March 25, 2013
This trip was some years ago, when I was a fairly recent instrument pilot, having about 400 hours total time, and about 50 hours actual instrument time. The airplane was a Cessna C182 Skylane, departing from Cloquet, Minnesota to Fort Wayne, Indiana. The proposed route was along the southern Upper Peninsula of Michigan to the Straits of Mackinac, then south through Michigan.
The weather for northern Minnesota was clear, and unrestricted visibilities, and for Fort Wayne, ceilings 2000 overcast 3-5 miles in rain. En route weather was ceilings 500-1500 overcast with uniform tops at 5000-6000 and flight precautions for the northern portions of the route for light to moderate icing in clouds and precipitation below 15,000 with freezing levels of 5000-6000 feet. There are usually no pilot reports for this area of the northern UP, and this afternoon was no exception. The flight plan was filed, with a proposed altitude of 7000 feet. Departure from Cloquet was routine, in VMC. Near Marquette, the tops began a slow increase. Green Bay radio had no information, and a pilot report was relayed. Minneapolis center was advised of increasing tops, along with an altitude change to 9000 to remain on top, due to potential icing concerns. This request was delayed, and they said, "I'll have higher for you in ten miles." Being a relatively new "follow the rules and controllers issue the rules" instrument pilot, I remained at 7000. Within six miles, we were just above the tops, and a repeated request went out to center. I was told that a higher clearance would be available in five miles. Two minutes later we were solid IMC at 7000, and immediately began picking up moderate mixed ice. A call to center advised them of this and a request to climb was again delayed. As the ice buildup continued, I initiated a climb, advising the center that due to substantial airframe icing, I was climbing back to VMC conditions. At 8500 feet, we were brushing the tops, but unable to hold altitude. I asked for vectors to the nearest airport and informed the center we were losing altitude. The controller responded that the ice would go away by 4000 feet.
With the machine at maximum continuous rated power, in a gradual decent for Escanaba, the ice began to disappear by about 4500 feet and by the time we reached 3000 feet, we were clear of icing in IMC. The proximity of Lake Michigan, low altitude and sporadic radar coverage in that area, increases the risk of the flight, should an off airport landing be required. We continued on to Fort Wayne, only to find Smith Field below VOR minimums, in moderate rain. On the missed approach, we proceeded to our planned alternate, FWA, landed without incident, and took a cab home. Weather at FWA was 500 foot obscured, 1-mile visibility in rain. Fortunately, there was no icing south of northern Michigan and Minnesota.
What I am reminded of by this story, is that after this event, I became much more assertive with controllers when I needed an out, particularly where icing is concerned. Controllers have always been highly cooperative for thunderstorm avoidance, but in my personal experience less inclined to work with us on route or altitude changes for ice avoidance. This happened one spring on a return flight from Orlando, to a small field just outside of Detroit. Ceilings were 3500 with icing reported in the clouds on the final leg between southern Ohio and home. I was in the right seat with a highly experienced 747 typed airline captain, filed and at 3000 feet for cloud avoidance, even though the westbound leg should have been at 4000, when Detroit Approach commanded, "Cessna Nxxxx, climb and maintain 4000 proceed direct CRUXX." The captain immediately acknowledged and initiated the ascent. At 4000 we were in the clouds and began picking up moderate ice. I called, as pilot not flying, requested an immediate descent back to 3 for ice, and was given the clearance with some discussion. Due to my experience on the Cloquet to Fort Wayne trip, many years earlier, I would have refused the clearance from the outset, but I think my jet driver companion learned a very useful lesson in what happens when you don't have hot leading edges.
Safety and Education,
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