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Air Safety Institute Safety Spotlight

Don't take this icy gamble

Taking off with snow or ice-covered wings is a gamble that pilots shouldn't risk. On December 6, 2003, the pilot of a Socata TBM-700 proved this point, crashing shortly after takeoff from Reading Regional Airport in Reading, Pennsylvania. Fortunately, the pilot was not injured.

During the preflight, line personnel informed the pilot that the single-engine turboprop was topped off and placed in an open, unheated hangar two hours earlier. The pilot indicated that, because it was snowing, he paid close attention to ice and snow during the preflight. He also claimed the airplane was free of contamination.

The pilot elected not to deice the wings because he thought all the snow was blowing off the top of the wing. He started the aircraft, taxied to the runway, and completed a normal runup before takeoff. Because the runway was covered in snow, the pilot followed the recommendation in the pilot's operating handbook and used zero flaps for the takeoff. Shortly after rotation, the airplane began to shake violently, although all the engine instruments were indicating normal. The pilot attempted to hold the airspeed at 110 knots, but he realized that the airplane was not climbing. He then increased the pitch angle to attain an airspeed of 80 kt, and the stall horn sounded. The aircraft crashed about one mile southeast of the airport.

Weather at the time of the accident included snow and freezing fog. The temperature was minus 3 degrees Celsius and the dew point was minus 4 degrees C.

The NTSB determined the cause of this accident to be the pilot's failure to apply deicing fluid to the wings before takeoff, which resulted in snow/ice contamination of the wings and a subsequent stall.

When preflighting in conditions that could cause wing contamination, it is imperative that pilots thoroughly inspect the wings of their aircraft and ensure that they are free of snow, ice, and frost. If they are not, either deice or don't go (see "Accident Analysis: Ice Isn't Nice," p. 65). Even a little frost can cause enough degradation of lift to prevent an airplane from climbing.

The AOPA Air Safety Foundation has published Safety Advisors on icing and the equipment used to remove or prevent it. Find more information about wing contamination in ASF's Safety Advisors, Aircraft Icing and Aircraft Deicing and Anti-Icing Equipment, as well as ASF's Wing Contamination Safety Brief, available online.

Kristen Hummel manages the GA accident database for the AOPA Air Safety Foundation. She holds a commercial pilot certificate with multiengine and instrument ratings.

By Kristen Hummel

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