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Tips for Flying In Icing Conditions

by Joe Echo-Hawk, CFII, MEI, AGI, IGI, and A&P Mechanic

Flight into icing conditions is one of the most serious hazards that pilots come in contact with on a regular basis if you live in a region that is prone to this type of weather condition. While you do not want to underestimate the risk that ice poses to your flights, it is good to have some tools at your disposal to create a buffer between your flights and the outer margins of safety.

For the sake of this article, we will assume that you have a general knowledge of types of icing and how they occur. What we are wanting to look at here, is how you can fly into conditions where icing conditions either may exist, or actually do exist.

First off, if you are wanting to fly in conditions where icing is present, or may be present, you must be flying an airplane that is equipped and approved for flight into known ice. This is absolutely a must. What if you do not have a plane that is equipped for known icing but are still wanting to fly during the winter months?

 

Here are a few tips for planes not equipped for known ice conditions:

• Good judgment is crucial! Do not place yourself in positions where you will be pressured or compromised in your ability to make practical decisions. Have a backup plan for your travels that allows you to take an alternate means of transportation if the weather looks questionable.

• Be fully aware of your route MEA's and MOCA's along with the most up-to-date weather reports at the time of your departure.

• Having the up-to-date weather and a good working knowledge of your route allows for you to have "outs" in case adverse conditions develop during your flight. Knowing your outs would include knowing where the weather is favorable, where your alternates are, where VFR conditions exist, where the freezing levels are at, and planning for detours with your fuel planning before takeoff.

• The key to handling ice in an airplane not equipped for known icing, is doing whatever you can to avoid it. If you get the sense that it is unavoidable and you will have segments of your flight that have very limited "outs," you are much better off not taking the flight in the first place.

 

So let's talk for a minute about outs and knowing when and where ice may actually be most likely to form.

• For ice to form, you need a visible form of moisture and temperatures near or below freezing.

• Ice forms the most rapidly and commonly between +2° C down to -15° C. It can form in lower temperatures than that, but generally the worst of it occurs in that range.

• Rising moist air tends to be slowing its ascent and stagnating with the moisture it contains towards the tops of clouds. For this reason you can expect the tops to generally contain the worst of the icing conditions in that cloud if the temperatures fall in the range stated above.

• Generally, but not always, if icing conditions present themself in flight and you are able to change altitude by 3,000 feet either up or down, that usually allows for exiting the icing conditions.

• Ask ATC for any PIREPS they may have on cloud tops and bases for your location. Also, PIREPS on types and severity of icing can be very helpful while you are en route, or planning during the preflight stage.

• Obviously, ice adds weight and decreases performance. Loading an airplane heavier than absolutely necessary decreases your margins of safety. Flying a light airplane as opposed to one loaded at max gross will buy you a little extra time and performance, but this should be no substitute for good judgment, and prompt action to exit icing conditions when they present themself.

• Airplanes that are not equipped for flight in known ice should not be out flying on days when avoiding ice is unlikely.

 

Tips for flying airplanes that are equipped for known icing conditions:

For the sake of the following points, let us assume that the aircraft we are flying are smaller single-engine and light twin aircraft. These airplanes are generally equipped with pneumatic de-ice boots on the leading edge surfaces, a heated windshield, electrically heated propellers, and heated pitot static ports. Some aircraft replace the de-ice boots with a TKS weeping wing.

These aircraft tend to be higher-performance aircraft with either turbo-charged piston engines or turbine engines. Always operate the plane in accordance with the AFM/POH and supplements provided, but for some general tips for operating these types of planes in winter icing conditions I recommend these:

• Altitude is often your friend in these planes! Going high to the flight levels allows for negative temps where icing conditions rarely persist. In addition, your chances of flying above the weather altogether is more likely. For this reason, keep your oxygen bottles filled appropriately and ready to go even if you are flying a pressurized airplane.

• The AFM/POH will state the specific procedures, but for airplanes with pneumatic boots on the leading edges, time your boot inflations strategically. By this, I mean to say that you would like the ideal amount of ice formed on the boot. Generally, thicker ice sheds more effectively than thin ice layers. Sometimes popping the boots too early will not shed the ice effectively and then when the next layer builds it becomes difficult to shed the ice. Refer to your AFM/POH.

• Products such as ICEX can greatly enhance the effectiveness of your de-ice boots. It would be worth researching if you can use a product such as this on your aircraft during the times of the year when icing is prevalent.

**For a free online course provided by the FAA about inflight icing click here.**

**For a free video put on by NASA, the FAA and ALPA about inflight icing, click here.**

 

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