How the Redstone Test Center puts aircraft to the “Ice” test

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REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. - One thing you can know for sure, every Army aircraft has an FAA certification for the kind of icing conditions in which it can fly. That's true because of a specially equipped Chinook helicopter. HISS it's called..."Helicopter Icing Spray System."

The home base for this one-of-a-kind specially equipped chopper is Redstone Arsenal at the Redstone Test Center.

"The whole reason the Army put this together in the early 70's was for safety," said RTC Experimental Test Pilot, Jim Correia.

HISS includes the Chinook, along with its huge water tank and the spray system with its orange boom and numerous nozzles. When the system is in action, a cloud of well-regulated cold water comes out of the nozzles and the test article flies in the carefully monitored ice cloud. The test article is required to fly at a certain distance behind the Chinook.

"You've got a 20-foot box you try to stay in. At 129 knots it's kind of fun. It's the best video game in the world," said Correia. He follows that statement by saying numerous steps are taken to make the flights as safe as possible. "And one of them is the training that we do to make sure that all the crew members know exactly what they're supposed to do," added Correia.

Training and equipment tests and calibration happen in the skies over north Alabama. The actual icing tests take place up north, where it's cold. Before the 1970's the icing tests actually took place in real ice clouds, but that was a problem. "You may be in an area where that cloud goes all the way down to the ground, and to get out of that icing cloud you've got to go up. If you don't have enough power to go high enough to get out of that cloud you're going to crash," said Correia.

HISS is a lot safer and more exact. And, for those concerned when they see that strange-looking Chinook in the skies above them, here's what it's actually spraying. "Well, we're spraying dihydrogen monoxide, and they went, is that dangerous? And I said, well yeah, if you get enough of it and you don't know how to swim, you'll drown. It's water, H2O, and then they go, okay," said Correia with a chuckle.

The current testing, training and calibration flights in Alabama will be ending in February. After that the specially equipped Chinook and its spotter plane will head north for actual ice tests.