Friday, July 24th, 2009, Glenn Research Center – Cleveland, OH
The Icing Research Tunnel (IRT) at Glenn is one of the largest icing research facilities in the world. The IRT conducts research on various aircraft apparatuses to determine the best way to combat fatal icing problems. Many of the world’s top airline corporations rent out the IRT for a few hours because of the tests that they can conduct to pass flight certification. The IRT is so popular and useful in the airline community that the tunnel is booked two to three years in advance!
The IRT test section is 6 feet high by 9 feet wide, and can accommodate large models and some full-size aircraft components. It has cooler and spray bars that can produce artificial clouds and low air temperatures. The droplets of water produced by the spray bars freeze as they strike the object within the test section.
The wind in the tunnel comes from a giant 12-bladed fan, and each of the fan’s 12 blades is made of laminated Sitka spruce, chosen because the tight grain pattern gives the wood uniform mechanical properties. This wood is able to withstand the stresses from the range of temperatures and pressures from which other composites and materials might crack.
The IRT was built during World War II to prevent aircraft accidents due to icing, when many planes were lost trying to fly over the Himalayan mountains. Today, much research is done on helicopter blades, which is very dangerous to helicopters. It is also used to help determine which aircraft structural designs are least likely to ice.