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Austrian Students Win European Young Scientists Contest with "Advanced Deicing System" for Airplanes

bridges vol. 12, December 2006 / Feature Article

by Stefanie Baumgartner

 

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"There is a clear answer: I want to become a pilot," says Michael Kaiser when asked about his future career plans, "no matter where or how. The main thing is flying." His friend and research project partner, Johannes Kienl, has similar aspirations and also plans to become a professional pilot. Everything related to aviation seems to be the passion of those two young Austrians who recently got into the spotlight with a cutting-edge research project. The two 19-year-old hobby pilots have attracted a great deal of national and international attention with their invention of an "Advanced Deicing System" for aircraft, which has been awarded the first prize at this year's European Union Contest for Young Scientists .

Kaiser_Kienl_portrait_small "Although safety is undoubtedly the most important aspect of flying," Michael Kaiser points out, "scientists and engineers were not able come up with a satisfying solution for the problem of aircraft icing in the past." So when a civil engineering bureau introduced new, remarkably thin heater blankets to the senior students majoring in aeronautical engineering at the Secondary College for Mechanical Engineering in Eisenstadt ( HTBLA Eisenstadt ), the two students listened intently to the presentation. It was then that Michael Kaiser and Johannes Kienl conceived the idea - as brilliant as it was practical - to use these heater blankets for an electrically based airplane deicing system. And they set their sights high: to invent a new deicing system that "combines economy and safety at its best." Today, after winning national as well as international competitions with their senior research project and holding patents on their invention, they have certainly achieved much more than they would ever have dreamed of at the beginning of their project.

 

Aeronautical engineering in a nutshell
According to a study from the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA ), 12 percent of all weather-related accidents of planes between 1990 and 2000 were caused by icing. Airplane icing, especially for smaller planes, is a significant hazard. It was the icing of the wings that led to fatal accidents such as the plane crash in 1959 "the day that music died" that killed Rock 'n' Roll legends Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and J.P. "Big Bopper" Richardson.

A380_small To better understand how a deicing system on airplanes would work, one has to take a closer look at the basics of aeronautics. In order for a plane to fly, four forces must interact: thrust and drag, weight and lift. Thrust is the force generated by the airplane's engines that moves the plane forward. Thrust must exceed drag, the mechanical force pulling the plane backwards. Weight is the gravitational force pulling the plane towards the earth. The force that actually makes a plane take off from the ground is lift, the mechanical aerodynamic force acting perpendicular to the plane's forward motion. While the engines of an aircraft generate the forward motion of the plane, the wings are the main source of lift.

External factors, however, can jeopardize the lift of an airplane. One of these factors is the formation of ice on the airfoils, the plane's wings and all other horizontal and vertical stabilizers of an airplane. Ice can form on the outside of a plane whenever there is humidity and the temperature drops below 32 degrees Fahrenheit (0 degrees Celsius). "Icing occurs mainly up to an altitude of 5900-6500 feet (approximately 1800-2000 m)," Johannes Kienl explains, "because above this altitude there is not enough moisture in the air for ice to form on the airfoils. This means that the problem of icing affects a plane particularly during takeoff and landing."

So how can a thin layer of ice influence an aircraft's ability to fly? The shape and size of an aircraft's wings are designed specifically to facilitate aerodynamic lift, the physical phenomenon that makes an aircraft take off from the ground. By changing the shape and size of the wings, a layer of ice can disrupt the balanced state of the four forces and thereby impair the aircraft's ability to fly steadily. A 0.8 millimeter layer of ice on the airfoils of the plane increases drag and decreases lift by up to 25 percent, thereby creating an unstable state of flight.

{access view=guest}Access to the full article is free, but requires you to register. Registration is simple and quick - all we need is your name and a valid e-mail address. We appreciate your interest in bridges.{/access} {access view=!guest} The "Advanced Deicing System"
Deicing_folder_Rueckseite_smallKaiser and Kienl's "Advanced Deicing System" is based on the thermal-induced mechanical expansion of metal, the phenomenon that metal expands when heated. The solution is as simple as it is ingenious: The electrical heating blankets, which stimulated Kaiser and Kienl's idea in the beginning, are integrated into or glued onto the wings of an aircraft. Above the heating elements, aluminum plates are attached that expand when heated due to the thermal-induced mechanical expansion of metal. Whenever ice forms on the airfoils of the plane, sensors detect it and the electrical heating elements start to operate. The warmth of the heating elements expands the aluminum plates and, due to their special mounting, one aluminum plate moves over the other and thereby breaks through the ice. The system has two effects: first, the moving aluminum plates break the ice and destroy it and, second, a thin film of water is formed between the aluminum plates and the ice, allowing the remaining ice to slide off. All that is necessary is some electricity from the aircraft's generator. "For one input you get two outputs," Michael Kaiser proudly summarizes the benefits of the new system.

