Usefulness of IFR in Mountainous Areas

Discussion in 'Flight Following' started by skiermike, Nov 12, 2017.

  1. skiermike

    skiermike Pre-Flight

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    I am IFR rated but not current, and after flying more recently after the purchase of a plane (again... its a sickness), I have been thinking about getting current again. That said, I live in Idaho, i.e. big mountains and MEAs betweeen 10-13k’.

    When I got my IR I was living in Southern California where the main purpose was to bust through 1,000’of marine layer every once in a while when it’s 65 degrees out. I have always assumed that flying IFR at altitude, in below freezing temps, in visible moisture, like pretty much anytime you would use the IR here in the mountains, is a hard-stop no go and basically assumed my days of flying IFR in a non-FIKI piston single would end when I moved back home.

    So here’s the question: where do you stand on being in the clouds below freezing in a piston single non-FIKI? Is there any chance my thinking is overly conservative? I almost hesitate to say that - but I guess the reason I’m even thinking about it is when I bought this plane, the seller flew it to me through some really crappy weather, getting up as high as 16,000’ at times. When I asked him if he picked up any ice he said “a little, not enough to worry about”. I asked him if that bothered him and he said “ehh, I’ve been around the block a few times,” and shrugged.
     
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  2. GRG55

    GRG55 Final Approach

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    I live in the Rockies. IMC in a single piston over the mountains isn't fun. IMC above freezing less so.
    And if I had to pick a situation I would prefer never to be in, "IMC in freezing temperatures over the mountains in a piston single without FIKI" describes it pretty well.
     
  3. Tom-D

    Tom-D Taxi to Parking

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    SEL ... Idaho....weather.... If you can't see there, don't go there.
     
  4. Dave Krall CFII

    Dave Krall CFII Final Approach

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    It’s not the temp as much as the moisture so if it’s dry and a solid forcast to stay that way for a day I might go over the Cascade Ice Machine. If moisture’s visible in winter even though totally flyable IFR in the lowlands, when you get up to crossing altitude for the passes you’ll be in icing conditions. Some pass routes aren’t that long and there’d be a good chance you’d be able to start your descent if in ice trouble but it’s not a risk at all worth taking for me and I’ve cancelled many flights over 3 decades because of such routine conditions.

    In fact right about now we’re due to likely hear of another icing accident due to a pilot’s misjudgment of those conditions -happens around these early months of winter many years over the Cascades.
     
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  5. Clark1961

    Clark1961 Touchdown! Greaser!

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    Flyable IMC over the western mountains is pretty rare for single engine non-FIKI. You can get into glaciated clouds when it’s cold enough. Other than that I’m in the camp that says stay out of it unless you can see through it when it comes to icing.

    In other words how many times can you go around the block before ya unexpectedly find out that ya just can’t make it this time?

    That said we all know about that guy who’ll do things we chose to avoid. Everybody has their own level of risk tolerance.
     
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  6. steingar

    steingar Taxi to Parking

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    No way would I fly without being able to see the nearby rocks. No way, no how. Rocks are bad. They make weather and eat airplanes.
     
  7. skiermike

    skiermike Pre-Flight

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    Dave - can you explain what you mean by this? Do you mean it’s not the temps on the ground that matters but visible moisture over the mountains that matters (I.e. because regardless of the temps on the ground, at altitude it will be below freezing)? I assume that’s what you mean and this has been my position on the subject as well.

    I’m partly not understanding because it seems like you said if there’s a solid forecast (is that a good VFR forecast, or solid IMC?) you might go over the Cascades. If it’s the former, why wouldn’t you go over the Cascades in VFR conditions (provided winds are reasonable, I guess). If it’s the latter, what IMC conditions would make you comfortable crossing the mountains?
     
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  8. brien23

    brien23 Cleared for Takeoff

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    Anybody know if a Cirrus Airframe Parachute System (CAPS) recovery system works if you are full of ice.
     
