NASA scientists are making progress in their preparations to mount a detailed research campaign aimed at solving a modern-day aviation mystery involving the unlikely combination of fire and ice inside a running jet engine.
The investigation deals with the seemingly strange notion that ice crystals associated with warm-weather storms can be ingested into the core of a jet engine, melt and then re-freeze, potentially causing the engine to lose power or shut down altogether. Safety officials have documented more than 150 incidents of this phenomenon since 1988. Most of the incidents have occurred in the tropics.
“It doesn’t seem intuitive that ice can form in the core of a warm engine,” said Ron Colantonio, manager of the Atmospheric Environment Safety Technologies Project at NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Cleveland.
So in order to make sense of the mystery, NASA and its research partners are planning to gather information by flying a specially-outfitted business jet in high-altitude, warm-weather conditions suspected of having a large amount of ice crystals.
Technicians in California are currently modifying a Gulfstream G2 airplane to hold a suite of meteorological instruments, with hopes of having everything ready for initial trial runs of the full setup in Florida this August.
The research team then will take the lessons learned from their trial runs, make appropriate changes and prepare for the primary campaign, which is now targeted between January and March, 2013. These flights will take place over Darwin, Australia, an area known for having the type of storms that include high levels of ice crystals.