The system combines several well thought-out features. It is economical and saves energy because it operates only when ice layers are formed. Existing anti-ice systems prevent the formation of ice and operate during the whole flight, thereby using a lot of energy and increasing costs. Kaiser and Kienl's system, on the other hand, is a so-called deice system. It is only activated when ice forms, and therefore needs less energy. Another practical advantage over existing systems is that the "Advanced Deicing System" can easily be attached to existing planes, a feature that airlines and aircraft owners will like. Most importantly, it increases aviation safety for the benefit of pilots, crew, and passengers.

But the use of the system is not limited to the aviation industry. In addition to plane deicing, the system can also be used for wind power stations. Particularly at higher altitudes, the rotors of wind power stations often ice up and need to be shut down. The deicing system prevents a shutdown of the wind power station, thereby saving costs and energy.

Nuts and bolts education at its best
During the development phase, Michael Kaiser and Johannes Kienl worked closely together with two external partners, the Aircraft Owners and Pilot Association of Austria (AOPA Austria) and an Austrian mechatronics company (B&D Buchta und De Georgi Mechatronik GmbH ). "Our partnership was very fruitful," summarizes Kaiser in retrospect; in their weekly meetings, the external partners provided Kaiser and Kienl with useful background knowledge and practical insights. The brilliance of their invention has already been recognized in several science competitions. Michael Kaiser and Johannes Kienl won the first prize at Jugend Innovativ , an Austrian high school contest for innovative ideas in the areas of business, design, engineering, and science. Initiated by the Federal Ministry of Education, Science and Culture and the Federal Ministry of Economics and Labor , this contest is highly competitive with 173 projects participating in 2006.

After winning the national competition, Michael Kaiser and Johannes Kienl also competed at the international level - and prevailed over 120 competitors at the 18th European Union Contest for Young Scientists in Stockholm . This competition is organized annually by the Directorate-General for Research of the European Commission and seeks to spark scientific interest in high school students. Over 120 of the best and the brightest young scientists from 33 European countries participated in the 2006 competition.

"It was a great experience and we learned a lot," comments Johannes Kienl about the five days they spent in Stockholm, where they presented their deicing system and exchanged experiences with researchers from other nations. Each project group presented their project in booths with posters and prototypes. The jury members, 15 distinguished scientists from various disciplines, visited the booths without announcement and asked the young researchers to explain their projects in English. Criteria for evaluating the best projects included, among others, a creative solution of a basic problem, a carefully conducted study, a precise interpretation of the study's results, a written report and, of course, the personal discussions with the members of the jury.

Kaiser and Kienl's ingenious solution of a fundamental problem, their well thought-out concept, and the vital importance in praxis of the "Advanced Deicing System" convinced the members of the jury to award them the first prize, along with two other projects by German and Polish students. In the award ceremony in the Winter Garden of the Grand Hotel in Stockholm, a historic venue that hosted the Nobel Prize ceremonies between 1901 and 1929, Michael Kaiser and Johannes Kienl received €5000 and a five-day visit to the headquarters of the European Patent Office in Munich .

A future high in the sky
Both Michael Kaiser and Johannes Kienl are currently doing their compulsory military service in the Austrian Armed Forces. Their innovation is, of course, already protected by two patents - one for the application to aircraft and one in the field of wind power stations. And in their rare free time, they are negotiating with interested parties about the patent for aircraft, trying to commercialize their invention by either selling or licensing the patent rights to their "Advanced Deicing System."

Besides their special interest for aviation, Michael Kaiser and Johannes Kienl also share an ambition to go abroad. Their primary destination are the United States, where the aviation industry offers greater challenges and opportunities. Weather as pilots, researchers or engineers, Michael Kaiser and Johannes Kienl certainly have both the talent and the drive to turn their passion for flying into a successful professional career in the aviation industry.

***

The author, Stefanie Baumgartner, is a graduate from the University of Applied Sciences in Graz, Austria, and has been working at the Office of Science & Technology as an intern from September through December 2006.

Sources:

The main source for this article was an interview with Michael Kaiser and Johannes Kienl held on November 12, 2006.

Other sources:

Anderson, David, and Scott Eberhardt. A Physical Description of Flight.
< http://home.comcast.net/~clipper-108/lift.htm > (28 November 2006).

AOPA Air Safety Foundation 2002. Safety Advisor: Aircraft Icing. Publisher: Bruce Landsberg. Editors: John Steuernagle, Kathleen Roy, David Wright.
<http://www.aopa.org/asf/publications/sa11.pdf > (28 November 2006).

European Commission Rapid Press Release. September 27, 2006. <http://europa.eu.int/rapid/pressReleasesAction.do?reference=IP/06/1270&format=
HTML&aged=0&language=EN&guiLanguage=en > (28 November 2006).

National Aeronautics and Space Administration 2006. Beginner's Guide to Aerodynamics. <http://www.grc.nasa.gov/WWW/K-12/airplane/bga.html > (28 November 2006).

The National Center for Atmospheric Research & the UCAR Office of Programs. Airplane Icing. <http://www.ucar.edu/research/society/icing.shtml > (28 November 2006).

Web site of Swedish Research Council on the 18th European Union Contest for Young Scientists. <http://www.eucontest.se/ > (28 November 2006).

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