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Would You Make This Flight?

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As part of a couple of blogs I'll be doing on safety topics this week, here's a chance to test your judgment. It's a winter night in the mountains around Lake Tahoe and you need to get back to your homebase in Oakland, California, a flight of about 160 nautical miles.

click to enlarge

The weather is variable overcast from 3400 feet broken, 10,000 feet overcast to 11,000 feet broken. The freezing level is at 6000 feet and the highest terrain on the route is about 11,000 feet. There are no AIRMETS or SIGMETS and icing isn't in the forecast.

You'll be departing after sunset.

The judgment question is this: Would you make the flight in a piston single at night? How about during the day? How about a piston twin? If the single had a BRS system like the Cirrus, would that influence your decision?

There's not a right or wrong answer here, just opinions. What's yours?

Comments (112)

Depends on exactly why you think you "need" to get back to Oakland. If the need is high enough, yes you fly.

In 1970 during the Second Indochina Wa, I once launched in an O-2A from Pleiku Air Base at 0130 when the Vietnamese Central Highlands were covered in a chick, white fog called crachin because a US Special Forces Camp was under attack and needed help.

When it came time to recover, the crachin was still in place, and I was too low o fuel to divert to a coastal base. I shoot a GCA approach with the field officially listed as "Zero-zero." Fortunately, the air in and around a crachin is glass smooth, an I wired the rate of descent, glide slope, and course all the way to touch down. (My approach was a true, "controlled flight into terrain," fortunately, the terrain was the runway.)

I never saw the runway, and only knew I was close to landing when I could feel ground effect slow my rate of descent. After landing, I couldn't see to taxi. I shut down on the runway, and a jeep escorted by walkers creeped out to tow me to our squadron parking ramp.

So yes, you fly when you really need to. But, in the civilian flying world, there are few essential missions that can't wait until tomorrow.

Paul,

Without knowing exactly why you think you "need" to get to Oakland, there is no way to answer your question. But I'd stay at Reno/Tahoe for the night. If nothing else, it's better than Oakland.

Posted by: Gary Dikkers | January 3, 2012 10:19 PM    Report this comment

Broken clouds above an overcast?

Posted by: Bill Edmondson | January 3, 2012 10:44 PM    Report this comment

First of all, tackling the high terrain at night in a single engine is not a great idea. Then you add cloud layers at 3400 feet and freezing level at 6000. That's more fun than I'd like to have, whether icing is in the forecast or not! Now, about that parachute. If you had to use it in the mountains, that would be an awfully cold night to spend in the mountains before someone came to find you....

Posted by: Steve Bowling | January 4, 2012 12:55 AM    Report this comment

Only if I was Superman. :-)

Posted by: Patty Haley | January 4, 2012 1:56 AM    Report this comment

This is not war time. No civilian situations are. Short of organ transplant delivery, I cannot imagine a situation where a trip can't wait. I'm not necessarily saying that applies here, but it applies in general when flying puts you outside your personal comfort level,

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | January 4, 2012 5:21 AM    Report this comment

Used to have to do that sort of flight more often than I'd like to admit, in that it was my job back in the early 80's to fly cancelled bank checks between Las Vegas, Reno, Oakland and Burbank. Today I would not make that flight in a single for certain, but I would do it in a well-equipped twin (like a Chieftain for instance). Back then, on that particular job, I had a choice of using a Piper Lance or a Piper Seneca 1. Though a single, the Lance would outfly the very tired old Seneca, so it was the preferred airplane, though we were supposed to use the Seneca for weather such as this, as it was supposedly equipped for known icing. Back then, flying jobs were so scarce that if you refused to fly in those conditions, you were told that you would be instantly replaced by someone who would. I kid you not. I learned all about the merits of good 'ol WD-40 liberally sprayed on the leading edges of the wings and tail surfaces, as well as the spinner. When I did penetrate icing conditions, it was amazing to see the ice build up quickly to a good half inch to an inch before sliding off the wing. Scary stuff, but I survived without incident and vowed I would never put my job ahead of my personal safety ever again. Others might not be so lucky if you tried that today.

Posted by: Keith McLellan | January 4, 2012 5:26 AM    Report this comment

Piston single - I'd wait. Piston twin; maybe during the day. As someone else mentioned, the parachute has no bearing - unless you have survival equipment on board, you might survive the 'landing' only to die from exposure.

