Weather and Flight Experience
Listen to your Briefer
This is taken from my journal. At the time, I was an 800-hour pilot, current for IFR and flying the same plane that I had earned my IFR rating in five years earlier. I flew all cross-country under IFR and had about 80 hours actual IMC experience.
May 6, 1989: Returning from Dover, Delaware, where I had been involved in stressful business, I was traveling home to Spirit of St. Louis airport using my Cherokee Six.
I stopped at Columbus, Ohio, at the Ohio State University airstrip for refueling. As I got my IFR weather debriefing over the phone, the briefer told me that there was a Pirep (pilot report) that a Cessna had encountered light icing southeast of the field. Yeah, yeah, I thought to myself. Just like the "chance of thunderstorms" you get all summer long from the FSS in CAVU. Well, they had cried "WOLF" so many times that this Pirep went right through my ears. But, I was now alerted to the possibility of icing, although I considered it remote in the month of May and with the temperatures aloft along my route.
Then this intrepid aviator took his beloved Cherokee Six off into a four hundred foot ceiling (IFR, remember) in light rain and was chugging onwards at four thousand feet under Dayton Approach Control about twenty miles out, when I entered driving snow, which changed to sleet and freezing rain, which made my engine run rough, so, because I was a well trained and current IFR pilot with 5 years in this airplane, I opened the air cleaner by-pass by rote for the first time in five years. But the engine continued to run rough as the prop iced up. And ice started to form on my leading edges and on my windscreen.
This situation got my undivided attention. So I yelped: "Dayton Approach Control, this is Cherokee xxxx Sierra IFR to St. Louis. I have encountered freezing rain and need to land immediately".
"Cherokee xxxx Sierra, are you declaring an emergency?"
"Yes I am!"
"Cherokee xxxx Sierra, turn left to a heading of 210, immediately descend to two thousand feet and intercept the localizer for runway 24 Right. I have put all other traffic on hold."
"xx Sierra. Thank you!"
Moments later, I broke out of the clouds and the ice started to melt and break off the prop, cowl, windshield, wings, wheel fairings etc. I kept the indicated airspeed up to about 140 knots on the approach and 120 knots over the threshold numbers, because I knew that the ice might seriously degrade lift on my wings. Moreover, despite the pitot heat, the pitot tube might be iced up and not giving airspeed correctly. Normal stall was about 65 miles per hour without flaps. You don't use flaps in this situation. Training pays off in the knowledge that this is not the first time this type of situation has been thought through.
Then I touched down with a loud "CRASH" sound as all the ice fell off the plane as I touched down and, once on the ground, I cut the throttle, pushed the nose down and slowly lowered full flaps. It was a 10,900-foot runway, so I had no problem stopping with a mile to spare from the high speed.
As I walked into the FBO's office, the phone rang for me. The briefer who had told me about the icing Pirep on the phone briefing in Columbus asked me: "Why did you decide to go after I told you of the Pirep about icing?"
"It was southeast and I was going west. I went up to take a look for myself. But, thanks for saving my life", I told him.
The briefer was gracious. No infractions were levied on me. The FAA controllers saved my life with immediate rerouting, putting all the incoming airliners in holding patterns, as they are prepared to do when the pilot declares an Emergency.
The moral and lessons of the story are several. Listen to your weather briefing carefully. To assure that you get full benefit from the briefing, do not "tune out" what you perceive as boilerplate. And Pireps are far from boilerplate. Know the risks ahead before starting. Always keep trained for the worst (icing does happen in May), and ready to recognize and declare an emergency IMMEDIATELY. If I had waited five minutes, I would have been buried in a hole in an Ohio cornfield. The logic is this: if I make an error in judgment, own up to it, get out of the danger and deal with it on the ground.
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