My first encounter with icing (long).

Discussion in 'Lessons Learned' started by tawood, Dec 12, 2017.

  1. tawood

    tawood Cleared for Takeoff

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    I had my first inadvertent encounter, in over 20 years of VFR flying in Michigan, with icing yesterday. I think I’m still cleaning out my shorts. What surprised me was just how fast it accumulated and how fast my plane became heavy/mushy feeling. I’ve posted pictures at the end that I took once I got the plane on the ground/in my hangar…maybe it wasn’t as bad as I’m thinking, but it still scared the crap out of me…

    I started my flight Sunday night, as I flew south to a friend’s house on the Michigan/Ohio border. From my home-drone to the airport near his farm is only a 50-minute flight. I checked the weather before I left, and besides being nice on Sunday night, it was also forecast to be decent VFR on Monday morning for my return flight. It looked like the weather would get bad later Monday, with a mild snow storm moving in, but it wasn’t forecast to arrive until Monday at about 4pm.

    I got up early Monday morning, and checked the weather again. They were still forecasting VFR until about 4pm for my return flight. After breakfast my friend drove me back to the airport and we arrived right on time at 8:30 a.m.

    My first clue that things might not go as planned was when I now checked the weather before takeoff: the front had sped up, and was now expected to arrive in Michigan by noon. They were still predicting VFR until then. Okay, I’m cutting it closer now, but I still should arrive at home by 10 A.M., and the airmet sierra for my flight path doesn’t start until noon. I also knew that I’d be flying over an area where I have numerous friends and family that could always pick me up if I couldn’t go the whole way (not to mention it was only a 50 minute / 90 nm flight to begin with…I could practically uber the whole way if necessary).

    I took off at 9 a.m., just as I planned, and for 75 nm’s of the 90 nm flight, it was uneventful, with the worst of the weather just being hazy. When I was 15 nm South of my home field, I noticed the airport 20 nm WEST of my home field had just gone IFR due to low visibility…and I know the front was moving west to east, so it was only a matter of a short time before my field was IFR. But, I was just 15 nm away (and at this point, my home field was much closer than any other field), and my home field ATIS was still saying 6 nm visibility.

    While still listening to my home field, the very next ATIS broadcast said 5 nm visibility, mist. Now I should say, that I’ve always had a problem “absorbing” an ATIS the first time I listen to the broadcast. I usually listen to ATIS at least 3 times in a row, often more. The first time, I’ll get the local altimeter, and whether VFR or IFR. The next time, I make a mental note of the ceilings and the winds/appropriate runway. The third or subsequent time is when I start to hear the “other details” like the notes at the end, the temperature dewpoint spread, approach/tower frequency at controlled fields, etc.

    As I was approaching the field, and approaching the 10 nm distance from the field, I turned the ATIS down on my number 2 radio at this point, to call on the CTAF. As I continued towards the field, I noticed the visibility was dropping, but not alarmingly so. At about the point where I was just starting to make out the field, I started to get drops of moisture on the windshield. It was immediately apparent that the drops were not “moving off the windshield” as they normally would, but they were staying put. I turned the ATIS back up, and this time noticed that the field temperature was -6C, visibility 4 miles, mist. I thought, “Well that’s not good, but I can see the field, so lets just get down and land.” As I’m saying this, the windscreen starts freezing up like its covered in wax paper, save for two little 3” circles where my defroster is blowing. Looking out the side window, I watch as my red-colored gas caps seem to first turn pink then a chunk of ice forms in front of each cap (I would have expected it to form BEHIND the cap).

    As I start to align myself up to enter the pattern, I start to get the sensation that my engine throttle has been pulled back, even though it is still droning along at the same pitch/rpms. I look at my airspeed: I’ve lost about 10 knots, and I’m also slowly descending below pattern altitude, while unconsciously adding more back pressure. I add power (with carb heat, so I’m sure the effect of adding power is diminished) and more power, and finally full power, just to maintain altitude. I double check that I’ve turned on the pitot heat.

    I take a wide pattern, because the plane feels mushy to me, and fly right to short final without slowing down (which the plane felt like it wanted to do anyway). I flared, without flaps, and the plane mushed onto the runway MUCH MUCH faster than normal. I had to fly by looking out the side window, so maybe this added to the feeling of going faster, I don’t know. Luckily, I touched down more or less on the numbers, because it took a while to stop, not to mention it was also apparent that the runway was very icy.

