Many high performance singles such as the Cirrus SR22, some Diamond models, Mooney’s and the Cessna 400 feature the TKS anti-ice system as an option. The SR22 Turbo includes this feature as one of it’s many amazing safety offerings. The newest models are certified for ‘flight into known icing’ but most airplanes that feature this system are not. Without the proper education on it’s limitations, I can see pilots flying themselves into trouble or into a situation where they may not have an out ... and some of those are not so obvious. For example, I was unaware how difficult it can be to find the fluid when you need it. Take a recent flight my wife, Jess and I undertook last weekend, as an example. The plan was to fly from the TFP base camp at San Carlos, CA to Palm Springs, CA to visit family. The weather was VFR for our departure and I planned a VFR flight at 11,500 to stay on top of the building cloud layer that thickened near the southern edge of California’s central valley; the area locals know affectionately as “The GrapeVine”. The plan was to stay on top as long as possible and then activate the TKS for the descent through the cloud layer on the approach into Palm Springs. There was no icing forecast and no pireps indicating ice was present but it adds peace of mind to know that the system will help prevent an encounter with ice. When we arrived at the airport to preflight, I found the TKS resevoir nearly empty and called the FBO on the field to see if they stocked the fluid. They did not. A quick call to maintenance found them closed for the weekend, and the local pilot shop could not help either. This is where it got a bit surprising. After calling many other local FBO’s at other local airports I found that nobody carried TKS fluid. Almost everybody I spoke with recommended contacting a maintenance shop to see if they had any. Of course, being the weekend, many of the shops were closed until Monday. I finally found what we were looking for a the pilot shop at Palo Alto. A short VFR leg to Palo Alto allowed us to pick up a jug of TKS fluid and get ready for our IFR trip to Palm Springs. In retrospect I should have bought two.
Although the Bay Area was clear, we departed IFR and requested 11,000 feet to stay on top of the building cloud layer. As we approached the Grapevine we went on oxygen asked for a climb to 17000 in an effort to stay above the still rising cloud layer. I knew that we were going to eventually need an IFR clearance into Palm Springs as the weather there was overcast at 3,300 and we needed to descend through a very thick and cold cloud layer. There was no airmet for icing and no PIREPS that indicated that’s what we’d encounter but I felt good knowing the SR 22 Turbo we fly, N414CP, is equipped with a TKS anti - ice system. All pilots should be aware of the basics on TKS.
It’s an anti ice system, not a de ice system.
It should be used as a backup plan to escape an encounter with ice rather than used as a tool to intentionally fly through icing conditions.
and, without the FITKI enhancements of the newest SR22 model, this system provides only about 30 minutes of useful fluid.
My plan was to activate the TKS before our descent and approach to be sure that during the time we descended toward the freezing level (about 6000) that our wings would remain clear of the frosty stuff. As we neared Palm Springs, we began a descent to 11000 with our TKS system operating on ‘normal’. It didn’t take long before I noticed that trace rime was beginning to build on the leading edge of the wings. I immediately turned the switch on maximum and asked ATC for a lower altitude. With the system set to maximum the ice seemed to stop building and ATC did offer a lower altitude and clear us for the approach. Almost 20 minutes later and with minimal ice on the wings we were below the freezing level, below the clouds and on a visual approach into KPSP. A quick check of the ‘Engine’ page revealed that we had essentially used all of our available fluid during the 25 minutes we had the system operating!
Palm Springs was beautiful, as always, and we enjoyed the time we spent with Jess’ family. The next day I was preparing for our departure and I called the FBO that was hosting 414CP and asked if they carried TKS deicing fluid. Without telling you the name of the FBO that we were working with, let me tell you it is one of the largest in the world. They weren’t aware that the fluid existed and were quite certain they didn’t carry it. After considerable back and forth they called me to tell me that the local maintenance shop could drive it out that same day but they were two hours away and were going to charge $95/hour for travel time each way before we even bought the $30.00 bottle of fluid from them. It was about here that I thought, “I have to blog about this!”. Who knew that it is so hard to come by TKS anti icing fluid! Our solution was to depart early to take advantage of the VFR weather window that was currently sitting over our part of the state. It wasn’t ideal but it was the safest decision and so that’s what we did. Let this blog serve as a warning to pilot’s that use this system: On the West coast, the fluid is not easy to find. When you find it, stock up. If you are a California based pilot I can tell you for sure that the pilot shop at Palo Alto airport carries the stuff ... and you’d best buy more than one.