If there is such thing as deicing for fighters? If so, is bleed air or electric heating preferred? I could not imagine that a $50MLN fighter jet would not be able to get the ice off its wings.


3 Answers 3


No they do not, nor are there any modern fighters that I am aware of that are intended to operate in icing conditions, nor would they pass the FAA’s certification processes for flight into known icing.

Below is an example from the Grumman F-14D NATOPS Flight Manual, Section 18 - Extreme Weather Operations. The basics are that Tomcat aircrews are advised to avoid areas where icing is probable and that extended flight in an icing environment is considered an emergency.

Icing conditions should be avoided whenever possible. Before flight, check freezing levels and areas of probable icing from weather service. The primary concern with flying in icing conditions is ice accumulation sufficient to cause engine damage. Ice accumulation on engine probes located between the engine guide vanes and above the number three inlet ramp is not detectable from the cockpit. Aircraft maneuvers or landing impact can dislodge accumulated ice and can cause severe FOD to the engine. Visual detection of icing on exterior surfaces and/or illumination of the pilot’s INLET ICE caution light should be treated as indications of the potentially more serious problems described above. The following precautionary action should be taken immediately in known or suspected icing environments:

  1. ANTI−ICE switch - ORIDE/ON.
  3. Engine instruments - Monitor Frequently. Carefully monitor rpm and EGT indications. A reduction of rpm or an increase in EGT accompanied by a loss of thrust is an indication of engine icing.
  4. Avoid clouds and other areas of visible precipitation.
  5. If unable to avoid precipitation, adjust aircraft Mach or altitude as necessary to remain outside of the icing zone shown in Figure 18−1.

Extended operations in icing conditions should be considered an emergency situation. If time and fuel permit, a descent below the freezing level is recommended. If unable, altitudes above approximately 25,000 feet or ambient temperatures below −30°C are generally free of icing conditions. If inadvertent or unavoidable operation in known or suspected icing conditions has occurred, an effort should be made to eliminate the ice before landing by remaining well below the freezing level for an extended period of time.

WARNING: Icing conditions can cause heavy ice accumulation in the inlet ramp areas or on engine probes and the compressor face. Aircraft maneuvers and arrested landings may dislodge this accumulation and cause extensive engine FOD or failure. A straight−in field landing is preferred. Minimum power setting after landing is recommended.

The F-16 A/B flight manual offers similar advice:

Flight in areas of icing should be avoided whenever possible. If icing conditions are anticipated or cannot be avoided, tum ANTI ICE switch to ON ~ and PROBE HEAT switch to PROBE HEAT. Frequently check the aircraft leading edges for indication of ice buildup. Make all throttle movements slower than normal when in potential icing conditions to reduce possibility of engine stalls and/or stagnation. Consider diverting to an alternate field if required to avoid icing conditions.

Fighter aircraft, with their thin, low aspect wings and sharp leading edges are actually more susceptible to ice accumulation than other kinds of aircraft wings. They do have one advantage in the sheer climbing power and maneuvering capability to get out of an icing area with a slow to moderate accumulation rate. Fast ice accumulation could be very dangerous to an fighter, especially during low speed operations, i.e., descent into a terminal environment and landing in marginal weather.

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    $\begingroup$ “ANTI-ICE Switch” is for the engine inlet only? $\endgroup$
    – Peter
    Commented Dec 17, 2020 at 20:14
  • $\begingroup$ Then what do fighter pilots do if flight in icing conditions becomes an operational necessity? $\endgroup$
    – Vikki
    Commented Feb 3, 2021 at 17:03
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    $\begingroup$ That’s not an operational necessity. If you’re talking about combat flying in icing conditions, it’s generally not done. And neither can the guys on the other side. “All weather” is not quite what you think it is in terms of fighter airplanes. $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 3, 2021 at 17:50

Good question! As it turns out, fighter jets do not have deicing equipment on the flight surfaces such as wings and stabilizer, but they usually do have it around the engine inlet(s).

The reason is that for the most part jet fighters operate at altitudes where icing is not a problem, and the pilots know to avoid conditions that could lead to icing. Icing on the inlets is another matter, and needs to be prevented to avoid ice being sucked into the engine and damaging it.

Also, many fighters are designed so that if ice does form, it will not affect performance as drastically as it would other types of aircraft.

Finally, when there are conditions on the ground that could cause ice buildup on the aircraft, they are generally treated with a generous dose of deicing fluid to remove it just before taking off.

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    $\begingroup$ “Also, many fighters are designed so that if ice does form, it will not affect performance as drastically as it would other types of aircraft.” Please cite a source for this as it contradicts basic aerodynamics. $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 13, 2019 at 5:48
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    $\begingroup$ @Carlo with enough thrust, you can make a brick fly $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 13, 2019 at 6:52
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    $\begingroup$ And @CarloFelicione if you are looking for an "answer" kindly create your own question. $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 13, 2019 at 13:26
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    $\begingroup$ Peter Kampf, that’s little help to most fighters, which are not flying at those speeds at altitude’s were icing is normally encountered in the NAS. Unless it’s an emergency those airplanes are not exceeding 300 knots indicated at low altitudes where icing is likely. $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 13, 2019 at 23:56
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    $\begingroup$ @CarloFelicione, if you prefer the non-slogan version, most fighters have a thrust-to-weight ratio approaching or exceeding 1. With that sort of engine power available, aerodynamics is an optional extra. $\endgroup$
    – Mark
    Commented Oct 27, 2020 at 20:28

One other aspect of fighter aircraft that may explain why they do not have de-icing gear:

Such gear would add to the weight and complexity of the aircraft. Fighter aircraft are on the bleeding edge of technology, where even a small advantage over an opponent can make the difference between victory and defeat.

For example, deicing boots on the leading edge of the wings could degrade performance slightly, or could adversely affect wing performance if they are damaged due to combat.

Put simply, there is nothing on a fighter aircraft that doesn't contribute to its fighting ability, because a potential adversary builds their fighters to the same basic standard.

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    $\begingroup$ I think you take the myth of "every ounce on a fighter more valuable than equal weights in gold" far too seriously. All modern fighters are designed with a huge weight budget surplus to meet future upgrades, especially in the radar and avionics departments, so I'm pretty certain there's plenty of weight to spare for a leading edge wing deicing. Of course not the rubber boots type, they are only for the subsonic blunt wing shapes. But definitely an electrical type if only the need arises. As a proof, there is plenty of room for several UHF antennas in the leading edge of F15 and F22. $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 14, 2019 at 16:50
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    $\begingroup$ fighters are only the bleeding edge of tech when they are designed. f22 looks possibly old school by the standard of f35. It doesn't even use the right inlet. Plenty of f16s still in use and fighting wars and winning them with their primitive 486 controllers. $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 14, 2019 at 16:54
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    $\begingroup$ What makes a military aircraft successful is not its design, it is its pilot(s). $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 28, 2020 at 14:51

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