In my previous post I pointed out that the big jets are very safe. Today’s discussion will focus on the issue of smaller airplanes that succumb to the trials and tribulations of winter flying. I will commence this discussion with a personal anecdote which is also an excerpt from my book, The Rogue Aviator: {. A few years later, long after he had recovered from this small airplane trauma, Ace once again ventured off into that otherworldly realm of propeller airplanes: a family ski trip to Gatlinburg, Tennessee. Flying over the mountains of southern Tennessee, Ace encountered icing conditions and was unable to climb above or to descend below the icing level. The rented Cherokee Six had no deicing equipment, and after a VOR approach to very low ceiling and with visibility near minimums, the family exclaimed another great sigh of relief during the taxiing to the tarmac.}

While accumulation of ice on the airplane is one of the primary pitfalls that affect the private pilot, sometimes even commercial pilots encounter icing problems that result in uncontrolled flight into the terrain. The Continental flight 3407 (operated by Colgan Air) is an example of such. Throughout the more northern latitudes, particularly around the Great Lakes, the pilot who has no deicing equipment on his aircraft must be hyper-vigilant against this often insidious “airframe-ice monster.” The Florida pilot, headed for a winter ski trip (note: above scenario) is particularly vulnerable since that pilot rarely gives any consideration at all to the potential problem of icing. The copilot on Continental 3407 stated that “This is my first experience flying in icing conditions.”  As is the case in all aspects of aviation, experience plays a large role.

Flight instructors, chief pilots, check airman and maintenance as well, should now be focusing on reviewing deicing or anti-icing procedures, including the use of ground deicing fluids. And if you think aircraft icing is only a problem for the smaller airplanes or less experienced pilots please refer (Google)  the Air Florida accident at Washington National airport on January 13, 1982. Poor pilot technique and/or inexperience in the cockpit can severely diminish the longevity factor in large airplanes as well.

A major player in the increased accident rate during the winter months is the very subtle but often debilitating phenomena called, “get-home-itis”, or in the case of scheduled passenger flight it might be “get-these-PAX-there so they can make their connection.”  All passengers on all airplanes should engage in their own vigilance since there have been many flights that were aborted just prior to take off when the passenger looked out the window and observed ice and/or snow on the airplane. When it is all sorted out, this type of intervention will likely be well-received by the flight crew. During the takeoff roll on the ill-fated departure form DCA the copilot felt that something was awry but his response was not as proactive as it should have been. Captains, co-pilots, cabin crew, and passengers should be maintaining a high level of awareness regarding all aspects of the winter weather operations.

The sad statistics are staggering regarding small aircraft (including regional carrier turboprop aircraft) accidents and incidents during the winter months. The bright side of the equation is that the snow at the end and side of the runway can provide a cushioning effect when the air machine goes slip-sliding off the runway. Slick runways add to the pilots headaches during the winter and it is my premise that landing at LGA in a snowstorm with gusty crosswinds and an icy runway is far more challenging than “dead-sticking” your airplane into the Hudson River. For more clarification or validation of this subject,  please refer to “Sully Sullenberger.” Gallantly battle the throes of old man winter for he is a fearsome adversary!

“Keep your airpseed up in the turns.”     Ace Abbott