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  Home > Newsletter > Safety Review: Winter Icing Pre-Flight Checklist, December, 2011

Safety Review: Winter Icing Pre-Flight Checklist

Safety Review: Winter Icing Pre-Flight ChecklistWith temperatures dropping, now is a good time to review one of the most complex and potentially dangerous problems pilots encounter: winter icing. Even if you don’t fly in cold weather often, it is essential for flight operators to understand the proper techniques for preventing and mitigating the risk of ground and airborne icing via anti-icing and de-icing techniques.

Here are some things to keep in mind with cold weather flying, but this is not a complete checklist. Please refer to the Original Equipment Manufacturer Aircraft (OEM) de-icing recommendations and your FBO/aircraft mechanic for the necessary pre-flight preparation for your aircraft.

Even Small Particles Can Be Dangerous

When temperatures drop below two degrees Celsius, ice, frost or frozen slush can form on an aircraft’s wings both on the ground and in the air. Even seemingly small particles of frost, snow, ice and slush can be dangerous and lead to power loss events such as stall, surge or flameout at altitude.

Frozen contaminants about the size of medium to coarse sandpaper can reduce maximum wing lift by 30 percent, or increase lift-induced drag by 40 percent. The results of not taking frozen contaminates seriously can be devastating.

Back in 2002, a Bombardier Challenger 604 crashed during takeoff at Birmingham International Airport. The cause of the crash was light frost buildup on the aircraft’s wings, which had been noted by the flight crew during preflight checks, but deemed to be within safe range. The crash due to ice resulted in the deaths of five people, including both pilots. Clearly, had the flight operators been more cautious about the icing, the crash would have been avoided. Don't be cavalier when it comes to cold weather flying and icing.

Before Take-Off

The key to minimizing icing risks before or during flight is proper planning and preparation. If possible, hangar your aircraft indoors during the winter to protect it from frost and frozen precipitation. Before flying, know the weather at your FBO, enroute and destination airports. If the weather looks adverse and freezing could take place, report to the airport earlier than usual and speak to the FBO regarding their de-icing and anti-icing capabilities, as well as your requirements. Also have a copy of and review the Original Equipment Manufacturer Aircraft (OEM) deicing recommendations. If airborne icing is likely, have alternate plans in mind, such as altitudes and re-routes and alternate airports/routes to work around weather.

If Case of Ground Icing

In addition to normal preflight checks, check aircraft for ice or snow, including propeller blade, flight controls and engine inlets. Even though cold weather does not particularly effect the engine itself, it may cause ice in the fuel lines, control valves, and fuel sumps, and certain parts may need preheating. If ice or snow is found, remove as much as possible by hand and thaw it with heated air or de-icing fluid before attempting start. Never scrape or chip ice off the aircraft.

A Note about Frost

Don't underestimate the hazards associated with frost formations, particularly at low airspeeds, takeoffs and landings. If left on an aircraft, frost can increase drag, prevent windshield visibility and even cause fatal engine failure. Make sure frost is thawed from the body, engine and controls, and windshield anti-ice is used to avoid loss of windshield visibility.

Taxiing in Cold Weather

An aircraft should not be taxied until all engine temperatures and systems pressures are within normal range. Taxi at a low speed with wide-radius turns. If the tires are frozen to the runway surface, a slight motion should break them free. If taxiing in soft snow, engage higher than normal power.

If Airborne Icing Takes Place

If airborne icing does take place, do not overreact. Realize the aircraft is flyable, but in a reduced speed range. As icing can increase drag and reduce lift, you may need to increase thrust in order to maintain airspeed.

If you have questions about cold weather preparation, contact Business Aircraft Center at (203) 748-7000 or visit our Private Aircraft Services page.

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