UCL Mathematical & Physical Sciences


UCL and Aerotex come together to improve aircraft safety in icy conditions

UCL research is helping to make planes safer in cold conditions, thanks to a partnership with AeroTex UK, a company specialising in the study of icing on aircraft.

UCL and Aerotex come together to improve aircraft safety in icy conditions

Professor Frank Smith from UCL Mathematics and his team use mathematical models developed by academics over two decades to understand and resolve the impact of icing on aircraft.

When planes fly in icy conditions, large droplets from clouds can freeze onto a plane’s wing or fuselage, distorting its effective shape and affecting the plane’s performance. This could have serious consequences and cause planes to falter or crash when ice builds up on the aircraft or inside engines.

The modelling developed at UCL is now being used to address this hazardous issue, thanks to an ongoing collaboration between UCL and AeroTex. 

AeroTex supports aircraft manufacturers, airframers and systems suppliers in gaining icing certification for their products by providing accurate simulation tools. 

During a six-month secondment to AeroTex UK, team member Dr Ryan Palmer from UCL Mathematics successfully applied new mathematical models to study ice-crystal behaviour near to, and on, aircraft. This then led to a longer project, allowing for a more in-depth application of these models in an industrial setting.

The partnership has helped inform the design of AeroTex’s aircraft and ice protection systems and improve their safety. The work has also reduced costs for their customers, helped ensure AeroTex’s designs fulfil regulatory requirements, and positioned them as leading experts in this field. 

Professor Smith said: “Accurate information on the accumulation of ice on aircraft flying through cloud (at or below freezing temperature) is crucial for planes’ performances, such accumulation having been a significant factor in a number of accidents. Partnering with AeroTex throughout all this work has been and continues to be an inspiration for the UCL team in addition to benefits to AeroTex.”   

Read the full story on the UCL Research Impact website