Flight Canceled and Sunday Afternoon Therapy

Sometimes you just can’t fly because the chance of icing is too great….
Written by
Richard Brown
Published on
21 Apr 2024

I Can't Fly in Ice

Clouds and below freezing temperatures just don’t go well together in a small plane. They say that “ice is where you find it” which isn’t exactly helpful. For ice to develop you must be flying through visible moisture like rain or cloud droplets and the temperature must be 0°C or colder. The greatest threat tends to be between 0°-10°C because there is a greater possibility of Liquid Water Content (LWC) in the clouds. Once you get past -20°C there is very little LWC as the cloud is almost made up entirely of ice crystals which just bounce off the airframe instead of sticking to the airframe.

But, again, “ice is where you find it” so even with those conditions it might not form. Still, the goal is to avoid those conditions as much as possible. I have flown into those conditions a couple of times, but in both instances, it was going to be descending through broken layers, in and out of the clouds, into warmer air with plenty of altitude between the freezing layer and the ground. Both times I did pick up a trace amount of ice, which would sublimate in the clear air and then once in temps above 0°C it never reformed.

My youngest son was going to perform in a collegiate honor band in Las Vegas, just a short two-ish hour flight from my home base of KFUL. It was also at the Las Vegas Academy of the Arts, just a short Uber ride from the North Las Vegas airport. I could make the quick flight up, scoot over to the school, watch his concert, and fly back home. It was a trip designed for the Mooney, that is until the weather forecast decided not to cooperate.

Initially the forecast looked like I would need to file and fly IFR (Instrument Flight Rules) to get out of the LA Basin and back in. That is no big deal, and actually can be fun as you break out of the clouds and surf along the top of them, but then further analysis of the weather enroute was not what I wanted to see.

Most of the time once you get over the high desert north of the San Bernardino mountains the clouds lift and you are VFR, but not on this flight. The freezing level would be at 6-7,000’ and my cruising altitude on an IFR plan would be 11,000’ in solid clouds the whole flight at about -6°C. I would go into the clouds at about 5,000’ and stay in them at a prime temperature for icing for the next hour or so, that is a definite “No Go.”

I broke the news to my son and told him we would watch the live stream on YouTube. They sounded great, and I know would have sounded much better in person, but I was safe on my couch instead of likely declaring an emergency in air and ending up as a hole in the ground.

Sunday Afternoon Therapy

One week later I still hadn’t flown, and I was itching to get back in the sky. Sunday afternoon had clear skies and a little wind, but I headed to the airport anyway for some “therapy.” I took off and departed to the east, making the short climb to 2,800’. Once east of John Wayne’s 2,000’ shelf I turned south along the 241 Toll Road looking for any poppies in the hills. Despite all the rain the golden glow of the poppy fields was nowhere to be found and once reaching Irvine Lake I turned around and retraced my flight path on the way back.

The late afternoon sun was shining down through a high layer of cirrus clouds and shining off the ocean to the west, the shape of Irvine Lake outlined by the surrounding hills in the foreground. The hills of Santiago and Pleasants Peak were still green, not having succumbed to the warmer weather and there was a lot of water behind Prado Dam, the Santa Ana River cutting a ribbon of blue from the base of the dam into the canyon.

It was only a 21-minute flight, but it was wonderful.

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