Winter Flying: Ice and Ground Ops

When it comes to dealing with ice, follow these tips to reduce the risks.

Winter Flying

Winter Flying

Limit Slips and Slides
Most of the incidents and a few of the accidents every winter result from trying to taxi, land or take off in conditions not suitable for such operations. Winter weather can make ground ops treacherous in a number of ways. Icy runways can cause loss-of-control accidents on landing, which can be high-speed because there's limited braking power. Get braking reports and listen to them. Deep snow, especially if it's wet, can greatly increase takeoff distance and increase landing roll. It's often said that the Inuit have a hundred words for snow; we should aim to be as sensitive, because the kind of white stuff we're landing in can greatly impact our controllability and performance.

Once I landed in a 182 at night on a clear, dry runway and turned off on the clear, dry high-speed taxiway, which quickly turned onto another taxiway that had about eight inches of fresh powder on it. Luckily, I was taxiing fairly slowly because it was really dark. Still, I slid about five feet to the right as I made the turn. I crept in from there. Look out too for snowbanks. Think of them as icebergs and your wingtips as mini Titanics. The damage from miscalculating your clearance over a frozen bank of dirt and ice and crud can be far more than cosmetic. Many owners take off their airplane's wheelpants for winter ops. It's a great idea. Snow can build up in them and cause the wheels to seize up, plus there's the extra 40 pounds of winter you might find yourself carrying around in them.

Be Ice Smart
The kinds of common-sense things we do in regard to ice at any time of year make twice the sense in winter, when you're more likely to accumulate ice and far more likely to pick up the worst kind, freezing rain. Even if you're in an airplane not equipped for flight into known icing, you need to avoid it and, if you get surprised, get out of it quickly, even if that means turning around and going back to where there was no ice before. If you do inadvertently pick up ice and can't escape it easily, then be smart. Tell the controller that you're picking up ice and seek help in finding an altitude that's ice-free. With freezing rain, that can be a higher altitude, though a smooth 180 as soon as you start picking up clear ice, if possible, is almost always a better bet. If you do pick up ice that you can't shed, when you come in to land, keep your speed up — ice increases your stalling speed, though by how much is hard to tell, so be conservative. Also, limit, if possible, the use of flaps. More than one iced-up airplane has been on approach and under control only to stall suddenly when flaps were applied.

Check out our larger feature on winter flying, as well as our winter flying preflight checklist.