    I taxi off the runway, over to my hangar, and shut down. When I get out, I would not describe the weather as “mist” but more of a heavy drizzle. I pushed the plane into my hangar, and took a couple of photos. I started up my hangar heaters and it took quite some time for the ice to melt off…so long, in fact, that I wonder how long it would take for the ice to come off if you were flying and changed to, say, +2 C air.

    So here are some pics…like I said, maybe it wasn’t as bad as I felt, but it still scared the crap out of me.

    upload_2017-12-12_9-44-42.png

    upload_2017-12-12_9-45-10.png

    upload_2017-12-12_9-45-33.png

    upload_2017-12-12_9-46-12.png

    upload_2017-12-12_9-46-35.png
     
    Last edited: Dec 12, 2017
  2. kayoh190

    kayoh190 Pattern Altitude

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    Wow! Good job staying calm and getting the plane on the ground safely. Glad you thought of the pitot heat - plenty of people not used to dealing with ice forget all about it in the heat of battle.
     
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  3. Clark1961

    Clark1961 Touchdown! Greaser!

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    Freezing precipitation is nowhere for our little planes to be. As you say that isn’t much ice and it had a large impact on performance. There are times when that high performance (compared to a Cezzna or Pipper) wing isn’t so great. A few years ago a B-1 driver (read well trained and experienced pilot) tried to land his Mooney in freezing fog at KCOS. He fell out of the sky on the missed approach killing all aboard.

    Sin hielo...
     
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  4. N659HB

    N659HB Pattern Altitude

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    I'd need a change of underwear, too! Glad you had a good outcome.
     
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  5. Bill Jennings

    Bill Jennings Final Approach

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    Leading edge of the elevator looks pretty bad to me. Ugh.
     
  6. AggieMike88

    AggieMike88 Touchdown! Greaser!

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    I'm always amazed at the ability of ice to form on the spinner.

    Good job in getting safely on the ground. But for the discussion, I'd like to ask the "constructive criticism" question.... When you first detected ice, why not ascend back into warm air, and then divert to another airport that wasn't experiencing the icy IFR weather?
     
  7. tawood

    tawood Cleared for Takeoff

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    I would definitely like some constructive criticism...I am looking to make this a learning experience, hoping to go longer than 20 years (like never again) before the next time I get ice!
    When I said the "worst of the weather" was haze, I should of added, "and the ceilings weren't particularly high" as well...the ceilings, throughout the flight, were VFR/MVFR, 3000 at start, down to about 2500 at the end. When approaching my home-drone and first picking up ice, I was probably 1000 feet under the ceiling just above pattern altitude.... So, I don't think climbing would have done much.
    As far as diverting to another field...this is one that I'm asking myself if I should have done. The only reasons I "stayed the course" is that I could make out the field, just as I started picking up ice, and as my first ice encounter, I really didn't think that in the 3 minutes of entering the pattern/landing I would accumulate that much. If the field hadn't been in sight, I would have headed southeast, to a field (I assume) was away from the approaching storm. I was actually planning this in my head when I heard the airport to the west went IFR...
     
    Last edited: Dec 12, 2017
  8. kayoh190

    kayoh190 Pattern Altitude

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    Anytime someone posts a 'learning' experience like this, I try to put myself in the same position and be honest with myself about what I'd likely do. In your case, I think I would have done exactly the same thing, for the same reasons. I'm really happy you posted this, because even though we all know that ice can build suddenly and quickly, even outside of IMC - it's still an eye opener every time I read reports like yours.
     
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  9. Rykymus

    Rykymus Line Up and Wait

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    Ditto: I expect I would've done exactly the same, and for the same reasons. Thanks to you, I'll know better if it happens to me.
     
  10. tawood

    tawood Cleared for Takeoff

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    For my own future reference...I could have done a complete U turn in one minute at standard rate (of course you could easily get away with faster turn rates while VFR), so I think a 45 second or faster U turn will be in order for future icing encounters under similar circumstances, as opposed to the 3-to-4 minute continue to land.
     
    Last edited: Dec 12, 2017
  11. PaulS

    PaulS Final Approach

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    Wow, you cheated death, nice job. I can't think if anything you could have done different except maybe make the mental connection of freezing temperature on the ground and mist means ice, that's locked in my head now thanks to your story.
     
