Tag Archives: ice

King Winter

The latest weather report pops up on the small screen of the FMS head and I grumble to myself. Across the cockpit my FO is starting out the window at the undercast layer, trying to match the cities on his map display with the splotches of light shining through the clouds 20,000 feet below us. I glance out to the north west and quickly pick out the lights of Newark, New Jersey, which are all but dwarfed by the massive glow generated by New York City, just across the invisible waters of the Hudson River. Off to the east is nothing but black sky and ocean, punctuated by points of light which, depending on the speed of their motion are either stars, airplanes or boats.
I force my attention back to the weather report. Hartford hadn’t been forecast to by anything worse than 4 miles and 1000 foot ceilings. As I copy down the latest report of 2 miles, a 400 foot overcast and freezing drizzle, I’m reminded of a joke about meteorologists I heard the day before. I briefly think of trying to explain it to the FO, who know has his nose pressed up against the glass watching the arrival stream into JFK pass by us, but decide to let him enjoy the moment. He’s new and everything, including the possibility of shooting an approach to minimums on a slick runway is exciting. I try to remember that feeling and as I discover I can’t, realize I’ve been doing this for a while now.
Boston Center descends us to 11,000 feet as we cross over the Long Island Sound and go feet dry somewhere just west of New Haven, Connecticut. The coastline is visible as a bright blur of lights below the cloud layer, formed by traffic and buildings on the Interstate 95 corridor, leading towards the bright glow of New York to our west. As the bright coastline passes back beneath our wings I brief the approach, highlighting the possibilities of slick runways and reduced visibilities as well as the probably somewhat convoluted taxi instructions we’ll get once clearing the runway. The FO’s face lights up in anticipation.
A new weather report pops up just as the Boston Center controller hands us over to Bradley Approach. The good news is the visibility has held at 2 miles. The bad news is that the ceiling has dropped and the light freezing rain is now freezing rain. I take one more look at our fuel and satisfied with the number move on to double checking the minimums and radio frequencies for the procedure. The Approach Controller gives us a heading to fly and clears us down to 2500 feet. I slow to 250 knots, turn on the wing and engine anti ice and start down into the clouds.
It’s a smooth ride for the most part. At 4000 feet the airplane says we are picking up ice. I show the FO the attachment bolt in the windshield wiper that general collects ice first and sure enough there is a thin crust of milky white rime ice coating it. He tries to take a picture of it with his phone but in the darkness is unable to. I flip on the wing inspection lights and crank around in my seat to check the winglets and wing. The wings, warmed by the engine bleed air piped to their leading edge are clear, however the winglets are pretty well coated. He manages a picture of that. We keep descending.
At 2500 feet we are 10 miles out and the controller clears us for the approach. Frozen raindrops are visible in the landing lights now and the sound of them pinging off the windshield and metal skin above it can be clearly heard over the engines. I slow to 200 knots and call for flaps. Approach hands us over to tower who clears us to land and informs us that the runway has been treated with liquid deicer. The FO is now all but bouncing in his seat in excitement.
I call for the rest of the flaps and gear as we pass the final approach fix. The ice buildup on the wipers has diminished a bit and while the frozen rain is still blasting the fuselage, it doesn’t seem to be sticking. At 500 feet there is nothing to see in front of us except the swirling mists and horizontal lines of rain but directly below, through the ragged bottom of the clouds, ground lighting is sliding by. I orient myself to the approach path and quickly place the interstate, a small shopping complex and a car dealership as they pass through the gaps in the gray fog. At 300 feet, 100 feet above the approach minimums, we pop out the bottom and the runway lights come into view.
Visibility is still at 2 miles when we touch down. After the main wheels spin up I very slowly lower the nose gear to the runway and then deploy the thrust reversers, staying off the brakes incase the runway is slick. At 80 knots I stow the reversers and gently step on the brakes. We quickly decelerate and tower tells us to exit to the right. The plane smoothly turns to the right and then, as we pass from the treated runway surface to the untreated taxiway we start to slide. The FO’s eyes get really big and he pauses the after landing checklist he has been running. I quickly come off the brakes and adjust the power until we track straight again. Crisis averted.
The taxi directions are more straightforward than I thought they’d be and as I momentarily stop the plane to give way to a procession of snowplows, sand trucks and deicers, I glance out the front windshield, skyward. Briefly illuminated by our red anticollision light and by the rotating airport beacon, thousands and thousands of drops of frozen water are cascading out of the sky. I mentally think through the upcoming deice process and special concerns and considerations about getting out of here. Winter is here. I think about mentioning to the FO that he’s going to have to go outside in this mess in a few minutes to do his walk around but realize that will probably just excite him more. Hmph. New guys.

