Tuesday, April 08, 2008

A friend of mine, who we will call First Officer X (She's in the left seat now), wrote a story about a flying incident that happened to her a few years back. I thought it was pretty gripping, and I bet you do too. I'm posting this with her permission.


The night of ice.

It was late winter in 2002. I was a first officer on a piston twin engine aircraft. Working medevacs.

We had a nice long day planned. The weather was fairly decent, but there was icing in cloud forecast. In the type of airplane we were flying you had to be on the ball about that, as piston engines are less powerful than the turbine engines, and they generally fly at lower altitudes, which is where the ice is.

There had been issues with the de ice equipment recently, but when it was checked on the ground prior to the flight it seemed to be functioning properly.

The first leg was to Ottawa. En route we start picking up some ice, and the wing boots seemed to be doing their job. (there are also boots on the tail, but you cannot see then from the cockpit, that will come into play later). The ice is not that bad, and in about an hour we arrive at our destination.

Once we get out of the plane we can see there might be a bit of a problem. The wing ice boots were working fine. But the tail boots....they were not working. The tail was covered in ice, which is not good. We call for the deice truck and go into the FBO to discuss the situation. And the situation is this. We can continue, as long as we remain clear of icing conditions. So, as long as the ceiling stays high enough for us to stay clear, we are good to continue for the day. The decision is made to continue.

Next leg it to 'some town somewhere' (STSW). We manage to stay clear of cloud on this leg, so things are looking up.

Then back to Ottawa. Manage to stay clear of cloud again. Everything looks to be going swimmingly. Or so it would seem.

Back to STSW. This time, as we are approaching the airport we are unable to stay clear of cloud, and pick up a bit of ice, but not much. This causes the Captain to come down with a case of the 'stupids'. Even though we cannot stay clear of cloud, he has decided that there 'really isn't much ice in there', so we will keep going. We have two more legs to complete for the day. I am starting to get a bad feeling, but since he is far more experienced than me, I stupidly follow.

As we taxi out for the next leg to 'Another town somewhere'(ATSW) I happen to hear a friend of mine flying another plane into the area we are, from the place we are going. He hears where we are going on the radio, and makes a call to me to warn us of freezing rain he encountered at 3500'. I express concern to my captain, who tells me that my friend is obviously not nearly as intelligent as he is, and that it is too cold for there to be freezing rain. AT this point the little man in my head is starting to complain rather loudly to me that this might be a stupid idea.

We blast off for ATSW.

It is only a short flight, maybe 30 min. Shortly after take off we start picking up ice. A lot of ice. I comment about the fact that our airspeed is getting quite low (because we are dragging our asses, covered in ice). The captain looks out the window and states that 'it doens't look too bad to him'. We continue.

Once we arrive at our destination I can see there are serious problems. The entire plane is caked in ice. The tail being the worst since it's deice equipment is not working. But the rest was pretty bad too. I head out with a broom handle to bash the ice off the tail, while I think about what I would like to do. The airport manager comes out and comments that he has never seen this much ice on an airplane before, ever. I agree that it is pretty bad. When I am done removing the ice I head inside to see what the plans are. I am hoping that he will say that we are staying the night and that we can fly back tomorrow when there is no cloud.


He has spoken to the boss, and they have decided that we will continue on and get back to our base. That means at least 1.5 hours in the ice, instead of the 30 min we have just completed. I am not happy about this, and we get into a screaming match in front of everyone. Classy. Eventually I give in and get into the plane. Though I am NOT happy about it. It is my leg to fly, but I refuse, stating that since my input was not required while making the decision to do this leg, I will not fly. I am a passenger. What else can I do, besides stay there, alone, cold, with no where to go.

We take off.

We start picking up ice.

Lots of ice.

We change altitude.

Still more ice.

We are now unable to maintain altitude.


The captain comments that it 'doesnt' look as bad as the last leg'. I point out that we have an ever lower airspeed that before, and are using a higher power setting on the engines. In fact, we are at max power.

