NASA Glenn researchers launch a weather balloon, which carries an instrument package to measure the amount of supercooled liquid water in the atmosphere. (NASA)
When ice accumulates on the surface of an aircraft during flight, it distorts the smooth flow of air necessary to stay aloft. The result is a reduction in lift, which can lead to stalls and crashes. Icing conditions can vary wildly within the same airspace. That’s why scientists at NASA’s Glenn Research Center are advancing the methods, technology, and accuracy of sensor systems to provide better detection of potential icing hazards around the nation’s airports.

A ground-based station developed at Glenn includes sophisticated instruments such as a Ka-band cloud radar, which reads particle density distribution; a multi-frequency microwave radiometer that provides vertical temperature and water vapor profiles and a measure of liquid water present aloft; and a ceilometer for refined cloud base measurements.

A series of weather balloons is being released to read and calibrate weather data, and validate the ground-based sensors. The balloons are fitted with an instrument package to measure pressure, temperature, humidity, and most importantly, supercooled liquid water content. When an airplane comes into contact with supercooled water, it attaches to the surface as ice. As it builds up, airframes are compromised.