WINTER AIRPLANE OPS: “SLIP SLIDIN’ AWAY”


ICE IS FUN IF YOU ARE A POLAR BEAR

ICE IS FUN IF YOU ARE A POLAR BEAR

“Slip slidin’ away,” was the chorus of a Paul Simon hit from the 60s. During this time of year, it is what airplanes frequently do on runways and taxiways. In the winter weather, pilots operating north of about 35° north latitude, particularly near the Great Lakes and other bodies of water, will also be dealing with ice accumulating on their aircraft. They will do what they can to get this ice, “slip-slidin” off of their airplanes as they activate their anti-ice and de-ice devices.  The ice on the runways and taxiways and the airborne ice is a major issue for pilots as both types of ice can lead to crumpled piles of aluminum, along with injuries or death.

A few days ago a Southwest Airlines jet, while taxing for departure at MacArthur Airport on Long Island, went “slip-sliding away.” Although the taxiway was not ice covered it was still dark, and it was raining. As most pilots will attest, taxing large aircraft at night on a slippery surface is extremely challenging. Yesterday a Russian airliner landing in Moscow during a snowstorm departed the runway at a very high speed resulting in four people dead and four injured. The airplane was broken into several pieces and will be headed for the beer can factory. The airplane did not “disintegrate” as the Associated Press article indicated. Disintegration of a large aircraft is only marginally feasible.

Between now, January 30, 2012, and March 31, 2013, several hundred aircraft will go “slip sliding” away” as the pilot loses control of his air machine. In January 1975 I landed a Learjet at Montréal’s Dorval airport. The cold front had just passed through, the runways and taxiways were snow and ice covered, and the wind was at 25 knots gusting to 40. After turning off the runway the aircraft’s heading was then 90° to the direction of the wind. In a split second the airplane turned 90° as it responded to its aerodynamic inclination and weather-vaned directly into the wind. Later in my career, after landing an Emery Airfreight Boeing 727 at Dayton, Ohio I experienced the exact same encounter. Freezing rain had created a glaze of ice and the braking action was “nihil,” rather than poor, as the tower was reporting.

Landing a large jet aircraft, for that matter, any aircraft during reduced visibility, such as in a snowstorm, with gusty crosswinds, and on ice covered runway at LaGuardia Airport is probably more challenging than landing in the Hudson River on a nice day. Even Sully Sullenberger would likely agree with this premise. Winter weather aviation operations require extremes diligence, awareness, and skill. Proper use of airborne de-ice and anti-ice procedures should be reviewed by all pilots. If your air machine has been deiced prior to takeoff, it is prudent to be 100% sure that there is no ice or snow adhering to any of the control surfaces prior to takeoff. Far too many aircraft and passengers have come to a sad end in an aircraft that was not properly deiced.

Quite interestingly, we will note that the rest of Paul Simon’s chorus lyrics are as follows: “slip slidin’ away, the near you get to the destination, the more you are slip slidin’ away.”  May all your aviation experiences be devoid  of any, “slip slidin’away.”

This blog is prepared by Allen Morris/a.k.a. Ace Abbott, author of The Rogue Aviator: In the Back Alleys of Aviation (www.therogueaviator.com)  and Dead Tired: Pilot Fatigue- Aviation’s Insidious Killer (www.deadtiredpilots.com)

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