Ice Isn’t Nice

Last August I was flying home from Quebec City, passing through the tops of some clouds at 8,000 feet when some sparkling crystals on my OAT probe caught my eye. That's the first place I look when I suspect ice; but on this summer day it caught me a bit by surprise. The tops of the puffy cumulus clouds were unusually soggy, and a glance at the wing leading edges also revealed some light rime. I asked for 10,000 feet, told the controller why, and the sun quickly eliminated the trace of ice.

Now that we're getting closer to Halloween, it's time to be that much more aware of frost on the pumpkin -- and on our airplanes. Some points to remember include the preflight. If you don't have a hangar, or if your airplane was stored outside during an overnight trip, you need to be concerned with frost buildup overnight. Be especially concerned if one wing has southeast exposure, since the rising sun could melt the frost off that wing long before it reaches the other. Reduced lift on takeoff from frost buildup is bad -- but asymmetrically reduced lift is even worse.

For those with anti-icing equipment, now is a good time to go through a checklist to make sure it's all working as it should. Boots, TKS systems, alcohol sprayers and heated windshields are seldom used in anger, but when you need them chances are you really need them. If you don't have anti-icing equipment, October is a good time to apply a spray-on ice inhibitor, if you are so inclined. I have sprayed on one of those products every winter, but am relieved that I have yet to experience a reason to vouch for its effectiveness.

Finally, I remember Richard Collins' procedure for entering clouds in flight -- no matter the season. He would talk over with himself the things he needed to focus on as he went 'Popeye.' One of his callouts was to turn on pitot heat -- and now is as good a time as any to reaffirm that reminder. I confess I had to kick myself after that Quebec City flight when I got home and noticed the cobwebs on the pitot heat switch were still intact.

Mark Phelps is a senior editor at AVweb. He is an instrument rated private pilot and former owner of a Grumman American AA1B and a V-tail Bonanza.

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