Moffett Field, CA--A revolutionary new system of pulverizing and expelling ice from the surface of airplane wings might soon eliminate icing as a cause of aircraft accidents. Simple, low power, and highly effective, it might also render obsolete current thermal and pneumatic systems, which are notoriously cumbersome and suck a great deal of engine power.
Referred to euphemistically as the "Ice Zapper", the Electro-Expulsive Separation System was invented by Leonard Haslim, an engineer at NASA Ames Research Center. It works by imparting a very high acceleration on the outer surface of elastomer film bonded on to the aircraft wing or other surface to be deiced. Within the film is embedded uniformly spaced ribbons made of oxygen-free high-conductivity copper which are folded onto themselves. A photo flash power supply--the same capacitive type found in flash cameras--dumps as much as 10,000 amps in 70 msec into the copper ribbons.
The current passes in opposite directions through the copper causing a high repulsive force. "The ribbons separate only about 2 to 70 mils," says Haslim, "but the acceleration is horrendous, on the order of 700 to 1500g." Ice isn't simply hurled from the wing; it is pulverized into particles the size of table salt, he says. Energy requirements are no greater than an aircraft landing light.
Currently being tested on the Lancair IV, the deicing system is expected to become available later this year on the Lancair Columbia 300. This system is being developed by Ice Management Systems, Inc. (Temecula, CA) to whom NASA licensed technology.
Haslim sees numerous other applications. It could be used to pop parts out of molds on a manufacturing line, apply friction brakes on robots, or line the inside of small medical tubing to create a simple peristaltic pump.