Machine Design

Graphite foil keeps small planes flying

Ice on the wings and other aircraft surfaces is extremely dangerous. It changes the wing's aerodynamics, thus reducing lift, and ice adds weight.

Until now, most anti and de-icing systems have been too heavy or too expensive for small private planes and helicopters. Advances in avionics and materials, however, have opened the door for engineers at EGC Enterprises Inc., Chardon, Ohio, to develop a reliable, lightweight, and affordable anti-icing system called ThermaWing.

ThermaWing is powered by recently developed aviation alternators that put out up to 60 V but weigh less than 16 lb. A solid-state controller senses outside temperature and distributes the voltage sent to heaters on the wing and other surfaces.

The heaters, actually a three-ply tape, are comprised of an outer heat-conducting plastic, a layer of expanded graphite foil that heats up when energized, and an electrically insulating base layer. The tape bonds to any aircraft surface and can be tailored in thickness or density to provide more or less heat where necessary. For example, a wing's leading edge might be kept continually warm to prevent ice from forming. Instead, water rolls back to the "shedding" zone where it freezes. The heater under the shedding zone, however, would only be energized periodically to soften the ice enough to let aerodynamic forces blow it away.

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