ARCHIVED - GLACIER facility to help certify large aero engines against icing

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February 01, 2011 — Ottawa, Ontario

NRC know-how is supplying critical expertise for a new cold weather aircraft engine testing facility in Thompson, Manitoba.

The Global Aerospace Centre for Icing and Environmental Research (GLACIER) facility is a specialized 9-metre-diameter wind tunnel that sprays super-cooled water mist into the world's largest aircraft turbines. This recreates operating conditions that can cause unusual internal icing, allowing engineers and researchers to monitor them. Pratt & Whitney Canada and Rolls-Royce Canada are the principal owners of the state-of-the-art facility, while NRC and other research bodies are contributing their expertise.

Recognizing its global reputation in gas turbine engine research, Rolls-Royce Canada and Pratt & Whitney Canada approached NRC to develop, maintain and update the icing system of this $42 million facility over its life. In exchange for helping its partners test and certify engine designs, NRC gains access to the facility for research, development and training related to improving aero turbines and aircraft sensors.

The GLACIER facility in Thompson, Manitoba will spray super-cooled water mist into the world’s largest aircraft turbines.

The GLACIER facility in Thompson, Manitoba will spray super-cooled water mist into the world’s largest aircraft turbines.

Icing impacts

Air turbine icing can reduce power and, in extreme cases, flame out or damage engines. It can also choke multiple sensors, misleading the computers that now routinely manage airliner flight control systems.

So far, this rare but troubling icing condition has caused no deaths, but it may have played a role in dozens of incidents involving engine power loss. Regulators in North America and Europe will start certifying commercial turbojet engines against this type of ice build-up beginning in 2012. Current research data from NRC and its collaborators will inform the regulatory efforts. "Every new engine design will be required to survive internal icing," says Dr. Ibrahim Yimer of the NRC Institute for Aerospace Research (NRC-IAR).

Causes of ice build-up aren't fully understood in certain design, speed and atmospheric conditions, but research so far suggests a complex causal brew. The internal design of turbojets affects icing, yet identical engines seated on different aircraft types accumulate ice differently. What's more, this problem occurs at altitudes near 40,000 feet, where atmospheric moisture is unexpected. Small-scale tests conducted by NRC have shown that at temperatures well above freezing, internal engine surfaces can collect ice surprisingly rapidly under special conditions.

GLACIER's potential

NRC has generated data for icing certification specifications for nearly five decades, at its gas turbine lab in Ottawa. While this lab can test smaller engines from light corporate jets, GLACIER's test bed can handle engines that are five or six times more powerful - representing up to 150,000 pounds of thrust. By comparison, the largest turbine now built has around 120,000 pounds of thrust, so the facility could handle increases in engine size.

Research at the Thompson GLACIER facility will help scientists improve sensors, recreate ice-causing conditions at sea level, and find out exactly what happens when aero turbines ingest ice crystals.

"The GLACIER facility is made to handle the future," says Dr. Yimer. "Its main goal is making flight safer. Our role here is to help regulatory agencies and engine manufacturers make sure aircraft engines are safe for flight, not just in Canada but in the U.S. and Europe."

Related information

Enquiries: Media relations
National Research Council of Canada

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