One of the great benefits of flying is that it keeps us close to nature. In the summer it’s thunderstorms and high density altitude. In the winter it’s winds, snow, ice and frost. This is a brief reminder of something we all learned in ground school. Frost or otherwise contaminated wings do not work well and can be quite unpredictable.
Over the past decade there have been several high profile accidents involving corporate jets that didn’t have the juice to get airborne because of wing contamination. “Looks OK to me” is not a substitute for really checking wing and tail surfaces. Frost is deceptive because it’s so thin but it messes up the boundary layer flow – badly.
When I fly in frost season and can’t get into a hangar, a can of automotive windshield deicer spray works very well. It’s about $3 a can and I can usually get two defrostings . Do NOT spray on your windows – just wings and tails surfaces.
A short story – I had forgotten my deicer and had to rely on the FBO at a big airport. They tugged out a machine the size of a small boxcar, fired the beastie up and then we waited 15 minutes while it belched, barfed, shook and smoked to heat up the very expensive deicing fluid inside.
The line person blasted away with a nozzle designed for Boeings until the little Piper I was flying was literally dripping with goop. I mentioned that it was probably sufficient and just for curiousity asked how much the goop cost per gallon. Let’s just say that I could have bought enough deicer to last me for a decade.
That said, you just have to wait for the sun or pay the price. Either way – it’s far better than an attempted frosted takeoff. That could be really expensive.
Check out ASF’s Cold Facts: Wing Contamination Safety Brief.
Who’s got a frost or wing contamination story?