Ice Education

November 27, 2012 by Bruce Landsberg

Ice EducationThe Air Safety Institute’s newest Real Pilot Story is now online—just in time for a winter flying refresher. The ice-coated Cessna 182 depicted is sobering. The pilot is wiser for his experience, and so are we.

The number of reportable icing accidents isn’t large—the latest Nall report shows a total of 12 in 2010. However, I suspect that the number of icing encounters is much higher—we just don’t hear about them. Remember that ice has the potential to nail much larger aircraft than just C182s, and assertiveness with ATC may be needed in working to get out of it. Most controllers are very understanding—but you have to advise them of your predicament.

If the weather is clearly unsuited for non-ice approved aircraft, have a backup plan. In more than a few cases, you have to wonder what the pilot was thinking. In others, there’s a plausible reason as ice forecasting is still as much art as science. That said, the NWS Aviation Weather Center has a great tool for showing pilots the probability of icing across the country at a chosen altitude.

From now until April, in many parts of the country, we just have to have a viable Plan B.

Here’s a synopsis of my first ice encounter: Piper Arrow headed south out of New Hampshire with Mom on board. We were IFR at 8,000 feet in solid IMC. The freezing level was at 6,000, and MEAs were around 3,000- 4000, but there were no reports of icing. My out was a descent, if needed.

About 10 minutes after leveling off, it became obvious that rime ice was starting to build. Called Center—no response. Called again—no response. Several more calls—no response. I started to transmit in the blind that I needed to descend when another pilot in the vicinity said that the primary center frequency was down and to try a different one—which he happened to have.

Switched freqs and ATC was most accommodating to let me descend to the warmer air. Note to self: try other surrounding ATC frequencies or 121.5 (they don’t charge you for using that, I’m told).

Mom just kept reading her book and never said a word.

The Air Safety Institute is able to bring you educational tools such as Real Pilot Stories and the Nall report through contributions from generous pilots through the AOPA Foundation. If you value these programs to help keep us all safely flying, please consider a contribution today.

Now it’s your turn. Tell us briefly about your first ice encounter and, most importantly, the lesson learned?


Bruce Landsberg
Senior Safety Advisor, Air Safety Institute

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  • John Fuller

    It was the summer of 1982 and four of us were flying my deiced non-turbo Aztec to Europe over the Greenland icecap at 13,000′ in good weather. Only we found ourselves in a layer, out of VFR coverage (save with airliners above), slowly accumulating rime above a 9,000′ icecap. As the speed decayed toward best ROC while we held altitude, I thought of our limited options if we were forced to descend.

    The decreased performance was surprising given the small amount of rime (1/4″) and the fat Aztec wing. Cycling the boots shed some of it but my respect for what minimal ice can do to performance took a healthy jump that day.

  • Jim McNeill

    Over a 50 year career I frequently encountered ice, and the encounters are always a big deal, not matter the equipment I was flying.

    I was scarred early on by a September SLD encounter in FIKI-equipped Army U-3, before anybody knew what SLD was. That day I learned that icing exists in what appeared to be innocuous clouds on a day when nobody was forecasting ice, and that ice can take down any aircraft, no matter how well equipped. If the clouds hadn’t had a high base with temperatures above freezing in the valleys I wouldn’t be here today.

    For the rest of my career I worked really, really hard to avoid ice, flying through it but never in it for any period of time. Later on, the Aviation Digital Data Service (ADDS) icing forecasts were great for picking routes and altitudes which minimized icing encounters.