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Dec 2000/Jan 2001

Table of Contents
The Best of the Boneyard
Pima Air & Space Museum
The T-Cart
Taylorcraft Restored
A Family Blow Up
The 69th Battalion
The $100 Hamburger
Crosswinds Grill, Las Cruces, NM
Back To Basics
Operating at Icy Airports
Hangar Flying:
Midair Collision Avoidance
SWAV News Update

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SW Aviator Magazine
3909 Central NE
Albuquerque, NM 87108
Phone: 505.256.7031
Fax: 505.256.3172
Operating at Icy Airports
by Cordell Akin
Winter has been following summer for as long as anyone can remember, even here in the great Southwest. Winter brings new elements into the equation of flying that we haven’t thought about in the last few months of summer flying: ice and snow. Due to the variety in elevation and latitude, some Southwestern airports get a lot more frozen moisture than others. But even if your airport is mostly warm and sunny in winter, you may fly to one that’s cold and snowy, necessitating some winter awareness training in personal safety, taxiing, take-off, and landing.

Before dawn one cold winter morning I arrived at the airport at Los Alamos, NM (elevation 7,171 feet) for a Civil Air Patrol flight. It had snowed a couple of days before, and the snow had melted during the previous day and refrozen to form black ice. Walking across the black asphalt apron with my flight bag on my shoulder I suddenly found myself flat on my back when my feet went flying on the black ice. After a few moments of assessing my condition I got up and cautiously walked to the hanger, determined that that would not happen again. As I was pulling the aircraft out of the hanger with a tow bar I stepped on some black ice, and ended up flat on my back. I got up and — you guessed it — was determined to not let that happen again. So, you see, injuries can occur in the wintertime just trying to get to your aircraft. Step very cautiously, there may be ice under new snow.

Since footing can be uncertain on icy surfaces, be especially careful around turning propellers. One slip and you could fall into the prop, even if entering the aircraft from behind the spinning blades. Hand proping is not a good idea on an icy surface.

Braking action on ice and snow will be poor, so taxi slowly, avoiding sharp turns and the need for quick stops. Tap the brakes lightly and briefly to avoid a skid that will develop if you lock up the brakes. Using the brakes makes heat, and if snow is blown back on the brakes by the use of power, the snow will melt. The melted snow could freeze and lock the brakes, and if the runway is icy this might not be noticed until the tires blowout on takeoff. Not the kind of surprise we want to have.

Taxi slowly if slush is present. It can splash back onto the airframe, and might freeze on the tail surfaces and in the landing gear wells. After takeoff, the slush could freeze the gear in the up position. After taxing in slush, leave the landing gear down for a minute after takeoff to blow as much of the slush as possible away before retracting the gear. Since wheel covers and fairings like to collect slush, it is best to remove them during winter.

If there is fresh snow, the taxiway may be hard to see and the airport signs may not be readable. Don’t cut corners too sharply, or you may end up in a hole along the edge of the taxiway covered by the snow. Consideration needs to be given to the run-up. Try to find a patch of pavement without ice, or else leave some space ahead to slide a little as you run up.

In cold weather, when a lot of snow has been plowed, the snow banks can be high, and may be frozen. Watch the wingtips, and be especially aware of the position of the tail during turns. A frozen snow bank is hard enough to damage the aircraft.

How will snow or slush on the runway affect takeoff distance? FAR 91.103 requires that we calculate required runway lengths for takeoff and landing. Most pilot’s operating handbooks have no figures on an increase in required distance because of snow or slush on the runway. It’s obvious that it will take a lot more runway, but how much is “a lot more?” If the snow is six to eight inches deep and not drifted, it would be safe to say that you should have a runway at least twice as long as dry runway calculations would require. You should plan to abort the takeoff if you have not reached rotation speed after half the runway length. If there are varying depths of snow, a takeoff is not wise because directional control would be difficult. Also, blowing snow is a good reason to cancel a launch, because zero visibility could be encountered during the takeoff.

If fresh snow covers the runway and the surrounding area, and there are no runway edge markings, it will be difficult to track straight down the runway, since all the white in front looks the same, runway and non-runway. AC 91-13C mentions that on some occasions in extremely cold weather, it may be advisable to use carburetor heat on takeoff.

Always obtain the condition of the runway prior to landing. If that is not possible, apply half flaps and fly to the side of the runway to observe the conditions. Check for snow banks, drifts and blowing snow. Snow will act to shorten the landing distance. The main concern is the ability to control the aircraft after landing. Snowdrifts could make control difficult, as could a crosswind on an icy runway.

At night the risk factor increases. Runway lights may not be visible due to snow, and reflective runway lighting will also be covered. It will not be possible to visually assess the condition of the runway from the air.

The Southwest has a special beauty in wintertime for those who fly here. Just exercise the extra caution that this winter wonderland requires. An ice acronym could be “I Care Enough” about my passengers and myself to operate safely during the winter season.

Cordell Akin is a CFII, MEI with a total of 10,000 hours and 3,000 hours as a flight instructor. He spent 15 years in East Africa flying a C-185 and a P-210. He is the owner of Akin Air at Coronado Airport in Albuquerque.
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The material in this publication is for advisory information only and should not be relied upon for navigation, maintenance or flight techniques. SW Regional Publishing, Inc. and the staff neither assume any responsibilty for the accuracy of this publication's content nor any liability arising out of it. Fly safe.