforementioned applications, an all-weather capability is a key requirement.

Flight in icing conditions with the Skywalker X8. Photo: Pål Kvaløy (NTNU).

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