Back in the saddle again…

(What’s this? An update? No way!!! Really… I’ll try to be better about it for the next few months anyway)

It’s my first day back in the plane in almost a month, and things aren’t going well. After two weeks of Union work and two weeks of vacation, I’m working my first early morning in several months and as if that isn’t enough, I’m dealing with a broken airplane and nasty line of weather. Somewhere below us the rugged ridgelines of the Smokey Mountains are lurking in the cloud bases. Both the FO and I have our radars turned on trying to avoid the worst of the weather, which means we’ve lost our real time visual depiction of where the peaks are. ATC is keeping us clear of them, but I hate relying on them to do that and would much rather be able to verify their vectors.

About 20 miles away Knoxville is reporting low overcast skies, rain and gusty winds. Between our present position and the runway is a mass of orange and yellow radar returns and, if the current conditions continue, a whole lot of turbulence. On top of that it is below freezing up here and we are picking up light ice on the airframe. It’s nothing that the anti ice system can’t keep up with, but it is rapidly turning what was a quick 35 minute flight in a much more involved ordeal.

Our real issues, and the ones we left the gate in Charlotte with, are that the charger for one of our two onboard batteries is acting up and the valve that directs air from the auxiliary power unit to the aircraft’s pneumatic system is jammed closed. Maintenance “fixed” the charger problem while we were on the gate, although apparently the part they replaced is either broken as well, or not the culprit to begin with. Every large bump we hit knocks it off line for a few seconds, flashing a caution message onto our displays.

Although this is annoying, and probably has long term ramifications, I am less concerned about this issue than the lack of APU bleed air. Because the engines can’t supply all of the pneumatic systems’ needs (engine thrust, cabin pressure and wing and cowl anti ice) something has to get dropped during high demand periods like takeoff and landing. Obviously we can’t do without engine thrust, and because of the icing conditions, we can’t turn the anti ice system off. That means the only thing we can turn off is our pressurization which leads to some mild ear discomfort. We don’t have to turn off the system until we are about to put the flaps out, so as we bump along through the clouds I carefully visualize our descent path and associated speeds so I can have some sense as to when we will have to slow and put out flaps, necessitating turning of the air conditioning packs, and causing the cabin altitude (currently at a comfortable 1000 feet) to start to raise to our actual altitude.

ATC turns us towards the finals, now 10 miles away and on the other side of a nasty looking radar return. I have the FO request 10 degrees to the right from Knoxville Approach so we can slip around the weather, which they quickly grant us. The ride is still pretty rough and heavy rain lashes the three layers of glass making up the windshield. It’s warm enough now that the ice has stopped forming and is melting off in the deluge we are flying through, but the anti ice system still has to be on because the temperature and moisture outside could produce airframe ice. Realizing we are going to have to slow down sooner rather than later I give the go ahead for the FO to shut off the pressurization system.

As the engine bleed air valves close I can feel the cabin pressure rising in my ears and in my nose. I try to yawn to equalize the pressure but only one ear clears. By now the cabin has climbed from 1000 feet to about 2000 feet. Clear of the patch of weather, although still flying through heavy rain, we turn back towards the finals and are cleared down to 2700 feet. We get there about the same time the cabin pressure does. From here on in the cabin pressure will change at about the same rate our altitude does, which means I need to be very gradual in any climbs or descents.

ATC turns us toward the field and clears us for the approach. I remind myself I haven’t actually landed the plane in about a month and with the gusty winds and low visibility on the surface, I need to just settle for getting it down and worry about nice landings another time. We join up on the ILS and start down into the murk below. The rain lightens in intensity, just about the time my other ear clears. They are reporting 500 foot ceilings and as advertised, the ground comes into view just at the plane calls off 500 feet.

The plane buffets in the wind and I flip the windshield wipers on to clear the rain streaking up the glass. The runway is clearly in sight now, stretching out over the grey, rain filled landscape ahead of us. I take one more glance across the overhead panel, noting the multiple push button switches normal dark, now illuminated because of the odd configuration we’ve put the plane in due to the maintenance issues. The left wing drops slightly and the autopilot violently corrects in the other direction. I tighten my left hand on the yoke and my right hand on the thrust levers and then disconnect the autopilot. I may not be as precise as the autopilot, but I can be much smoother in this sort of weather. The plane slews slightly until I adjust the pressure on the yoke so that it flies straight towards the rapidly approaching runway.

