NASA Spinoff

Energy-Efficient Systems Eliminate Icing Danger for UAVs

Product Outcome

IMS-ESS was first featured in Spinoff 2001, following the company’s sale of several of its electroexpulsive deicing systems (EEDS) to Thompson Ramo Wooldridge for use on the TRW (now the Northrop Grumman) Hunter UAV. Around the same time, Bridgeford says, major UAV manufacturer General Atomics, producer of the well-known military Predator UAVs, was beginning work on its Sky Warrior UAV program for the U.S. Army. Well aware of the icing problems that affected the usefulness of its UAVs, General Atomics brought IMS-ESS into its development program for the Warrior. IMS-ESS’ NASA-derived deicing systems are currently in production for use on the Warrior, just one of the company’s successes in the field of UAV deicing solutions.

“One reason we have hit a spot with the UAV business is the simple fact that our system utilizes so little energy,” he says. The system uses around 600–900 watts—“unheard of for ice protection”—whereas typical thermal deicing systems use tens of thousands of watts, requiring a large generator impractical for use on a lightweight UAV.

Other solutions are equally problematic, Bridgeford says. “Weeping wing” deicing systems, which coat wing surfaces with anti-ice agent ethylene glycol, require the UAV to carry a weighty onboard supply of the chemical that may run out over the course of a long-duration flight. Pneumatic boot systems, which inflate to break away ice buildup, require a certain amount of ice accumulation before they can operate successfully. IMS-ESS systems, in contrast, are lightweight, low power, and are effective for any ice thickness.

“With the electroexpulsive technology, UAVs are able to incorporate continuous, year-round ice protection into their airframes,” Bridgeford says.

IMS-ESS is taking a big step forward this year, Bridgeford notes. Besides the Sky Warrior, the company’s deicing systems are going into production for use on the Thales UK Watchkeeper Tactical UAV for the British Army, and Bridgeford expects other UAV programs to follow suit in the near future. IMS-ESS is also set to pursue Federal Aviation Administration certification for its systems, a major step toward delivering the benefits of the company’s NASA-derived deicing system to piloted aircraft.

While Bridgeford acknowledges the challenges facing small businesses when bringing sophisticated technologies to fruition, he sees NASA as a source of unique technology for commercial applications.

“This company was launched on NASA technology,” he says. “I would like to see more of this kind of exchange.”

Sky Warrior® is a registered trademark of General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc.