As I think back over my life, I can come up with only one day I remember. Really remember. Oh, I remember graduating from high school, but I don't remember anything else about the day. I remember watching the birth of my daughter, but I have no idea what I had for breakfast on that day. My wedding was at noon, but all I can conjure up for that day is the ceremony itself. (Why do women cry at weddings?)
I remember the "Day of the Daffodils" clearly, from start to finish, even though I lived it more than 30 years ago.
It was an Easter Sunday. I lived in northwest Florida at the time but was visiting my family in Louisville, Kentucky, having flown up in a rented Grumman Cheetah with my fiancée. The purpose of the trip was to introduce fiancée to family and vice versa. (Actually, no one but she and I knew that she was my fiancée, and I introduced her as a friend. I wanted them to meet her before we sprang the news on them. The meeting had gone well.)
We started the day with Mass at Holy Spirit, a Catholic church in a tree-lined neighborhood in the suburbs of the city. Coming out of church, into a cold and overcast day, we came across a street vendor selling bunches of daffodils, one of which I presented to my fiancée.
Breakfast followed at Mom's house. (I hate when she makes us go to church before we can eat, but Mom makes the rules in her house.) Breakfast was her sausage casserole, which has always been her specialty and one of my favorites.
Soon, I was standing at the counter at the Flight Service Station on Louisville's Bowman Field, receiving my briefing. As I was planning to file IFR, the low overcast wasn't expected to be a problem. We discussed the ceiling and visibility along my route, the winds aloft and a couple of tower lights that were out near my destination. The briefer let me know that the expected freezing level would be around 8,000 feet, and the cloud tops were reported to be at 7,000 between Louisville and my intermediate stop in Chattanooga, Tennessee. I filed for an altitude of 7,000 feet for the first segment of the trip on V51.
An hour later, with my terrier mix, Bo Jangles, sleeping in the back seat and my fiancée in the passenger seat (holding her daffodils), we climbed into the overcast and continued on to 6,000 feet. We turned left direct to mixko intersection, where we intercepted V51 southbound. We were solid on the gauges, but the air was calm and the trip was pleasant for the first 30 minutes. Eventually, I noticed a light layer of ice on the windshield, and my eyes shot to the outside air temperature gauge. It was showing 31 degrees. Wow, how had I missed that?
To answer my own question, while I had read about the possibility of encountering in-flight icing while taking my instrument training in Florida, I had never really thought it would happen to me, a Florida boy, and filed it far back in my brain. Panama City is a great place to learn to fly, a little too good in some ways. The runway elevation is 16 feet above sea level (call it zero); the magnetic variation is one degree (I forget which way because we ignore it); and ice is something that only occurs bathed in Scotch.
I asked for lower altitude and was cleared to descend to 5,000. By rights, with an adiabatic lapse rate of 3 degrees per thousand feet, the temperature should have been 37 degrees at 5,000, warm enough to send my shiny coat of ice plummeting to one of those famous Kentucky horse farms in the form of chilly raindrops.
Don't I wish!
As we descended, the temperature descended with us. At 5,000 feet the thermometer showed 29 degrees and, still in the clouds, our ice overcoat was continuing to accumulate. We were as low as we could descend over the mountains of Kentucky, and I made the (wrong) decision to climb out of the clouds. Back up through the overcast we climbed, with ice continuing to accumulate. Sure that we would soon break out of the clouds and the accumulation would stop, I held the controls as steady as I could, and we maintained a climb rate of close to 200 fpm through 7,000 feet. We were cleared to 11,000 feet. Steady on the stick. I eased the airplane through 8,000 and then 9,000, clawing my way upward at 100 feet per minute, and broke out of the overcast at 9,400 feet.
I pushed the stick forward. It didn't move. Not an inch. Not a millimeter. Realizing that the horizontal stabilizer had frozen in place, I had a moment of panic. I held the stick in my left hand and pulled my right hand up past my shoulder with my palm pointing forward.
Holding my breath, I hit the stick with as much force as my arm could develop, and it lurched forward. (Now, this was probably the wrong thing to do, but for the life of me, I couldn't think of anything else I could have done at the time, and I still can't think of anything now.)
The ice had released its grip on my tail feathers. I was able to breathe again.
"Memphis Center, Cheetah 67 Delta, we're on top at 9,400 and need to level off here. We have an ice situation."
"67 Delta, do you want to declare an emergency?"
"Negative, Memphis. We just need to hold our altitude, 67 Delta."
"Roger, maintain 9.4. Let us know if you need any help."
My fiancée asked if I had expected to have to hit the stick that way, and I explained that I certainly had.
"We have to do that all the time, honey; it's no big deal." (Liar, liar, pants on fire.)