I take a quick breath; remind myself how to land, and then grin. This one might be kind of sporting…

Winter Comes To Virginia

We are headed north, climbing underneath a solid overcast. The southern Virginia landscape of hills and valleys is sliding smoothly by below us while the FO and I discuss the news of the day. Lately, the news has been the same. Service reductions, quality of life cuts, mergers and the threat of furlough and shut down, with the economy less than stellar, the industry is a mess. The trick of course is not getting distracted, as was highlighted by the unlucky Northwest crew who missed Minneapolis last week. Our focus shifts from the latest rumor to the task at hand as we climb into the cloud bases and the plane starts bouncing.

Somewhere ahead of us a King Air advices ATC that he is picking up moderate rime ice and needs another altitude right away. Center drops him down to 20,000 feet and asks the King Air driver to keep him advised. Ice can be serious business and there is no reason to mess around. We have a hot air heated wing and engine inlets as well as electrically heated windshield and probes and despite all that I still keep a close eye on ice buildup on the airframe. With that in mind I glance over at the total air temp gauge which displays the outside air temperature from a probe just below the FO’s side window: +4 degrees, prime icing conditions.

We climb another 1000 feet to 24,000 and the temperature drops to +1 degree. Within seconds a white crust of ice is starts to form on the nut that attaches the windshield wiper blade to the arm. It always starts there, just like static electricity, and then spreads to bigger surfaces as the icing increases. I look up at the overhead panel and see my FO is on the ball and has already turned on the wing and cowl anti ice switches. I go back to staring at the wipers as the ice buildup continues to grow and spread. The arm of the wiper blade now looks like somebody has spread a layer of frosting along it. Looking back I can see the last few feet of the wing and it looks silver and clear of ice. The winglets, which are unheated, are carry a thin load of ice now which means the tail which is also unheated probably has some ice buildup as well.

I’m still not overly concerned. If we need to we can easily descend back into clear, warmer air below us or climb a few thousand feet hirer. Although ice can form at any temperature between about +10 and -40 it normally is found only a small portion of that range, around zero degrees. Climbing will lower the temperature and hopefully get us out of the ice. I take a quick look at our flight computer and realize that we only have about 100 miles to go and climbing isn’t going to be too beneficial. Despite the almost inch of ice covering most of the wipers now the windshield is remaining clear and what I can see of the wings are clear as well. Our anti ice system is keeping up fine and as long as things don’t get worse we are ok to stay where we are.

Minutes later ATC descends us back down to 15,000 feet. Passing through 22,000 we exit the cloud bases and the temperature starts climbing again and the ice starts to shrink as it melts. As the integrity of the structure starts to break down, pieces fly off into the slip stream and zip by the window. By the time we get to 15,000 the ice is gone and the FO reaches up to turn off the anti ice switches. It’s good to know the system is working because it could be a long winter.

Fun with Ice

I had my first in flight icing experience today. I’ve picked up trace ice before, but this was the full blown real deal. We were flying a long xc from Phoenix to Long Beach, CA and just west of BXK we heard a pilot just west of Blyth state he was picking up ice and was unable to hold altitude. So we did the prudent thing and changed routing.

There was one really big cell covering our route and we through we were to the north of it. However, coming through the clouds at 12,000 feet we started picking up some trace ice. About this time I was starting to come up with options. Well, I never really got the chance. We headed into a clouds and within seconds the windshield glazed over. I looked out on the wing and there was about 1 half inch of rime ice covering the entire leading edge. Also, in edge of the air intake for the engine was also covered. I asked for and got a climb to 13,000 hoping to get to the top but that didn’t work. We were unable to get above 12500. Thankfully as we drifted back down to 12000 we broke out between layers. Fun stuff.

This is the right wing root about 15 minutes afterwards.

This is the cowling of the right engine.

Rain, Rain and More Rain!

It’s turning into Seattle here in (not so) sunny Phoenix. We’ve had rain off and on for the past few weeks and stuff is sure looking green, but it isn’t helping with the flight training any. So far it hasn’t put me too far behind, but that is a distinct possibility has the week progresses.

I did manage to get up to Havasu yesterday. It was a nice VFR flight over just below a solid ceiling at 11000. Coming back night “VFR” was an interesting thing. The decks had dropped to about 7500 and there was pretty heavy rain. Fortunately we were ok at 7, but the freezing level also came down so the whole way back we were at about 33 degrees in heavy rain. Icing, needless to say, was a
possibility. But, other then that the trip was a nice change from the sim and ground I have been doing.

The other down side of all this rain is ultimate has been canceled for the past couple of games. Blah. Now I don’t have anyway to NOT get fat and lazy. I guess I *could* start running or something…. naw I guess not.