I’m at the age that views 3-D printing as one part awesome, incredible technology, and another part pure sorcery. Obviously the pure sorcery thing is just because I don’t fully grasp the concept yet, but either way this is pretty cool. A 3-D printed nylon attachment is assisting the Global Vigilance Combined Test Force (CTF) by mirroring ice buildup on Global Hawk’s surface area. The test (The first of its kind at Edwards Air Force Base) enables members of the CTF to test without having to wait for the perfect (or imperfect?) atmospheric conditions. We think it’s pretty cool. What say you?

Whenever the Global Hawk begins a mission, it has to travel through a certain area of the atmosphere that, under certain conditions, can create ice on the aircraft, adding weight and aerodynamic drag.

A cloud deck from about 8,000 feet to 22,000 feet is the main concern for the Global Hawk, according to project engineer Jonny Kim, Global Vigilance Combined Test Force.

According to Maj. Ryan Finlayson, test pilot with the Global Vigilance CTF, the ice only forms for about five minutes on the way up, and again on the way down through this cloud deck.

3-D Printer Helping Ease Global Hawk Restrictions

Global Vigilance Combined Test Force members prepare a Global Hawk remotely piloted vehicle to perform icing test flights. The aircraft was fitted with a 3-D printed nylon structure to duplicate the weight and drag of ice forming on wings and tail. (U.S. Air Force photo by Chris Higgins.)

To assure that these variables will not negatively impact the Global Hawk’s role, members of the Global Vigilance Combined Test Force here are testing the aircraft in a unique way.
Rather than wait for the right weather conditions, the formation of the cloud deck, technology was used to design 3-D printed nylon attachments to mimic the ice that would form on the aircraft during ascent and descent.

“This was a first-of-type testing done here at Edwards.  No other program or CTF has accomplished icing testing in this manner,” said Lt. Col. Cory Naddy, director of the Global Vigilance CTF. He said the combination of the testing techniques and the fact that this is an autonomous unmanned air vehicle made the testing high risk by wing standards, and required significant effort behind the scenes in the CTF.

The original article can be read in its entirety on the Edwards AFB website right here.
(Feature Photo by Chris Higgins/U.S. Air Force)