NASA Using 3D Printing To Study Aircraft Icing


NASA has moved to using 3D printing as a data-gathering method for a five-year research project on aircraft icing at the Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, Ohio. 3D printing techniques allow researchers to scan ice buildup and accurately reproduce it in materials that won’t melt. According to NASA, previous methods of mapping ice formations included slicing the ice with a heated metal plate and tracing the shape on a piece of cardboard. The agency says upgrading to 3D printing could help to improve the validity of computer simulation tools in predicting ice formation, enable the FAA to adjust its requirements for certifying an airplane’s ability to manage icing, and allow for the design of more fuel-efficient airplanes.

“The aviation community has studied icing since before World War II, but thanks to the new tools we have access to we’re still learning new things that can help industry,” said Andy Broeren, an icing engineer at the Glenn Research Center. “When we started this project, we didn’t have a really good capability to measure the ice in three dimensions and do a high-fidelity 3D printer rendition of it. Now, we do.”

The project began in 2015. Data from the study is expected to be publicly available after the project’s completion on May 31, 2020. Members from NASA, the FAA, France’s Office National d’Etudes et de Recherches Aérospatiales (ONERA) and several U.S. universities are participating in the cooperative research program.

Kate O'Connor
Kate O’Connor works as AVweb's Editor-in-Chief. She is a private pilot, certificated aircraft dispatcher, and graduate of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.

Other AVwebflash Articles


  1. So, use a wind tunnel on a model to simulate airframe icing and then reproduce that simulated icing in plastic and put it back into a wind tunnel to simulate airframe icing? At what point do we start to question those “results” being truly applicable in the real world?