When Jack Frost is nipping at your Aircraft

When it comes to the winter season, there are two kinds of people; those who love the cold weather and those who can’t stand the cold. Personally, I love the cold weather since you can play in snow, go sledding, drink hot chocolate, and cuddle up next to your friends and families (or that special someone) to stay warm. However, when it comes to flying cold weather and freezing temperatures are not a pilot’s best friend, since it can cause produce a hazard when it comes to flying; ICE! And believe me you don’t want ice to start forming on your aircraft during flight. Now I know what some of you are thinking, a little bit of ice can’t cause a lot of problems, especially to an airplane? Well I can certainly say you are wrong because even a small portion of ice can cause a lot of problems for a pilot and his aircraft. So, for this week’s blog, I’m going to discuss how ice can impact your flight as well as ways to avoid ice when Jack Frost is nipping at your aircraft.

Where can ice form?

Okay so this is an easy answer and one that we all know, but just as a refresher, always remember that Ice can form when temperatures are below 32 degrees Fahrenheit or 0 degree Celsius in the presence of moisture (aka water molecules, or water vapor). One thing that a lot of people do tend to forget when it comes to ice and flying, is that freezing can happen at any altitude, place, or time if temperatures are below freezing and there is moisture. As pilots, we must always remember that the temperature decreases with height. So, yes that means you could have ice forming at both the surface or even when you are 40,000 feet in the air.


A little ice won’t hurt right?

As I stated before, Ice is a major hazard when it comes to flight so yes even a little bit of ice can cause major problems for an aircraft. The first major effect that Ice has on an aircraft is adding extra weight on to your aircraft. As more Ice accumulates on your aircraft, the weight of the plane gets heavier and heavier, which can cause you to stall at a higher airspeed and at a lower angle of attack then what is stated in your Pilot Operating Handbook (POH). In addition, as Ice begins to form the airflow over your wings begins to get disrupted. Remember to create lift, you need a nice smooth airflow over the wings to create lift, yet ice will disrupt the airflow creating less lift which can result in longer take off distance then what you calculated.

The next major hazard that ice can impose on an aircraft is major malfunction of important instruments. When ice begins to build along the wings, it can disrupt the function of both the ailerons and flaps since they can freeze over. This is critical especially when it comes to landing since you need flaps to increase your decent rate without increasing your airspeed. Ice can also begin to cause your pitot tubes to freeze up and become inactive. For those of you who don’t know, pitot tube indicates airspeed based on impact pressure hitting the aircraft. If these tubes become blocked due to ice, then the aircraft will read indicate no airspeed. Ice can also cause for the pitot static system to become inoperable which will effect altimeter, airspeed indicator, and vertical airspeed indicator, which again are important instruments and gauges needed for flight.

For example, I’m sure many of you all remember a few years ago, when Air France flight 447 on its way from Rio De Janeiro, Brazil bound for Paris, France crashed in the Atlantic Ocean killing all passengers and crew on board the flight. After years of investigation and finally recovering the black boxes, investigators discovered that the crash was due to both pilot error and Instruments becoming inoperative due to ice. Now I know what you are thinking, Wasn’t this flight over warm bodies of water? And yes, you are right, but remember ice can form anywhere, and any time in the presence of moisture and freezing temperatures. In the case of Air France flight 447 since they were flying near thunderstorms, 40,000 feet in the air, Ice froze over the pitot tubes and pitot static system causing multiple problems for the pilots.

Here’s a video on the investigation into Air France flight 447 which explains the cause of the accident https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YJzg6W2f7Ng

Finally, Ice can cause for fuel starvation of your aircraft. Ice can cause for fuel pumps and vents to become blocked if the ingredients are there for ice to form. As time goes on fuel can become blocked and cause for your engine to starve for fuel. And of course, if your engine doesn’t have fuel it won’t operate, which is certainly not good especially during flight.

What should I do to avoid ice?

So, what happens if you think that ice is starting to form on your airplane or you want to avoid flying in freezing conditions. Well my first advice is don’t fly. If you know that temperatures are going to be right at or close to freezing, then don’t risk it, and call a no-fly due to possible icing conditions. Always remember if anything interferes with the safety of yourself and aircraft then don’t fly! If you notice ice beginning to form while you are flying, then get out of it by descending to warmer temperatures or landing at the nearest airport ASAP! Again, the more time you are in freezing conditions and moisture the more ice forms on your airplane.

Well guys that’s it for this week’s blog, also I hope you all are ready to ring in 2017 this weekend (Believe me I think 2016 has been an awful year for everyone with all the issues around the world). Also, I wanted to give you all some exciting news for 2017, because this upcoming semester, the University of Oklahoma Sooner Aviation Club is looking to go to the American Airlines training center in Dallas, Texas so I will let everyone know when we are planning to do that as well as post about our visit to American Airlines. Also, make sure to check out https://blog.globalair.com/  for other great blogs and featured stories on other pilot stories. As always guys remember that “adventure is out there!”


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