By the time the single-engine Grumman AA-5 had descended from 11,000 feet through 4,500 feet on approach to the San Angelo, Texas, airport, “light rime” icing reported in clouds below 7,000 feet had covered the windscreen except for two small spots where defrosters labored.
Outside the final approach fix, the pilot noticed a slippage of altitude. “When I got back to the attitude indicator, I was in a steep right bank and headed almost 90 degrees to the right of approach course,” he recounted.
At the final approach fix, the tower issued a low-altitude warning. “Not too long after this, my wife told me she could see the ground, and then it went away again,” the pilot recalled, documenting the sequence in a report to the Aviation Safety Reporting System.
Breaking out right of course at 900 feet, the pilot tried correcting by looking out the passenger side of the windscreen. At 200 feet agl, a chunk of ice fell away, giving him his first clear view of the runway.
Low and fast, he added flaps, which eroded controllability even more.
“I then remembered my training not to use flaps if iced up,” he wrote.
It took almost full power to maintain 80 knots and the glideslope for the landing, which the pilot described in anticlimactic fashion as “non-eventful.”
On inspection, a half-inch of ice covered the wings’ leading edges and horizontal tail. To the vertical tail adhered a quarter-inch of “very clear solid ice that wrapped back several inches on both sides.”
Was his dismissive assessment of the icing reports the bait that led to the errors and near-loss of control?
The pilot vowed that “the next time I hear of light rime, I will go someplace else.” He also wondered why he hadn’t considered diverting while he “had nothing to do but kill time” at 11,000 feet.
Had two hours at that altitude impaired his judgment?
The account reminds that an instrument rating, absent proficiency, is no shield against loss of control. As official guidance for instrument competency checks notes, “instrument-rated pilots maneuvering in IMC who fail to prioritize pilot workload properly” can “become inattentive or distracted and lose situational awareness,” often resulting in loss of control.
This pilot nearly lost control several times. Fortunately, he survived to share some provocative questions about IFR flying.