Available Technology

A Cool Tool for Deicing Planes

Nicknamed the ice zapper the Electro Expulsive Separation System (EESS) is an aircraft ice removal system that pulverizes ice and removes layers of ice as thin as frost or as thick as an inch of glaze according to the principle inventor of the technology. Patented by NASA's Ames Research Center, the EESS consists of layers of conductors encased in materials that are bonded directly to the airframe structure. When ice accumulates on the aircraft, an electric current is sent through the conductors, causing them to pulse. Even though the conductors move less than a twenty-thousandth of an inch in just a millisecond, the movement is sufficient to pulverize the ice. It is this highly accelerated motion that shatters the ice into particles the size of table salt; too small to be harmful to the aircraft. When compared with other systems in use, such as thermal deicers and pneumatic boots, the ice zapper does very well. Thermal deicers are fairly common, although they use an enormous amount of energy and present the possibility of ice refreezing. Pneumatic boots are not always effective because they require an inflation device that is unable to work until a quarter inch of ice has accumulated. With both systems, the ice that is loosened may still be large enough to cause problems for the plane once dislodged.
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