Even on a hot summer day, the outside temperature at 30,000 feet can hit 50 below zero. Ice forming on a plane’s fuselage is inevitable, despite how dangerous it can be. So to help ensure planes can survive freezing temps, Boeing is developing fake plastic ice to make it easier to test its aircraft.

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In a patent application discovered by AeroPatent, Boeing is looking to develop artificial pieces of plastic ice that accurately simulate how the real thing can build up and affect the flight characteristics of wings, flaps, and even parts of a plane’s turbine engine.

The 3D-printed ice could be attached to a plane’s surfaces in very specific and controlled amounts to better determine how the extra weight affected the aircraft’s performance in the air. And because the icing would be simulated using plastic, testing could be conducted almost anywhere without first having to create an airplane-sized freezer—although Boeing must certainly have one of those at its disposal.

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In an ideal world we’d be able to design airplane fuselages that prevent ice from building up all, but until that breakthrough rears its head, knowing how to keep planes in the air, even while covered in ice, is the next best thing.

[Espacenet via AeroPatent]