  9. Palmpilot

    Palmpilot Touchdown! Greaser!

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    I think he was referring to dry conditions that are forecast to continue without interruption for a day.
     
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  10. Dave Krall CFII

    Dave Krall CFII Final Approach

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    By solid forecast I meant a stable system predicting favorable Wx, at least continuing overnight. If it’s real cold the air is often not bad for moisture content and icing is much less and manageable but I still hate it. I would and do go over the Cascades and other mountains VFR with reasonable winds. In the lowlands they’d may be say 25 knots and will be higher in the mountains usually. If winds get up over 45 knots flying in little SkyLanes, SkyHawks and such, I wonder if I should’ve turned back but, usually keep going as those Aircraft have handled the rock and roll admirably. In choppers I’m much more restrictive on personal limits.
     
  11. Dave Krall CFII

    Dave Krall CFII Final Approach

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    Correct, I was.
     
  12. Ghery

    Ghery Final Approach

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    I live (and fly) on the west side of Washington. Like you, I have the IR but I'm not current. If I were current, would I fly in the clag over the mountains when the freezing level is lower than the MEA? No way. Like you, I'm conservative. I fly single engine, non-FIKI aircraft and I hate ice. I've picked it up twice in a 182 and don't care to see it on the airframe again. The Cascades are a tremendous ice machine and I don't like playing with it. Just my thoughts.
     
  13. skiermike

    skiermike Pre-Flight

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    I feel like I'm being a PITA now, but I'm still confused. To be clear, would you be willing to fly over the Cascades in visible moisture with below freezing temps in any circumstances? Your comment about "stable system predicting favorable Wx" doesn't necessarily mean VMC to me. Are there favorable IMC conditions where you would consider it? If so, what are they? Also, the comment that really cold air is not as bad for moisture content - are we talking VMC or IMC? If VMC, why would we be concerned about moisture content except for potential future weather formation or carb ice, I suppose (which, of all legitimate concerns, doesn't happen to be mine - fuel injection FTW).
     
  14. brien23

    brien23 Cleared for Takeoff

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    I live and fly next to one of the largest ice machines on the planet – the Cascade mountains. Even if you do not intend to fly in icing conditions you can quickly find yourself in DICEY situations quickly. Their is no shortage of stories of military aircraft, that are flight into known ice capable picking up so much ice they were in real trouble. So single engine flight into it can be done, their is a lot of information from the FAA on how to do it, you can fly IFR and fly in the Cascade mountain ice machine from October to April and live to tell about it.
     
  15. iamtheari

    iamtheari Cleared for Takeoff

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    The accident reports seem to consistently show that you have to pull the red handle early in bad icing. If you are already plummeting faster than Vne the parachute won't work. If you still have control over your airspeed, you can deploy the parachute and sip your coffee on the way down.

    As far as the risks of IMC in the mountains, my risk tolerance is not sufficient to fly at the same level as big rocks that I cannot see. That means that I would not fly into the mountains at night or in IMC. However, I don't live in the mountains, so I may be internally exaggerating the risks.

    But the fact I even spend time thinking about flying into the mountains should answer the OP's real question: The utility of the instrument rating if you live in the mountains goes up if you ever plan to travel out of the mountains. The OP didn't say which part of Idaho he lives in, but Boise is 300 nm from Portland or 450 nm from San Francisco. Coeur D'Alene is only 224 nm from Seattle. Maybe you won't use the rating flying close to home, but it still has a lot of utility if your mission involves traveling far from home, just as a mountain flying course has utility to me here in the Great Plains. As with all things, your mission defines your needs both for equipment and for training.
     
  16. skiermike

    skiermike Pre-Flight

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    Oh man... I must be getting dense.

    By "even if you do not intend to fly in icing conditions..." do you mean inadvertent VMC into IMC or are we talking about IMC that's not producing ice into IMC that does produce ice? I am really interested to learn about "safe" vs. "unsafe" IFR flight in IMC, in visible moisture at below freezing temperatures, if there is such a thing.
     
  17. saddletramp

    saddletramp Line Up and Wait

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    I too have spent several decades flying the the mountains of the Northwest. When I was actively teaching as a CFII I always taught the students that flying IFR in the mountains in a single engine airplane was something you could rarely do. In conditions where you could, always have an escape route.

    When you do pick up icing it's all about rate of accumulation vs time of exposure.

    I currently own an IFR equipped 182 but only file IFR in actual weather if I'm leaving the west side with a low overcast knowing I'll break out to VFR conditions or maybe shoot an approach if an airport is below VFR & I have an escape route to VFR conditions.

    I flew a lot of single engine IFR in a Turbo 210 as a corporate pilot but it had a great rate of climb, oxygen, & it had boots, prop heat, etc. There were many times when it wasn't much fun.

    I envy the midwest pilots that have low MEAs & no big rocks to hit.
     
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  18. skiermike

    skiermike Pre-Flight

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    OP here, I do live in Boise. All of the destinations you listed require crossing a significant mountain range: Portland (Cascades), San Fran (Sierra), Seattle (Cascades), so usefulness, I suppose, is again limited to low-level "marine layer" type conditions at those prospective destinations.

    Which all kind of begs a different question: What IMC conditions / scenarios do you all fly in, in non-FIKI single engine aircraft, where you feel the instrument rating is really useful? In my experience it has been the thirty seconds of actual IMC getting into and out of socal airports in the morning marine layer in the early summer, and that's about it. Everything else in my world is 10k'+ MEAs and freezing temperatures, pretty much any time of the year - the only exception to this is in the summer when the potential for above-freezing actual IMC exists, but now it's in thunderstorm or pre-thunderstorm buildups... i.e. again, a no-go.
     
  19. bobmrg

    bobmrg En-Route

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    There is not. I'm another west-of-the-Cascades guy, and (when I was active) if I could not get above the freezing level in non-icing conditions I would not go. Turned down a couple of Part 135 middle-of-the-freezing-night trips because I am not crazy. ATC used to have a program called "vectors for icing," and it worked like this: Depart the Seattle area westbound and climb over the relatively flat terrain west of Puget Sound until above the freezing level (and on top) before turning eastbound, crossing the west slope no lower than 8000 feet; on the return trip, overfly Seattle and descend over the flatlands before turning back for an approach. There is no such thing as a safe load of ice in any airplane, and structural ice can bring you down in a hurry...I've read too many stories about pilots in twins carrying ice and using full power to keep their planes flying long enough to make it to a landing.

    Rule to live by: If the question is "if" (if you can get above the fzlvl, if the fzlvl is as forecast, if the tops forecast is correct) the answer is "no." And don't rely on pilot reports unless they are "the forecast ice does not exist" and take even that with a grain of salt.

    Bob
     
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  20. olasek

    olasek Pattern Altitude

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    I am now undergoing Cirrus transition curse and there is a lot of info abut CAPS and its limitations.
    Nowhere did it say that heavy icing would prevent CAPS deployment, per my understanding the only thing that can interfere with your CAPS is IAS too high, or altitude too low. The specs list 133 IAS as your "official" maximum CAP speed deployment however there is a single documented successful deployment at 187 IAS. There was an attempt once to deploy CAPS over Sierra Nevada mountains due to heavy ice but by the time pilot pulled the handle he was already over 200 IAS, needles to say he did not survive (it was a brand new Cirrus - less than one month old).
     
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  21. James331

    James331 Touchdown! Greaser!

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    I fly a FIKI into ice all the time for work, and even times I didn't expect a ton on ice, occasionally I got a ton, non FIKI I wouldn't play that game.

    It's right up there with getting drunk every night and driving 50 miles home, it works fine till it doesn't, then it REALLY doesn't.
     
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