  12. tawood

    tawood Cleared for Takeoff

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    Yes, I agree with the caution for mist and below freezing temps.

    Oh, and one other thing I forgot to mention (and perhaps worthy of some criticism): One decision that I made, at about the time that I had to go to full power to maintain altitude, was that I said to myself, "Stop worrying about the CTAF radio calls." Soooo, my last CTAF radio call was when I was 3 miles out, saying that I was about to enter the pattern. I chose to be NORDO after that. I figured with my hands full, there were more pressing matters than the radio. Besides, I was probably the only damn fool up there at that time!
     
  13. AggieMike88

    AggieMike88 Touchdown! Greaser!

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    I'd be curious what the historical icing forecasts and historical Skew-T's were showing before take off and during the flight.

    On the education front, @scottd has some really good workshops about icing, from pre-flight forecast interpretation, to how to monitor in flight, to what to do when you're getting into it. www.avwxworkshops.com
     
  14. Radar Contact

    Radar Contact Cleared for Takeoff

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    I agree with others in that at your position with the field in sight the temptation to continue and land would have been high and I would have probably done the exact same. If as you raced to the final the field disappeared you'd have to turn and fly back to get out and at that accretion rate would have potentially ended up with an off field landing (considering on downwind you were struggling to maintain alt). Given the temperature and the visible moisture (mist) maybe the better course of action would have been to 180 as soon as you saw the initial drops freeze on the windshield? Is that what you would have done if you had it to do over again? Outside of departing 30 min earlier with hindsight obviously.

    Good job on the successful outcome and remembering pitot heat/having the defroster on. Also, thanks for posting. I know with the rough crowd around here it can be daunting posting like this but it's great to learn from others and keep situations like this in your back pocket for future reference.
     
  15. jordane93

    jordane93 Final Approach

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    Thanks for sharing!
     
  16. AggieMike88

    AggieMike88 Touchdown! Greaser!

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  17. tawood

    tawood Cleared for Takeoff

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    Actually, I've never used Skew-T's...they are now on my short list!

    Yes
     
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  18. AggieMike88

    AggieMike88 Touchdown! Greaser!

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  19. keen9

    keen9 Pre-Flight

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    What speed were you flying when you went to full throttle to maintain altitude? Should be thinking best L/D or Vy at that point.
     
  20. tawood

    tawood Cleared for Takeoff

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    Thanks! I'll check it out.

    And "no" on the IFR rating. In my 20+ years of flying, its something I've always intended to do, but just recently started working towards. I've just passed my IFR written, and a few weeks ago I scheduled to start back with an instructor the first week of January.
     
    Last edited: Dec 12, 2017
  21. tawood

    tawood Cleared for Takeoff

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    90 knots or so. I think I could have "slightly" still climbed, but not by much of a rate.
     
  22. Zeldman

    Zeldman Final Approach

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    I have landed like the "Spirit of St Louis" more than once.

    I learned to put my gloves over the defrost, fingers laced together to make at least a small opening to see forward. In a Cessna I have opened the window in flight and tried to use my finger nails to scrape just enough ice to see something in front of me.

    Landing with only being able to see out the side windows is a little bothersome. Taxiing in not being able to see out the front is an accident going to happen.

    You did fine. You will know what to expect next time. A change in behavior due to experience, otherwise known as learning.
     
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  23. tawood

    tawood Cleared for Takeoff

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    Once on the ground, I tried to block up my defrost, to see if it would work better as a taxied back, to no avail. I do have to say, my defrost comes out HOT! Like immediately-burn-your-fingers hot.
     
  24. mscard88

    mscard88 Touchdown! Greaser!

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    Difficult decision when there's the runway, calling you home, tough spot to be in. Sure a 180* turn may have worked, if you were outrunning the weather. But maybe you wouldn't have and then really iced up as the ceiling lowered even further and worst consequences. You were definitely confronted with a tough decision. I am pretty sure I would have landed too, considering what I just wrote.

    You probably were wise not to lower flaps, may have caused even more problems. I think swallow turns you decided on were a wise decision as the stall characteristics would have been modified, and getting carb heat on w/ full power a good decision. Glad you're safe and open to criticism and suggestions. Here's a little article that may help you and others, especially concerning tail icing. Overall, hard to find fault IMO. You stayed on top of the weather situation and appeared to know your outs, but the weather, as it often does, was moving faster and worse than you expected.

