Between 1975 and 1988 there were approximately 803 ice related aviation accidents, half of which involved fatalities. On Halloween of 1994, an ATR-72 plane crashed in Indiana, due to complications from ice. The “black box” had all of the information on how ice was affecting the plane’s conditions but this data was not being transmitted to the pilots, so they could not take steps to prevent the crash.
Inspired by the idea that this data could be transmitted to pilots in real time, the University of Illinois’ Dr. Mike Bragg worked with a team of fellow engineers from 1998-2003 to try to solve the problem of ice related aviation accidents. His team included colleagues from NASA and the University of Illinois. Their proposed solution was known as the Smart Ice Management System.
Ice on planes can impact a number of factors that can make them unsafe. Ice can affect the safe minimum and maximum altitude and speed as well as many other factors. At the time when Bragg and his team were developing this system, many pilots relied on either seeing ice forming or noticing that the plane’s speed was slowing. This presented problems when there was ice that flight crews could not see.
The Smart Ice Management System (SIS) consisted of several software programs that used sensors to detect when ice was beginning to build up on the wings of a plane. SIS would alert the plane’s on-board computer, which would then calculate flight adjustments that would minimize the drag created by built-up ice. These calculations were done using a formula that Bragg and his team developed. In theory, these adjustments would allow the pilot to remain in better control of the aircraft.
Despite showing promising results, the software was never officially implemented on commercial aircraft due to the high installation cost and lack of regulations requiring airlines to use this type of software. After funding ran out in 2003, the project closed. In recent years, engineers have gone back to the Smart Ice Management System and built upon it for potential implementation in the future. The new system shows potential for use on helicopters and unmanned commercial delivery drones.
Blumenthal, L. (2003, June 25). Smart Icing System Project. University of Illinois Department of Aerospace Engineering, sis.ae.illinois.edu/.
Bragg, M. B., Basar, T., Perkins, W.R., Selig, M.S., Melody, J.W., Voulgaris, P.G., Sarter, N.B. (2002). Smart Icing Systems for Aircraft Icing Safety. 40th AIAA Aerospance and Sciences Meeting and Exhibit. Retrieved from www.researchgate.net/publication/250064843_Smart_Icing_Systems_for_Aircraft_Icing_Safety.
Icing on a Plane. (2021, June 7). In Wikipedia. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Icing_on_a_plane.jpg
Wilson, K. Meeting with Dr. Mike Bragg [Personal Communication]. 8 May 2019.