Why are some aircraft able to fly in extremely cold climates (such as the Poles)? What causes them to not freeze over?


I am a huge fan of flight simulation games (and aircraft mechanics in general), and this is a question that has always been interesting to me. Why are some crafts able to fly in super cold areas without freezing over and inevitably plummeting, while others have basically no chance of staying airborne?

In: 522

They’re designed for it.

They need to use different fluids, or have their systems designed differently. That’s more expensive and less cost-efficient. They may be more complicated and harder to maintain. There’s less demand for planes to fly in those areas, because it’s also less hospitable for humans.

So it makes more sense for normal planes to be cheaper and use simpler systems that work in more average climates, but also have customized planes for the specific jobs that require flying in harsh climates.

Airplanes only freeze under certain circumstances, put succinctly, it is actually too cold for ice to form on the plane. Plus, modern jets use a technology called ‘bleed air’ to warm the critical surfaces of the plane so they don’t freeze. Other planes use rubber boots that expand and contract to break the ice off the fligt surfaces.

The bigger problem is fuel temperature, we know exactly when Jet fuel turns to gelatin so provided you can keep your fuel warm enough you can fly in extreme cold climates.

There is no reason why they should not. In fact airplanes fly in cold air all the time as they fly high enough in the sky for the air to be far bellow freezing. The problem is related to humidity. It can be cold all day but unless there is actually something that can freeze to ice there is no problem. At altitude and also on the poles it is generally quite dry. So there is no ice forming even though it is cold.

There are however things that aircraft can do to better operate in these temperatures. In the engines the exhaust is hot and can be used to heat up areas that can clog up with ice. There are also electrical heaters. For piston engines they can heat up the carburetor and bypass the air filter. Jet engines are more complex but might have similar settings. You have things like heating the piton tube and such.

Another issue is that the wings collect ice changing their shape and making them stall. This may cause the airplane to fall out of the sky. So you might sometimes see the leading edge of the wing be made of a rubber tube. The tube can be pressurized to change its shape and then the pressure is released changing its shape again. This cause any ice that forms on these leading edges to fall off. The ice on the rear of the wings will then be exposed to the full force of the incoming air and be blown off. Some aircraft even have this on the propeller. These are not common on commercial airliners but when flying on the poles they often follow more rugged smaller cargo airplanes with these modifications installed who can report on the conditions.

Lack of moisture. Ice requires both cold temperatures and moisture. Even in the lower latitudes, it’s very cold at 30000 feet. Unless the plane is flying through a storm, icing isn’t really a problem. However, planes also typically have heated wings and other surfaces to reduce icing.