Atmospheric icing is extremely hazardous to heavier-than-air aircraft, as it badly disrupts their ability to generate aerodynamic lift (the inherent roughness of accreted ice encourages the airflow to separate from the upper surface of the wing, causing the aircraft to stall at a much lower angle of attack, and a much lower lift coefficient, than it would otherwise) and greatly increases aerodynamic drag (the rough, non-streamlined surface of the ice has much the same effect on the aircraft’s motion through the air as gluing a big sheet of 00-grit sandpaper to your butt would have on your motion down a playground slide). As such, built-in anti-ice equipment (generally consisting of heaters using either engine bleed air or electrical-resistance heating elements, or of pneumatic deicing boots that mechanically dislodge ice) is generally a must for the wing(s), tail surface(s), and propeller(s) (if any) of airplanes intended to fly in icing conditions, in order that any accumulated ice can be melted or broken off before it can significantly affect the aircraft’s aerodynamics. If these systems are inoperative, the aircraft must not be flown in icing conditions until its anti-ice capability is restored, and aircraft lacking these systems are generally forbidden from entering ice altogether.

The Tupolev Tu-204 is an unusual exception to this. Its wing and tail surfaces are (supposedly) so resistant to ice accumulation that it can fly in heavy icing conditions without needing to be equipped with wing or tail anti-ice equipment:

...The wings and tails are relatively resistant to ice build-up, and as such anti-icing systems are not equipped. Among today’s airliners the Tu-204 is the only one which does not require wing anti-icing systems. During the test flight safety has been confirmed without the anti-icing system on the bearing surfaces and the aircraft obtained Russian and European certificates... [Wikipedia, “Tupolev Tu-204”, section 1.1 (“Technology”).]

This seems like a rather suspect claim; atmospherically-generated ice has the well-documented tendency to stick to essentially whatever it hits (as long as it’s not warm enough to melt the ice off), no matter what its composition, shape, or surface texture. Even if the Tu-204 goes the usual route of making the tail bigger so it works fine even when iced, this doesn't explain how they can get away with non-anti-iced wings; how does the Tu-204 supposedly manage to do this?

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I love the analogy for the effects of ice on a wing! $\endgroup$ Jan 16, 2021 at 4:08
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ It is not uncommon for tails not to have anti-icing. At least most (all?) Airbuses don’t have anti-icing on their tail surfaces although they do collect ice. Also leading edges of wings are only partially deiced. $\endgroup$
    – busdriver
    Jan 18, 2021 at 9:52
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Sean, I am always amazed about the nuggets you dig up. Thank you for sharing those! $\endgroup$ Jan 23, 2021 at 13:18

1 Answer 1


Just like Teslas, being designed in California, perform worse in ice and snow than Volvos, Russian airplane designers pay more attention to icing than Western ones, where efficiency is paramount. And you can design for icing, mainly by selecting a large leading edge radius which keeps suction peaks low. In addition, large airplanes are proportionally less susceptible to icing.

From NASA:

Wings that are thin or have sharp leading edges are more efficient ice collectors. For this reason, smaller, thin airfoils may accrete more ice faster than larger, thick airfoils. A large transport aircraft will accrete proportionally less ice than a smaller aircraft traversing the same icing environment.

Also, if the leading edge radius of the wing decreases from root to tip (as it frequently does in swept or tapered wings), the ice accretion will be proportionately greater near the tip. When contaminated with ice, wings with this design may experience flow separation at the tip before the root. Note that this is exactly opposite the way clean wings are typically designed to experience flow separation. Thus, when you fly these types of aircraft, you could lose aileron effectiveness before total wing stall, increasing the probability of an uncommanded roll and greater difficulty in regaining control.

A further factor is the thrust margin of airplanes. Being a two-engined airplane, the Tu-204 has plenty of excess thrust to compensate for the addd drag of iced wings. Since icing occurs at moderate altitudes, the thrust margin there is considerable. The same is true of the B777 and the A330, of course.

But much is left to trial-and-error. Again NASA:

Some aircraft seem to be more susceptible to airframe icing than others. The reasons for this are not well understood and probably involve multiple factors. For example, there seems to be a complicated interaction between the details of the wing design (e.g., taper ratio, twist) and its relation to the fuselage.

And in Russia icing research is well established. From the website of the Central Aerohydrodynamic Institute (TsAGII)

In Central Aerohydrodynamic Institute named after Prof. N.E. Zhukovsky (part of Zhukovsky Institute National Research Centre) the considerable attention is paid to icing effect made on aerodynamics, stability and controllability of aircraft.

The T-101 windtunnel of TsAGII in Zhukovsky is specially equipped for icing studies and has been used in the design of most Russian airplanes. I could not find a confirmation but would be surprised if the Tu-204 basic design has not been extensively studied there.

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Not that there aren't snowy places in Cali for Tesla to test their cars at, though...all they have to do is head up into the Donner Pass some winter ;) $\endgroup$ Jan 23, 2021 at 19:29
  • $\begingroup$ "...Russian airplane designers pay more attention to icing than Western ones, where efficiency is paramount..." Are you implying that this is due to the climate at the ground level or due to some historical, cultural, economic factors? (The rest of your answer is clear) $\endgroup$ Jan 9, 2022 at 16:17
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @paperskilltrees My experience is from the An-70 development: Russian standards were simply more demanding than Western ones. I attribute this not only to the extreme conditions for Soviet aviation in winter, but also (almost) limitless funding for testing. The An-70 was not only tested in snow and hail, but also for ditching qualities, something the A400M program left out. On a parallel track, the Russian K-36 ejection seat is the only one which fulfils all specs demanded by the USAF (Wright Patterson AFB writes those requirements). Go figure! $\endgroup$ Jan 9, 2022 at 17:36
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @paperskilltrees Of course, things have mightily gone downhill since 1991 ... $\endgroup$ Jan 9, 2022 at 17:37

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .