Archive for January, 2009

FIKI Interpretation

Thursday, January 29th, 2009

It’s still winter and in a predictable follow up to the Cirrus FIKI discussion last week we get into when is it OK to fly in ice in a non-approved aircraft. (This may stir up a hornet’s nest so bear with me.) Some of you commented “never” and others were less restrictive. Most of us are prone to be cautious, which is very smart relative to ice, so this is more of an academic discussion but some are prone to push it.

Before we get too deep into the esoterica, here are some solid references that make much of the discussion moot.

* ASF’s online course: Weather Wise: Precipitation and Icing

* ASF’s Safety Advisor on Icing: Aircraft Icing

Only in government dictionaries is it possible to equate the words “known” and “forecast”. But if you’re not to get cross threaded with the FAA on Flight into Known Icing (FIKI) in a non-approved aircraft, you need to understand. AOPA has just gotten an interpretation of FIKI from the FAA’s Chief Legal Counsel. A full explanation can be found at FAA letter offers new “known icing” definition”.

It took three and half pages, single-spaced, to describe FAA’s interpretation. Seemed like overkill. By my operational definition, it’s straightforward as to when a non-approved aircraft is operated in violation: 1) There is significant ice adhering to the airframe and there is an Inspector to greet me on landing to observe it, or 2) I caused a significant ATC disruption due to icing.

However, that is not what either the FAA or NTSB take as gospel. Earlier FAA interpretations were over broad, making a complex subject much too black and white.

After spending some time with the interpretation, it actually begins to make some sense. The topic of how and when to fly in potential icing is anything but black and white. There’s plenty of opportunity for pilots to hang themselves but also the chance for redemption. For example, to quote from the letter,” The FAA does not necessarily consider the mere presence of clouds… or below freezing temperatures…to constitute known icing.”

It also goes on to say, if there is ice on an aircraft, that is not the only factor FAA will consider. ….The FAA will evaluate those actions taken by the pilot …to determine if they were reasonable….” Essentially cases will be judged on their merits.

From a practical perspective the idea is to get as much utility out of our aircraft without getting caught between hard ground and hard ice. Regardless of good or not-so-good forecasts, we need to have a solid escape route available at any time. With that, chances are very good that if you need to ask ATC for a diversion or altitude change, it will never escalate to anything of consequence. Get the priorities straight: It’s not about legality – it’s about not crashing!

And please don’t forget to file a Pirep of either ice or no ice to help the next pilot. You won’t be violated for requesting an altitude change due to ice (and reporting it). If a violation’s filed it’s because of other more incriminating evidence. But just to be on the safe side, it doesn’t hurt to be a member of AOPA’s legal service plan.

Cirrus Anti-Ice

Wednesday, January 21st, 2009

When Cirrus added the FIKI ( Flight Into Known Ice) option to their SR22 series they joined an exclusive group of single engine piston engine aircraft. Only Cessna Pressurized/ Turbo 210s, some of big-engined late model Mooneys and the Piper Malibu/Mirage came from the factory with FAA’s blessing to deliberately fly in ice. The normally aspirated 210 was not approved because without the turbo, Cessna felt that limited the options for escape. It put too much burden on the de-icing system. Typically, the icing bands are about 3,000- 4,000 feet thick but that can be, and is, the kiss of disaster for non-approved aircraft.

Piper and Cessna opted for deice boots with electrically heated windshield and prop. Cirrus (and Mooney) went with fluid – based anti-ice TKS for pretty much everything and offered it on the non-turboed SR22 as well.

In my view, unless you have a highly flexible schedule or live in the lower latitudes, FIKI approval is essential for a traveling machine if you want any schedule reliability in winter. Cirrus, as an interim step, put an “escape system” on the SR22 several years ago which was designed for just that – to extricate someone who got into the stuff inadvertently. Many viewed that as a license to cheat and most of the time it’s worked usually because conditions were far less severe than what is required for FIKI approval. I know of at least one case where it didn’t and have no statistics on close calls or successful trips. Safety Pilot Landmark Accidents: Ice Crisis

Here’s what Cirrus needed to add to upgrade the “escape” system to gain FIKI approval:

  • greatly increase the fluid capacity
  • add coverage to the vertical stabilizer
  • add a deice light
  • heat the stall warning vane
  • expand coverage to the elevator horns
  • provide an extra fluid pump
  • add coverage for the windshield
  • use panels with expanded flow rate

I’ve probably left something out but as you can see, it wasn’t a quick or inexpensive fix nor is this retrofittable to “escape only” systems. As a result the FIKI SR22 is a much more versatile aircraft. But as with all our systems I am reminded of the great quote by St. Exupery, “The machine does not isolate man from the great problems of nature but plunges him more deeply into them.” Use FIKI intelligently.

Bird Bash

Friday, January 16th, 2009

It was pure coincidence that last week I addressed the issue of bird strikes. US Airways Flight 1549, in all likelihood, proved that enough birds can bring down even the best aeronautical technology of our time. Despite my irreverent title, it should open up at least some discussion on co-existence, if that’s possible. But this isn’t a second bird blog – it’s about the successful forced landing and the key points it illustrates.

Air Safety Foundation just completed a special seminar in North Las Vegas this week regarding safety of flight in urban areas. This was done after two back-to-back fatal accidents last summer. The director of county airports decided an airspace grab would resolve the problem to his satisfaction and we’ll leave that for AOPA to address. Our interest is in how to make landing lemonade out of an urban lemon landing zone.

US Airways Captain Chesley Sullenberger III perfectly demonstrated several key points of the seminar.

  • The “impossible turn” back to the runway probably won’t work – we see this too many times as pilots attempt to return, only to stall out and spin in.
  • Find something soft and cheap to hit – What could be better than the Hudson River? We could’ve asked for a midsummer emergency where survivors merely dissolve over a period of hours rather than freezing in a matter of minutes but this is far better than banging into buildings.
  • “Fly the thing as far into the crash as possible” was the excellent advice of Bob Hoover to dissipate the energy over as long a period of time as possible
  • Touch down in a normal landing attitude – Airplanes are built to dissipate tremendous force if it can be appropriately distributed. My landings are periodic testimony to that fact.
  • Don’t panic – something much easier said than done but highly effective advice
  • Immediate rescue is critical – without the Hudson River’s flotilla of boats and some expert management by both the mariners and the rescue teams, the landing would still have been successful but many of the passenger would have drowned or frozen.

This accident will become a landmark study and a tribute to the crew, the passengers and the emergency response teams. GA can learn a lot from this one even though it might not appear to be applicable to light aircraft. Final thought – well done New York!!!