Posted by: Richard Norris | January 4, 2012 5:31 AM    Report this comment

Flying in ice requires a good "out". 180 degree sounds pretty solid in this scenario. A parachute is not and would not affect my decision. The scenario described above does not include sigmet/airmet or pirep information or temperatures aloft but I would suspect that icing would be a real possibility.

If the need to get there was enough, I would undertake this flight with an eye on the outs and the expectation that the flight might not be completed.

Another option is to fly high enough to be over the clouds and to start down when the terrain allows descent to above freezing temperatures.

Posted by: Marc Charron | January 4, 2012 7:49 AM    Report this comment

A lifetime ago in SEA we faced really rotten weather at times, but I remember a Wing Commander saying that losing an F-4 to weather was stupid. So it has been since then. Nancy and I flew our Cherokee all over the country, but not at night or into potential freezing conditions. We got snookered a couple of times, but as we survived, we never/never pressed bad conditions, we waited as inconvienent that may have been. Today with an LSA (CTLS) we certainly pay attention. No I would not have made the trip, I would have delayed till the next day.

Posted by: Kenneth Nolde | January 4, 2012 7:58 AM    Report this comment

Flying in potential icing conditions is not my idea of fun. Some things are better left to the professionals. As my instructor says, there are those that fly when they want and those that fly when they would rather not. I don't fly for a paycheck.. so I don't fly unless the weather is picture perfect. I personally, would never knowingly put myself in a potential icing condition, even if I had an airplane that could handle it. You know the saying "the old the bold.. blah blah blah" For me, bold is a 10 knot crosswind. Why take the risk when you don't have to. I think I am like most private pilots.

On the other hand, if you are doing this for a living, you are going to be exposed to much higher level of risk. You are learning daily how to fly in all sorts of conditions. My conclusion, the regular PPL flying solo can never be a good pilot. I don't care how many safety seminars they attend.... and at $6 a gallon av gas, I'm keeping my taildragger in the hangar till spring.

Andy

Posted by: Andre Abreu | January 4, 2012 8:02 AM    Report this comment

MEA's are 13000 on this route. No good Plan B (other than the BRS). How will this look if I don't make it? Forget about it.

Did you use the Hi chart for the graphic as a hint?

Posted by: James Grant | January 4, 2012 8:09 AM    Report this comment

MEA's are 13000 on this route. No good Plan B (other than the BRS). How will this look if I don't make it? Forget about it.

Did you use the Hi chart for the graphic as a hint?

Posted by: James Grant | January 4, 2012 8:09 AM    Report this comment

There's what "you would do" given a posting on a blog and what you would do if the situation actually developed and you were standing there in Tahoe, with an "important" meeting, family event, obligation etc., the next day. Unfortunately as a CRM human factors program manager I get to see the incident/accident report and read the interview that said, "He/she was a good pilot and would never take those kinds of chances..." Guess what I'm saying here is we speculate about what we WOULD do, but do our actions match our intent when environmental variables come into play.

Posted by: Shannon Forrest | January 4, 2012 8:10 AM    Report this comment

I think I remember the accident report on this and as I recall it didn't have a happy ending.

Gary Dikkers said "Depends on exactly why you think you "need" to get back to Oakland. If the need is high enough, yes you fly. ". I think if the need is high enough you rent a car and drive. There's your "out".

Posted by: Jerry Plante | January 4, 2012 8:12 AM    Report this comment

SEL, Reno to Oakland, night, MEA 13K, freezing level at 6K - HAVE TO BE IN OAKLAND. Over the last 20 -30 years there have been plenty of pilots who took the chance flying this route - and didn't make it.

Time for Plan B. RENT A CAR and leave the airplane on the ramp.

Posted by: Jeff Pelton | January 4, 2012 8:23 AM    Report this comment

I will consider any high risk flight if I have a viable low risk plan B. I don't see one here.

Posted by: Adrian Lineberger III | January 4, 2012 8:25 AM    Report this comment

This is an interesting question. The reported/forecast conditions are within the capabilities a high performance single, but they a they specifics for the trip mean that if something doesn't go as planned, the options are poor. To some extent that is the game we play every time we push the throttle (s) forward in General Aviation; the rules of our game (vs. 121 or 135), offer no prohibition against our putting ourselves, and our passanger in a position where there is no safe plan B. If it was just me, and I had a pressing requirement to be in Oakland,I would launch, but I would not bring a passanger(s). I flew single engine 135 back in the 80s, and the rule was no planned IFR with passangers. That is a good guideline for us PT 91 folks today. In the pressurized twin I now fly, I would check the weather, make sure my load was light enough I could stay above the MEA if one quit, and go.

