Should I worry about ice?

I'm learning how to fly this coming Friday. I keep checking the weather forecast and now it says there's a chance of rain and the high is going to be 44F. Should icing be a concern? I know ice can accumulate while in the air even when it's above freezing. I don't want my first scheduled flight to be canceled because of icing, I've been waiting all month for this day :(

1 Answer

  • 8 years ago
    Best Answer

    First, congratulation on your decision to start flying. I am sure you won't regret it.

    I own and fly a Kitfox aircraft, here in Norway. I fly it whenever the weather is good enough, even during the coldest part of the winter.

    Freezing rain and freezing fog is a real danger for us. The problem is that, in order to freeze, water must first give away energy in form of latent heat and that requires that the tiny water droplets touch something with a mass in order to absorb the energy. This is how water can be under-cooled to perhaps -20 C before freezing. When that water meets the leading edge of the wings of the aircraft, it freezes instantly and that destroy the airfoil of the wing and the aircraft stalls.

    I have a friend who went flying a February day, some years ago, in light freezing fog. He went up perhaps 500 feet above the ground when he lost all lift and went crashing into the woods. Luckily there was a lot of snow and the pilot and his passenger could walk away from the accident but both wings were heavily damaged. Incidentally, the aircraft went back to the Czech Republic for repairs and I had the pleasure to ferry it back to Norway after repairs ... but I digress.

    You will be flying with an instructor. He knows if it is safe or not. If you fly IFR (instrument) then you can fly in the clouds and you should be aware of what we call the 0-isotherm level in Europe. This is the altitude at which the freezing point (0 C or 32 F) is to be met. IFR certified aircraft never get above it in the clouds and, for VFR (visual) which is certainly what you will start with, the question doesn't even arise.

    Flying under the clouds in freezing rain is also dangerous but, perhaps not as much as freezing fog. It could however be a reason to cancel this first lesson. I don't think the instructor is out to scare you. He will certainly decide for a day when the conditions are favourable, without much turbulence and ... rain - freezing or not. Incidentally, I have a wood propeller and too much rain is not good for it. But then, if (or when) you will be flying on a rainy day, you will see how bad the visibility gets, even with a light rain.

    I am flying often long distances. Last April I flew to Friedrichshafen, in Germany, near Switzerland, and in August, I went to Belgium. Whenever I meet rain showers ahead, I look at a place where I can still see the horizon. If I can, I fly, if not, I alter my route because loosing sight of the horizon is the best way to end up in troubles.

    Good luck with your flying lessons!

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