We are now drifting down towards the ground, the windshield caked in ice so bad we can barely see out. The ice on the wings extends back a foot and a half back from the boots. I feel ill imagining what the tail is looking like. We are inching closer and closer to a tail stall, I can just feel it.

The tail surfaces of an airplane will normally ice much sooner than the wing; this is particularly important to pilots. If the tail stalls due to ice and the airflow disruption it causes, the down force is suddenly removed and the aircraft will pitch down rapidly! At low altitudes, recovery is unlikely

And we are low. Now we are under 2000'.

My hands are starting to sweat.

I tell the captain that STSW is just a few miles off our nose, and that I feel we should land. He argues with me for a bit, then finally relenting. I request direct STSW from the controllers.

As we continue our decent we start briefing the landing. Fortunately STSW is a former military airport, so the runway is 11 000 ft long.

As we slow on final the plane is shuddering. I am sure that we are moments from meeting the ground in a way I am not really looking forward to.

The captain calls for flaps. It is now that I should mention that if you have an airplane covered in ice, and it is STILL flying, AND you have a 11000' runway, there is NO WAY you should change the configuration of the aircraft. The only purpose flaps have is to shorten the landing distance of the aircraft. We do not need a short roll out. The captain is a moron. I realize this completely now.

I don't answer. He calls for flaps again. I tell him that there is no way in hell I am putting down the flaps (for the reasons explained above). He tells me that we ARE using flaps, and there is nothing I can do about it.

I inform him that if he goes near the flap switch I will break his arm. He understands that I am not kidding. The approach is continued without the use of flaps.

On very short final the plane gives one final shudder and decides it is done flying. We arrive very firmly on the runway. We cannot see out the windows. Slowly we taxi our way to the ramp. In the dark.

Once we get out of the airplane we see the truth. There is really no way we should have still been able to stay in the air. The plane looks like a fire hose has been sprayed on it in a deep freeze. There is a foot and half on the nose. It goes all the way up, covering the entire plane. The wings are covered with 2 inch ridges that extend back a few feet. The tail is covered with 5-6 inches of ice.

I feel sick.

The captain turns green.

We go to the bar and get drunk and I am glad to be alive.

And I didn't fly with that captain again.



Anonymous said...

Wow...Sully you should post that story on Avcan forums. You might just save someone's life. You probably saved your own refusing to extend the flaps.


Sulako said...

Just to clarify - I didn't write the story, nor was I featured in it. The story was written by First Officer X, who lived it. I can't take credit for her fine writing, though I'd like to :)

Anonymous said...


I learned it from you. ;)

Oh master. :)

david said...

It's too bad for her that she didn't stay on the ground and miss that last leg completely, but at least she was there to save the captain's life (as well as her own) by being assertive about flaps.

I'm curious about STSW. As a former military base not too far from Ottawa, it sounds like North Bay, but North Bay's longest runway is only 10,000 ft (same as Ottawa's). Dorval has an 11,000 ft runway, but not because of its former military status.

Anonymous said...

jebus. sticklers. LOL

Maybe just leave it, how about that?


Aviatrix said...

I thought that story deserved a wider audience, too, and had incorporated a link to it in something I have written but not yet posted. My we're an incestuous little pack of bloggers, aren't we?

I'm glad I met you guys.

Anonymous said...

heh. as long as I remain annon I am cool. And so glad you guys liked the story. :)

zb said...

"(17:06:17.9) 17:06:13.0
We gaan. (We're going)"

fche said...

Was this event reported to Transport Canada?

Soaring Student said...

This is one of those incidents where you need a camera, and hopefully cause someone to lose their job before they lose their life.

This guy just missed earning a Darwin award. And fortunately so, since he would not have been alone.

Thanks for posting this.

Anonymous said...

Reading this in the wake of Colgan flight 3407, gives me the creeps even more...