Posted by: Forrest Ward | January 4, 2012 8:33 AM    Report this comment

Great discussion, Paul but I think you made the scenario too risky since no one is biting.

It is too easy to say I'd stay the night when I am in my office at home. But it would be too easy to say I'd go if I were on the ground in Tahoe as Shannon points out.

I don't have a problem flying above the freezing level even if IFR. Frozen ice crystals don't stick. Ice isn't forecast (I'd check PIREPS, though to be safe). I'm curious about what the winds over the mountains are doing but that was left out of the scenario.

If I were to want to make the flight, I'd want to be high prior to crossing the range. The first part of V6 is 13,000 as someone pointed out, so I'd need to climb in a hold anyway. It sucks, but you gotta do it if you are going IFR. Once at 13,000 (but more likely 17,000 or FL 190) I'd turn west and be over the mountains in 30 minutes. If there were icing, I'd know it by then and I'd have a safe margin of altitude. Once over the valley, the risk is very much reduced especially given the high ceilings.

While i am surprised by so many "I'd never do it" responses, I am also feeling like I am nibbling on the worm a little bit too hard.

But one last point - I think it is dangerous to allow the "Do I need to accomplish the mission?" even enter into our mindset. The question should be "How can I do it safely?". OK so "safely" is subjective, but if there is no answer to that question you don't go.

Posted by: Robert Yeager | January 4, 2012 8:47 AM    Report this comment

The scenario is a killer, with the chances of safe completion somewhere between zero and none. Whether the airplane is a twin or a single with FIKI certification is immaterial, and whether it's day or night is immaterial, it's still a killer. Significant ice is a given here. I view FIKI much like the winch on my pickup, a last chance to get out, not a reason to go on. As for a BRS affecting my decision, that's like having a come along after my winch cable broke--the chances of it being a life saver in this situation are nil.

Posted by: Cary Alburn | January 4, 2012 8:53 AM    Report this comment

Unprotected and/or normally aspirated single, no, wouldn't do the flight. Turbocharged and deiced (TKS) 210, yes, climbing to at least 16,000' before the crossing (all assuming benign winds).

Posted by: Scott Dyer | January 4, 2012 8:54 AM    Report this comment

As a corporate pilot when I first joined the company the chairman of the board and president of the company said to me, although I am the boss of this company, you are the boss when it comes to go/nogo. There isn't any place I HAVE TO BE that if you deem it unsafe we won't go. In the years I flew for them we never cancelled a flight BUT, we did delay a few until conditions improved.

Posted by: Dixon Gourley | January 4, 2012 9:09 AM    Report this comment

I'm with Yeager on this, assuming a well maintained turbo 210 or the like, in an old rental Cherokee, forget it. That said, if at the time the voices in my head took a vote and told me the flight was a bad idea, I'd take the bus. As for having a chute, that would be no factor in the decision, if it's a no-go without the chute, it's a no-go with the chute.

Posted by: Richard Montague | January 4, 2012 9:39 AM    Report this comment

If you want my thought process here I'm going to mentally recall two past events that apply here: 1: John and Martha King's story of how they lost electrical system on an VFR-on-top flight over the mountains/clouds only to discover the battery died when they started the IFR descent. They descended to the MEA of their destination (in a mountain valley) picking up a load of ice, climbed back on top (second layer of ice) and then went down again (third layer) and kept descending until, luckily, they found a field they crashed into. The second story was when I talked with a relatively new pilot that was renting a new Cirrus and she mentioned that the BRS HAS AN AIRSPEED LIMITATION of ~ 130kt and wasn't guaranteed to work at higher speeds because they never tested it.

So, knowing all that, I'd say my thought process was that 1) there are clouds along the route that I have to fly UP through and DOWN through, 2) the freezing level is BELOW the altitude I have to fly, 3) WX forecasters get it wrong, 4) The terrain in between is unfriendly, 5) the airplane is not FIKI, 6) If I use the BRS as an "out" I'd have to know to use it when I was still in stable flight and not plummeting to the ground out of control after the ice built up, and I don't think I'd be expert enough to know exactly when to do that because if I waited too long the BRS would deploy but the 'chute would just get ripped off the airframe.

So in a word, HELL NO!

Posted by: David Rosing | January 4, 2012 9:43 AM    Report this comment

The "night" part of this scenerio spooks a lot of GA pilots right off the bat, many automatically reject night flight in a single as being inherently too dangerous to consider.

