Severe Icing Encounter
The early weeks of 2011 seems to have produced some of the worst flying weather that I have seen in many years. Often I’m asked about what the worst icing I have ever flown in. My reply to that is normally I don’t fly in icing I exit icing as soon as possible. Well on January 11th I flew into some icing conditions that I had to fly through at some point because we all know that we have to land some time and choosing to land on an airport beats running out of fuel and landing off airport.
The story really starts the day before. I returned to our airport from a trip to Stuttgart, AR the day before. Well actually I ended up at my alternate airport after my return the previous day due to low visibility at our airport. The planned trip for the day was to CLT to drop of some fellow airplane owners who needed to catch a commercial flight out of Charlotte due to fact that most of the flights to Charlotte had been cancelled. The flight to Charlotte and landing were completely uneventful and I picked up no icing at all even though there was an airmet for possible moderate icing. The taxiways and ramps at CLT were extremely slick and extreme care had to be taken while taxiing. Even though the taxiways were in poor condition the runway was in great condition.
Departing back to my home airport was uneventful. The traffic was rather light at Charlotte due to many cancelled flights because of a lack of deicing fluid. Departing from Charlotte I quickly climbed to 12,000 ft. and was on top in the sunshine picking up no icing in the climb. Soon after departure I began checking the METAR on XM weather. The METAR at our airport was not great, but it looked like I would be able to get in on the RNAV approach. I did notice some precip in the area, so I knew that there was probably some snow showers in the area. As I approached the airport (only about 35 minute flight from CLT) the METAR had deteriorated somewhat but I still thought based on the conditions I would be able to land back at home base.
With the mountains in our area (highest point east of the Mississippi) and coming from the SE we often will get vectored down to the minimum vectoring altitude a little north west of the airport. This allows us to get down to 3,700 ft. MSL and quite often that is enough to get into visual conditions and cancel IFR. During my descent I picked up only a trace of icing certainly nothing to worry about in an airplane certified for FIKI conditions. The only approach we have is an RNAV which requires the whole procedure to be flown. In the process of being vectored to a lower vectoring altitude I broke out in VMC conditions with good visibility and cloud clearances. I cancelled my IFR and began maneuvering towards the airport for a landing. The problem is that now there is a snow shower between my position and the airport. This snow shower would not allow me to maintain VFR so I needed to decide whether to attempt the approach or proceed to my alternate. From the previous METAR I thought I would get in on the approach, so I elected to get another IFR clearance from approach control to fly the RNAV approach. I requested and received an IFR clearance from ATC.
At this point I needed to climb back up to 5,300 MSL to begin the approach. I climbed to my assigned altitude and flew to the IAF for the procedure turn which is a 4 NM holding pattern. It was at this point that I began to notice a fair amount of icing forming on the aircraft. Having fully expected some icing I already had most of the icing equipment operating so there was not a lot to do in the way of activating equipment. During the holding pattern I cycled the de ice boots once then one more time after passing the IAF and before reaching the FAF. Unfortunately the weather had deteriorated and I never saw the runway environment. At the MAP I executed the missed approach procedure and called approach control.
Since I could not land at home base I would need to fly to the alternate which was only about 12 miles away and fly the ILS at TRI. The weather at TRI was well above minimums and I would in all likelihood get in on the ILS. The problem was that in order to be radar identified and clear terrain I had to climb back to 5,300 ft. Once agian in the climb I picked up some significant icing, cycling the boots several time. By this point I had been hand flying for quite some time since the POH requires it in icing conditions, and this certainly was icing conditions. At this point the rate at which I was picking up ice was reaching a level which required cycling the boots at least once per minute maybe more, they had been cycled so many times I had lost count of the boot cycles.
I continued climbing and was then cleared to the Tri City Airport via vectors to the ILS. The cycling of boots continued at least once per minute. Now I was in a better position as I had some altitude and was getting ready to fly the ILS. The aircraft weight was low since I had burned off fuel and I was by myself having dropped the passengers at Charlotte. I hand flew the aircraft down the ILS with no problem and broke out at about 700 AGL. The landing went normally although I flew the approach about 10 knots faster since I was carrying a good amount of ice in the unprotected areas.
After landing I began contemplating how I would give the PIREP for the icing I had just encountered. In my mind the icing I had just encountered was some of the quickest accumulating ice I had ever flown in. I decided that it was SEVERE ICING. As I taxied by the tower I decided to give the PIREP on ground frequency. I said I had been picking up Severe Icing between 3,500 and 5,500 ft. Evidently they had been looking at the aircraft from the tower because they said they agreed as they had seen the remaining ice on the unprotected areas. When I taxied into the FBO apparently the line personnel had been listening since this was the first time I had ever seen seven line guys greet me in a Malibu.
The question I have to ask myself is what would or should I have done differently. There were no reports of icing but it was forecast, so the possibility was there to get ice. In retrospect was shooting the first RNAV approach worth it when the outcome was questionable due to snow showers in the area? The best course of action and a way to minimize the time in the icing would have been to take the sure thing and fly the ILS at my alternate which was just 12 miles from my intended destination. As pilots we all want to finish at our home base or intended destination, but we must measure the risk against the outcome. The 45 minute drive back to my home airport was worth the safe outcome of the flight. Next time I will think differently about flying two approaches in possible icing conditions.
Keep checking back for more articles in the series Always Learning.