Meteorology students take part in aircraft icing research

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ROCKFORD, Ill (WIFR) -- Coinciding with another blast of cold air in the forecast, this research project looks to help gather data on weather conditions that cause icing on airplanes.

Meteorology students from Northern Illinois University have partnered with the Federal Aviation Administration and the National Center for Atmospheric Research in the "In-Cloud Icing and Large-Drop Experiment" project. The students are in the process of launching as many as 40 weather balloons from the DeKalb campus to help gather data on the weather conditions that cause icing on airplanes.

The weather pattern over the last several weeks has been optimal for the students to participate in this research and they even got to see the airplane that flies and collects observations in person at the Chicago Rockford International Airport.

Assistant Professor of Meteorology, Dr. Victor Gensini says that this project is a phenomenal experience for the students involved and that the weather has been acting in their favor.

He says, "We've had so many clipper systems come through the Midwest this year with lots of freezing rain conditions, especially in DeKalb, and snow events up near Rockford with 2-3 inches at a time. So it's been death by a thousand paper cuts but that's good for field projects like this because you have opportunities for observations."

When data from the balloons show conditions that are good for atmospheric ice formation, that's when the twin engine Convair-500 research aircraft takes off from Rockford to collect scientific measurements.

The first balloon launch occurred during the recent ice storm at the beginning of February and a few more are planned for the beginning of March. Observations taken could help reduce the rate of aircraft-icing related accidents and fatalities that take place on the ground and in the skies.