Published in Midwest Flyer – December 2018/January 2019 issue
Fall, winter and spring are all beautiful seasons in their own unique way. Many people look forward to one or more of them each year. Fall, for instance, has its beautiful colors as trees shed their leaves in a cascade of beauty. Winter has a stark beauty that along with temperatures that are often below the freezing point, can be fun to be outside and enjoy. Spring, of course, brings about a pale green hue in the trees and grasses as life renews after a long winters’ sleep. So what do they all have in common? Quite simply, frost and ice.
Frost and ice are often a massive inconvenience to aviators in general, but it is a common part of winter flying. Airliners and business aircraft often have their frosted or snow laden aircraft sprayed with deicing fluids like propylene, or ethylene, or diethylene glycol. But that may not be an option for many General Aviation (GA) pilots. That is because though effective, it can be a very costly option if it is available at smaller GA airports. So, what should GA pilots do to assure their aircraft is snow and frost free before flight?
In an article by author Sarina Houston, titled, “How to de-ice a small aircraft,” published by The Balance Careers, she states, “Aircraft structural icing is very hazardous. Even a small layer of frost can cause a significant change in the shape of the airfoil and a corresponding change in performance characteristics. De-icing your aircraft is often a necessary part of cold weather flying, and you should know how to do it right.”
First of all, remove all snow from the entire aircraft. Check for any remaining clear ice, milky ice, or frost left on all control surfaces, elevators and wings. Don’t just ‘eyeball it.’ Physically feel with an ungloved hand for any remaining frost or ice clinging on those surfaces. If left in place, that remaining ice or frost will seriously degrade your takeoff roll by making it longer. It will also raise your stall speed, and significantly reduce your climb rate, if you get off the ground.
You may wish to buy several gallons of deicing fluid that you can apply to the aircraft. Consult your aircraft manual before using it so you can be sure you purchase the correct fluid and apply it according to the manufacturer’s suggested handling and use. Never spray or place deicing fluid on windshields, inside engine intakes, or in the pitot tube.
Another option is to place your aircraft in a heated, dry, hangar. While there are likely costs related to putting your aircraft in a heated hangar even if it is only there for a few hours, it can help assure frost is fully removed from all surfaces. Make sure to dry the aircraft before taking it outside into the freezing weather. If you don’t, water that may have accumulated in channels on cables or actuators, etc., will refreeze if the aircraft sits outside for a period of time or will refreeze once in flight.
Whatever you choose to do to remove ice and frost, make sure you remove it all so you can start your trip with a clean aircraft that will perform as you expect it to. Safety first, and always.