If you get past this though, it seems not that bad. While a no-icing predicted forecast isn't a sure thing by any means, the forecasters do tend to err on the side of caution, and by climbing to the MEA before actually leaving the airport vicinity you would be able to retreat immediately at the first sign of trouble.

Posted by: John Wilson | January 4, 2012 9:45 AM    Report this comment

Absolutely not, night or day in a single engine anything, BRS or not. In a properly equipped high performance twin with oxygen on board, maybe. No mention here of mountain wave activity which further complicates the situation. In 27 years of Airline flying and having owned a Bonanza for years, I learned that the Captain is paid not to make smmoth landings or on time arrivals, but that one or two times a year it is necessary to say "no, we aren't going there today".

Fred Yarbrough

Posted by: Fred Yarbrough | January 4, 2012 10:05 AM    Report this comment

Jerry Plante said, "Depends on exactly why you think you "need" to get back to Oakland. If the need is high enough, yes you fly." I think if the need is high enough you rent a car and drive. There's your "out"."

Jerry~

Excellent point. If you really need to get there, it's not that far a drive in a rental car compared to holing up in a motel in Reno. With today's communications, it's hard to imagine a scenario in which physic presence is needed for a business meeting or conference.

Paul pointed out moving vital medical materials to include transplant parts, but its difficult to imagine material that is so vital it must be moved right now and can't be delayed until the next day. Perhaps a nuclear reactor in meltdown mode that needs to be doused with specific isotope to staunch the reaction. Apparently some very courageous Russian helicopter pilots laid their lives on the line at Chernobyl in 1986 -- but those examples are indeed rare.

Posted by: Gary Dikkers | January 4, 2012 10:08 AM    Report this comment

Doesn't seem that bad if the conditions at Oakland are equally good. Would need a pretty good climbing airplane for those MEAs. But if you did get ice on the climb, a return is easily possible. If you didn't get ice on the climb, then open up the throttle and make a high speed run toward the lowlands. There's a good chance you would get ice crossing the upslope, but the distance is short and even if you couldn't hold altitude, it's a sink toward lower terrain and warm temps; worst case. Daytime, it could be a VFR trip along the freeway.

A parachute wouldn't enter into the decision process.

Posted by: Stephen Phoenix | January 4, 2012 10:15 AM    Report this comment

When I read this I had Deja vu. In 2004 I was in Reno with our Piper Saratoga and the family when my mother in law ended up in the hospital near Oakland. My wife wanted to get to her asap and the Wx for the following day was not good. So we launched at night, with IMC (but no icing) waiting for us over the hills. Just before Reno Approach turned us toward home our alternator belt broke, we declared an emergency, and returned safely to KRNO. Mom in law was fine but we have NEVER again flown at night over the mountains - IFR or VFR. Not worth it. We drove home. And yes, a broken alternator belt at night is an emergency in my book.

As for icing - I've had icing over Oregon when it was not forecast in any way. Thinking about picking up unforecast icing at night in an SEL gives me hives.

Posted by: neil cormia | January 4, 2012 10:18 AM    Report this comment

In this particular case, equipment would be trumped by the circumstances as the deciding factor. Night flight, IMC, mountain flying and possible icing can all be handled in some circumstances, but stacking the deck like this would be a no-go for me. Either rent a car if there's an emergency in Oakland, or wait until circumstances improve. I'd probably do the flight in day VFR only, regardless of my equipment, with my limited mountain flying experience.

I would note that I wouldn't expect icing on this flight, but it is in the realm of possibility, and I would factor icing into my decision making.

Posted by: Brian Cooper | January 4, 2012 10:20 AM    Report this comment

The cold weather for climb, no sun in your face, short distance with big airports at each end and no fog on arrival make it an ideal Single Engine IFR flight back home!

Everything is ideal except for the proposed route.

Posted by: Mark Fraser | January 4, 2012 10:32 AM    Report this comment

I like Robert Yeagar's comments that the need to be in Oakland should not be a factor. I routinely fly for business and always try to separate the mission from the actual flight. Once in flight mode, it does not matter the reason for the trip. All decisions are made for the safe completion of the flight. It doesn't matter if the safe outcome is missing a meeting, landing 120 miles away or parking the plane and driving. The goal of the flight is a successful landing and the reason for the trip is no longer a factor. If I have to be somewhere at a specific time, I allow enough slack in the schedule for plan B.

PS - no I would not attempt this flight in day or night. There are no good plan B's once you have launched. Worse conditions (ice) or equipment failure (engine, electrical, etc...) effectively take away all options for a safe landing.

