While flying in rainy weather is not an immediate call for concern, it is important that pilots are able to maintain visuals outside of the cockpit to the best of their ability for the means of safety. Depending on the aircraft, rain may be removed from the windshield in varying ways, common equipment including windshield wiper equipment, chemical rain repellent, pneumatic rain removal equipment, or windshields with hydrophobic surface coatings. Aircraft may have one or a combination of these aircraft rain control systems, and understanding how they are used is important for any current or prospective pilot.
Windshield wipers are one of the most basic solutions for managing rain present on the windshield aircraft structure, and they are defined as electrical systems where wiper blades are powered through an electric motor. The motor itself is supplied power from the aircraft electrical system, and there may be designs in which the pilot and co-pilot windshield wiper systems are separated for redundancy in the instance that one fails. Generally, a typical wiper assembly will consist of a wiper, wiper arm, and wiper motor. To ensure the wellbeing of a wiper system, maintenance personnel will regularly carry out checks, adjustments, and troubleshooting as necessary. It is important that foreign debris is not allowed to build up near wipers, and the tension of the system should be upheld.
When water makes contact with a clean pane of glass, it spreads out as evenly as possible. Additionally, a thin film of water will remain on wet glass regardless of its angle or air velocity. This is why many engineers implement chemical rain treatments to the glass, making water behave more similarly to mercury. This means that water will bead up into small areas on the glass, while the rest of the windshield remains dry and free of moisture. Then, the beads of water can be removed much easier with the help of air or aircraft equipment. The rain repellent system is managed from the cockpit, and it is important that it is only used in wet conditions as to not detract from visibility.
Surface seal coatings work similarly to chemical rain repellents, allowing for the windshield to reach a more hydrophobic state to prevent the collection of water. Hydrophobic coatings are placed on the external surface of the windshield, allowing rain to bead up and roll off the windshield with ease. With their capabilities, pilots can maintain visibility for safe atmospheric traversal in the instance of a heavy rain storm. While it is a newer technology, many current aircraft models are being constructed with windshield surface seal coatings.
In some instances, operators may require systems that avoid the issue of streaking or can perform well in very heavy rain conditions. In such instances, pneumatic rain removal systems are used to direct a stream of hot air over the windshield panel. This causes rain drops to be broken up into smaller droplets, and then the air blows them off the windshield. Additionally, the hotter temperature of the air prevents major issues such as the freezing of moisture on the windshield. Generally, pneumatic rain removal systems receive their air from engine bleed air or an electric blower.
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