Boeing has filed a patent for a new technology that 3-D prints artificial composites that look like ice blocks so they can attach to aircraft wings and other surfaces to simulate icy conditions. The idea is to 3-D print composites of the exact sizes of areas prone to icing.  It will not only simulate real flight but also saves millions of dollars usually spent on infrastructure required for testing the aircraft.

As explains, during testing, many aircraft are exposure to weather that leads to icing on certain parts of a plane’s wings, flaps and rudders. This happens when tiny water droplets strike and suddenly freeze on the surface of plane, severely affecting the aerodynamics of the plane. Modern planes are usually equipped with de-icing equipment, but if the icing crosses a significant limit, it could lead to temporary loss of control. That type of danger makes dry air flight tests extremely important.

“Dry air flight tests with artificial ice shapes installed allows airplane performance and handling characteristics to be evaluated in stable dry air conditions and with the critical ice shape remaining constant,” Boeing explained in its patent application. “Such certification test flights may require that the aircraft be flown with artificial ice shapes attached to wing and/or tail leading edges.”

In Boeing’s streamlined production method, engineers would rely on a wide range of ice-like shapes designed to adhere to airfoil surfaces with adhesives instead of bolts. Not only would this create a firmer hold on the wings, but it also ensures that the wings are left undamaged after the test flight. Engineers can also switch around various ice models rapidly if necessary. Engineers can just assign various properties, such as density, rigidity and texture, to a computer-assisted design (CAD) file and print the final model.

Click here to see the technical details of the design and the patent.