Weather and Flight Experience
I recently made a trip from Tiffin, Ohio (16G) to Leesburg, VA (JYO) with a return trip a few days later. This trip was made at the beginning of January, and the weather was typical wintry conditions. The trip to JYO ended up being one of those in which the weather was much better than anticipated. There were widespread IFR conditions and a temperature inversion and warm front in the area. I was concerned about ice, but I have always believed that, unless the synopsis and conditions are truly bad, it is okay to start out and see what it's like up there, with the option of returning immediately if necessary. So, we started out, climbed through the overcast, picking up light ice in the climb. At 4,500 feet, we were on top with clear to cirrus above, the air was warmer, and the ice immediately melted off. The remainder of the trip was on top, with an uneventful LOC approach at JYO.
A few days later, however, winter had set in. Departure morning was low overcast, predicted high tops, and low visibilities due to blowing snow. I pondered, rechecked conditions, pondered some more, checked pilot reports, and finally decided to give it a try. We departed into low IFR conditions, and were in cloud most of the way out of the departure area. There were reports of ice in the area, but we experienced none. I was glad we had decided to go.
Over Morgantown, WV, however, we were at 8,000 feet and the ride was smooth, but we were picking up rime ice. I received clearance to climb to 10,000, thinking maybe we could get on top, but I was hearing tops reports of 12,500. Sure enough, at 10,000, things were not better, and getting worse. The temperature probe had about an inch of ice on it, and the leading edges of the wings had about the same. The windshield was frozen over, if we had had any flight visibility, we couldn't have seen out the windshield. We descended to 6,000, and things did not improve. I was at the MEA, with the Appalachians below, so I looked out at the now increasing ice buildup. I was in a very capable airplane, a Cherokee Six, not loaded to max, but I was not willing to test it further. We were about 20 miles from Latrobe, PA, so we diverted there, completing an ILS approach and landing using no flaps and a faster approach speed.
The temperatures on the ground were below freezing, so we had to spend some time removing the ice manually. We took a break, checked weather again, and it looked like the ceilings were higher further west. Perhaps we could get out of the mountain area, and stay below the clouds. I re-filed and we took off.
We were in visual conditions, although marginal, for most of the way through western PA and eastern OH. At Mansfield (MFD), about 40 miles from home base, the undercast rose and we were once again IMC. We soon started picking up rime ice again, at a faster rate than before. I immediately asked for and received clearance to the IAF of the GPS approach at 16G. I was confident that we could get home before the ice was too much. If we were going further, I would have landed at MFD. I thought that our initial approach descent would get us out of the clouds, because I had intermittent ground contact, but it didn't. We didn't break out until passing the FAF, and by then we had substantial ice. The plane was flying well, though, and control was good, so we continued on a long final approach. I made the mistake of applying 10 deg. flaps, thinking it would not be a problem.
Approach was normal, I flared, and we literally dropped onto the runway. Luckily, we were close enough to the runway to simply sustain a hard landing; any higher it could have been something else.
I want to reinforce that when flying with ice, you must use higher approach speeds and avoid flap use. Go to an airport with longer runways if possible. I should not have used any flaps at all; it simply raised the stalling speed.