Everyone has first flying memories like stall training, recognizing how beautiful the world is from 3,000 feet above the ground, passing your private and dealing with adverse weather on a cross-country flight.
Years ago, before datalink weather services were common place, I had my first exposure to airframe icing and still remember it vividly.
It was November, and my first flight into winter conditions for the season. After five months of ice-free flying and dodging convection, I was apprehensive about my flight from Baltimore to Chicago. My ride at that time was a Turbo Arrow IV. Even with a 40+ knot headwind, I would be able to make a non-stop flight with plenty of fuel in reserve if I needed to divert. My biggest challenge was trying to decipher the icing environment along my route and downwind of the Great Lakes ice machine.
Prog charts suggested that snow and freezing drizzle would dominate most of my route. My training taught me that lake effect clouds usually top out between 10,000 and 15,000 feet. Based on AIRMET Zulu, forecast soundings and a few well-placed pilot reports, I was confident I could climb out of Baltimore in clear air and remain on top at 12,000 feet. The only question was how much ice, if any, I might accrete on the back side of this weather on my descent into Chicago?
As a 1500 hour CFI and a former NWS meteorologist, Mother Nature reminded me how complex weather is. She doesn’t care how many hours are in your logbook, but given a healthy dose of respect and a careful analysis of the weather along the route, I climbed and remained on top and accreted light rime ice on my descent through a broken cloud deck.
I have been able to take lessons from that day and others like it to help students to seasoned pilots better equip themselves for winter flying.
If you’re planning to fly this winter, watch this Winter Flying Refresher webinar presented by SiriusXM Aviation and The Ninety-Nines to be reminded (or learn) how airframe icing affects the aircraft's flying characteristics, how to take important cues from weather observations and forecasts, and the truth about why climbing to escape freezing rain is not usually the right answer – all to ensure your safety in the air this winter.
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