Acknowledgements: AIR FACTS (Richard Collins)

(Ed. Note: Richard offers the benefit of long experience, edited for brevity)

Some things that had to be learned the hard way

You can’t say “been there, done that” until you have actually been there and done that. Then you should be able to add “and learned that”.

In the beginning, there are many unknowns up ahead. We might have theoretical knowledge, or have had a crack at it in a simulator, but when the chips are down only the real thing matters. How well was the challenge met and what lessons were learned? 

Most lessons to be learned relate to WEATHER. There are other challenges, but fortunately relatively rare. Engines may quit, systems fail and avionics sizzle or fade, but weather challenges a pilot on far more flights than those other misadventures.

Unfortunately, some pilots rate themselves on weather by thinking, “I made it, so I must have done okay.” Then they give it no further thought. Those who wish to keep on “making it” delve more deeply into it. So, let’s look at some logbook lessons that helped greatly in subsequent encounters with the elements.

Ice has always been a hot topic among instrument pilots and vast fortunes have been spent on ice-protection gear. I bought it and flew with it for 28 years, perhaps because I had had two notable encounters in unprotected airplanes. One should have been enough.

In the first encounter, the weather briefer had said there should be an ice-free altitude; but I couldn’t find it, and I flew for a bit too long before deciding that I had best get this popsicle on the ground.

There was a developing low-pressure system south of the route and that is a classic setup for ice in that part of the country. The low brings moisture up from the sea, there is lifting, and presto, when that mixes with the cold air north of the low all Hell freezes over. The wings, too! This was in the early ‘60s, so I hadn’t been flying for too long. But I had heard all the stories, and the one I remembered about ice was to fly fast on the approach and leave the flaps up. So I did, and whilst I used a lot of the Memphis Airport’s long runway, I was glad to be there!

The second time, again I got suckered in by the possibility of an ice-free altitude, and a weather map that should have warned me off. There were several weak lows shown, and though I did know that several weak lows usually turn into one strong low, I didn’t know when this would happen until it did, just south of my route as I flew along in the dark sky. So I got to fly another one of those fast approaches with the flaps up and use a lot of a long runway!

Another lesson learned from this encounter was that in a high-wing aeroplane you can’t see the worst of the ice because it is atop the wing, back a bit from the leading edge. You have to judge the effect by the sluggishness of the airplane.

Thereafter, I flew with approved ice protection for those 28 years and almost 9,000 hours. But I flew with it as if in an unprotected airplane, always trying to minimise ice accumulation. I did use the ice gear many times but can say that, because of my cautious approach, it never needed to enable the completion of a flight that would not have been possible without the equipment. It did lower the pucker factor enough to justify the cost, though!

Rule 1 of 1: You should avoid ice whether you have de-icing equipment or not.

Tony BirthComment