    Maybe you should have landed at an airport on the way, not taken off at all, all things to consider next time you're facing a similar situation. Good job though, you learned a valuable lesson and hopefully others may too thankfully to your honestly. Appreciate it.

    edit: the pictures you provided are an example of rime icing, for anyone who hasn't seen it before.

    http://www.ifr-magazine.com/issues/1_39/features/Ice-and-Tail-Stalls_478-1.html
     
    Last edited: Dec 12, 2017
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  25. Norman

    Norman En-Route Gone West

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    @tawood

    Was that KPTK ATIS you were listening to? I live about a mile east of there and they were reporting "11 10:53 SE 6 0.50 Snow Freezing Fog VV014 21 19 92% 13 NA 29.96 " about the time you would have been nearby. Looking out my window I could see that report was a bit generous regarding visibility but it was the temperature/dewpoint spread and freezing fog /drizzle was what caught my attention. I have encountered carb icing and seen some ice accretion on leading edges at higher temps with a narrow spread. The natural cooling of air moving over the wing could have acerbated the problem,

    Glad to hear you made it home safely.
     
  26. Clark1961

    Clark1961 Touchdown! Greaser!

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    Aggiemike provided one link. Another one I like is Weather in the Vertical parts 1 & 2 by Ed Williams

     
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  27. tawood

    tawood Cleared for Takeoff

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    No, but I did listen to them as I passed through...I was through there a bit earlier...maybe 9:30 or so, and they were solid VFR then. It shows how fast it changed.
     
  28. Norman

    Norman En-Route Gone West

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    Typical for Michigan but I didn't have to tell you that. Like Texas, where it can be raining on one side of the street and bright sunshine on the other, Michigan weather has it's quirks.. Being surrounded by the "ponds" has it's effects that are subject to quick change.
     
  29. steingar

    steingar Touchdown! Greaser!

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    When the pucker factor gets that bad I forget about landing patterns. Outrunning T-storms I've come in with significant tail wind. Didn't matter, had to get down. I'll do it again too if its that bad, and if the controllers give me a hard time I'll just use the old "E" word. Good on the OP for keeping a cool head and getting it down safely. I'd need new shorts after an encounter like that.
     
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  30. gkainz

    gkainz Final Approach

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    Interested to see this, as a learning experience for me as well.
     
  31. CJ Rader

    CJ Rader Pre-takeoff checklist

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    Very instructive. Thanks for posting. Excellent reminder to continually review personal minimums.
     
  32. danhagan

    danhagan Cleared for Takeoff

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    Yes, he was a "cool" character when it came to icing:D
     
  33. Zeldman

    Zeldman Final Approach

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    Funny how the heater always works better when ice is accumulating on the outside.

    I say that because I always start sweating when the plane ices up.
     
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  34. WannFly

    WannFly En-Route

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    U stuck to aviate, navigate, communicate, at that point who cares about radio? Glad u made it back to the ground.

    Sent from my SM-G935V using Tapatalk
     
  35. jsstevens

    jsstevens En-Route

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    Just like when the fan quits? :)
     
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  36. MtnMarcus

    MtnMarcus Pre-takeoff checklist

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    I too would have done the same thing under the circumstances especially having the airport in sight. Weather here locally has been low freezing fog quite a bit as of late. Tree branches, weeds, and cars all look like the picture of your wing.
     
  37. coloradobluesky

    coloradobluesky En-Route

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    How much airspeed did you lose due to ice?

    One thing you can do is note your groundspeed immediately upon noticing first ice. Then if your airspeed indicator ices up, you have something to refer to.

    What typically happens is the plane loses airspeed due to ice and if it gets enough ice, eventually stalls due to the usual stall reasons. Stall speeds are higher due to ice, so that makes it worse of course.
     
    Last edited: Dec 13, 2017
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  38. Rushie

    Rushie Cleared for Takeoff

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    Me too, would have done the same.
     
  39. Rushie

    Rushie Cleared for Takeoff

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    Yeah you needed to concentrate on aviating for sure.
     
  40. pepsi

    pepsi Filing Flight Plan

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    Same feeling for me the first time I met icing, and all the other time was the same, scaring !!!