Posted by: Paul Mcclure | January 4, 2012 10:35 AM    Report this comment

I used up 10 years of my lifetime stupid allotment flying a Cessna 150 across the North Cascade Mtns. and back in February in mountain wave conditions. As for the parachute, never forget that 2/3 of BRS is BS.

Posted by: Rick Girard | January 4, 2012 11:12 AM    Report this comment

The weather fits the definition of known icing, so you're illegal if you penetrate those clouds above 6K in a plane that's not fiki-certified. A BRS looks pretty stupid if you need it because you made the choice to fly into crummy conditions.

This scenario sounds familiar. Didn't a Cirrus driver attempt this same flight (RNO-OAK) in similar conditions, deployed the BRS because he iced up, and the BRS failed because he was plummeting too fast???

Posted by: Dana Files | January 4, 2012 11:41 AM    Report this comment

The "night" part of this scenerio spooks a lot of GA pilots right off the bat, many automatically reject night flight in a single as being inherently too dangerous to consider.

If you get past this though, it seems not that bad. While a no-icing predicted forecast isn't a sure thing by any means, the forecasters do tend to err on the side of caution, and by climbing to the MEA before actually leaving the airport vicinity you would be able to retreat immediately at the first sign of trouble.

Posted by: John Wilson | January 4, 2012 12:02 PM    Report this comment

Some folks have been oversold on the capabilities of these newer plastic planes with parachutes. The perception of the mission capabilities of these aircraft have been stretched thanks to fancy marketing with a kool-aid chaser.

As far as I know, the gravitational forces of the earth and the hardness of rock have not changed much since Wilbur and Orville.

As far as I am concerned if you want to fly Night/IMC in the mountains with the potential for ice, please do your next of kin a favor; drive or fly in something that burns Jet-A.

Otherwise wait till morning and a high overcast to block the sun from your eyes.

Posted by: John Smith | January 4, 2012 12:18 PM    Report this comment

I'm having a lot of trouble with some of the comments which do not recognize the icing issue. The scenario says that the freezing level is at 6000'. That means that (assuming standard adiabatic rates), it's perhaps 20F at 10,000' and 11F at 13,000', where you have to be to be IFR along a route with an MEA of 13,000'. The clouds are broken to overcast at 10,000' to 11,000'. These temps with visible moisture at the 10-11,000' level are almost a 100% guarantee of icing. Do the commentators not realize that they're going to be climbing through ice at the upper end of most GA's performance envelopes, over mountainous terrain? So here they are, in almost guaranteed icing conditions, in an airplane that is climbing at maybe 300 fpm just below the clouds, but as it collects ice, the climb rate reduces very quickly to just about nothing, and now they can't make it to the MEA--and they think it's a safe flight?

I've spent most of my flying career in the Colorado and Wyoming high country, flying everything from 152s through T210s, normally aspirated and turbo'd Mooneys, and many other normally aspirated singles. I'm not a twin driver, but I would not take on any flight in a twin over the mountains where the single engine capabilities were less than the MEA, and there aren't many of those. Much better to spend 4 hours on the road than to end one's flying career permanently in the rocks.

Posted by: Cary Alburn | January 4, 2012 12:40 PM    Report this comment

Cary - here is an academic question. If there is "almost 100% guarantee of icing", why would there be no icing in the forecast as noted (I assume) here: http://aviationweather.gov/adds/icing/

Are we not to rely on the icing forecast?

While I understand that visible moisture below 0 deg C may still be in liquid state (super cooled), it is not necessarily so. Should we assume that any visible moisture above (colder than) the freezing level will result in icing?

Posted by: Robert Yeager | January 4, 2012 12:56 PM    Report this comment

Link was deleted.. I was referring to aviationweather.g0v/adds/icing/

Posted by: Robert Yeager | January 4, 2012 12:58 PM    Report this comment

http://dms.ntsb.gov/aviation/AccidentReports/vouczdiidsw4wkvsljj0xq3k1/Y01042012120000.pdf

Here's the incident where I think Paul got this scenario. It has a chronology of ATC communications with the pilot. Read through (it's long) and see if you would have made it to Oakland.

Posted by: Dana Files | January 4, 2012 1:08 PM    Report this comment

Sorry the link wouldn't post. Just search "Norden, California" on the NTSB Accident database. It should show 1 return for a Cirrus.

Posted by: Dana Files | January 4, 2012 1:11 PM    Report this comment

Only if I was suicidal. Please!

