One of the greatest hazards to a cold weather flight is aircraft icing. As a pilot it’s inevitable that you will experience ice during your flying career whether it’s before, during and/or after your flight. This blog will explain the different types of ice and how they affect the flight. The three different types of ice are clear, rime, and mixed ice.

Clear Ice

Clear ice is the most hazardous and can spread out across areas of the aircraft where there is no de-icing equipment. Clear ice or glaze ice is a heavy coating of glassy ice which forms when flying in areas with high concentration of large, supercooled water droplets, such as cumuliform clouds and freezing rain. It spreads, often unevenly, over wing and tail surfaces, propeller blades, antennas, etc.

The danger of clear ice is great owing to:

  1. The loss of lift, because of the altered wing camber and the disruption of the smooth flow of air over the wing and tail surfaces
  2. The increase in drag on account of the enlarged profile area of the wings
  3. The weight of the large mass of ice which may accumulate in a short time
  4. The vibration caused by the unequal loading on the wings and on the blades of the propeller(s)

Rime Ice

Rime ice is an opaque, or milky white, deposit of ice that forms when the airplane is flying through filmy/stratiform clouds.

Rime is typically the most reported type and the least hazardous as it develops as soon as it comes in contact with the surface of the aircraft usually in areas where there is de-icing equipment.

Mixed Ice

Mixed ice is a mixture of the two and can look opaque in color. Favorable conditions include liquid and frozen particles found in the colder portion of the cumuliform cloud and wet snowflakes. The formation process for mixing icing includes that of clear and rime icing. Mixed ice can accumulate rapidly and is difficult to remove.

How it affects your flight

Many aircrafts are prohibited from flying in ice conditions or more specifically, known icing conditions. Icing causes hazards such as an increase in weight and drag and a loss of lift and speed as the ice can disrupt the flow of air passing over the wings. Even the slightest amount of ice will drastically affect the flight. The wings are normally the last structural component to collect ice. Sometimes, a thin coating of ice will form on the windshield, preceded in some instances by frosting. This can occur on take-off and landing and with sufficient rapidity to obscure the runway and other landmarks during a critical time in flight.

What to do when encountering ice

It’s not enough to view forecasts, as icing is difficult to predict. All pilots must be aware of conditions conducive to aircraft icing in order to recognize them and react in real time.

If you encounter icing be prepared to use de-icing equipment, change altitudes or routes, and increase your speed as necessary to counteract the loss of speed and lift from the formation of the ice.

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