Posted by: William Lange | January 4, 2012 1:40 PM    Report this comment

My personal checklist- Night, IMC, Mountains, Single Engine. Any 2 of these we aren't going anywhere!

Posted by: Anthony Johnstone | January 4, 2012 1:52 PM    Report this comment

The realization that this is factual - not hypothetical - puts it in a different perspective. I suppose one should be more conservative when it comes to icing forecasts. Inadvertent icing is different than inadvertent IMC or inadvertent precip.

Would I have made it if I climbed to 17k in hold? I suppose not, as it turned out for this poor fellow. But I likely would have made it back down safely if I decided early enough to abort.

I wonder if the BRS is in any way to fault - as in the pilot decided to plow ahead thinking the BRS was a way out if needed.

This is a great discussion - and it is making me rethink some of my own assumptions and judgement.

Posted by: Robert Yeager | January 4, 2012 2:05 PM    Report this comment

Regarding the comments of "if I pick up ice, I'll turn around", I think that's a poor so-called "plan B". I assume most pilots take a few moments to realize they're picking up ice and can't climb above it before starting to look for an alternate out. But if the ice buildup is enough that the plane can't climb, turning is not going to help much since that too requires additional lift you no longer have.

Also, while the scenario has no airmets for icing, with a freezing level of 6000 and clouds between 3400 and the MEA of 13,000, that to me screams "there will be an airmet zulu eventually".

Finally, single-engine or multi-engine would have little factor on my decision (assuming multi-engine doesn't automatically mean FIKI approval), and BRS is even less of a factor.

All that being said, the go/no-go decision on the ground is different than making the continue/no-continue decision once airborne and faced with changing conditions. I'm not familiar with west-coast winter conditions, but if it were in my native northeast, it would be a definite "no-go" on the ground.

However, if conditions were fine when I departed, but I ran into deteriorating conditions over the mountain range, it would require different thinking. If I were safely above the layer, the best bet would be to continue toward the destination. If I were instead between layers, I'd be looking for the first opportunity to land.

Posted by: Gary Baluha | January 4, 2012 2:14 PM    Report this comment

It is based on Norden. I didn't want to link that fact for a reason. Having been over all of the Cirrus accident reports and hundreds of others, I know it's easy to second guess if you know the outcome.

Trying to explore a point here and knowing the outcome is not helpful to make it.

"Regarding the comments of "if I pick up ice, I'll turn around", I think that's a poor so-called "plan B".

Not sure why you think this Gary. Many of us have used this exact strategy for years. The key to making it work is to have lower terrain and better conditions for the direction you plan to bolt. In mountainous areas, this is sometimes possible, sometimes not. And it is sometime unknowable.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | January 4, 2012 2:30 PM    Report this comment

Lots of great comments, but I take a slightly different appraoch. Forget about evaualting the flight, instead focus on evaluating your Plan "B". if you get into trouble what will you do? engine problems rule out diversion or a 180 - in a single you're landing NO viable plan B.

Icing? if not deiced can you maintain the MEA? If not you have no plan B.

Mountain wave, will you single have enough power if caught in a down draft? If not will you be able to fly into a valley? It's night, you can see - No plan B.

If a Twin gives you outs to the above, then by all means fly, but if you cant formulate a reasonable plan B if you get in trouble, then stay home.

Posted by: James Kabrajee | January 4, 2012 2:53 PM    Report this comment

Sorry, I did mean "I'll turn around if I pick up ice" as being a poor plan B in this *specific* situation (namely, being over mountainous terrain).

Posted by: Gary Baluha | January 4, 2012 3:03 PM    Report this comment

It not so much the mountainous terrain as it the accessibility of lower terrain not obscured by cloud. Makes a big difference in survival factors. It may or may not have been a factor here.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | January 4, 2012 3:27 PM    Report this comment

I admittedly have no experience flying in icing conditions (mainly because I don't have access to aircraft with any anti/de-icing capabilities), so my comfort level on the issue is likely different than others here. The most experience I have is flying through snow in still-VFR (or at least MVFR) visibilities. So with that in mind, unless I have at least a couple guaranteed "outs" that don't involve climbing above a layer (where I could later get trapped above), my personal minimum is not to launch into conditions where I could realistically encounter icing.

I know of far more experienced GA pilots launching into potential icing conditions in non-FIKI aircraft and having to problems getting through, and accept that I'm simply more conservative than they are. However, I also have no problem launching into night SPIFR conditions (single-engine) that are within the capabilities of the aircraft I'm flying, so in that sense I'm slightly less conservative than others.

I think we all know this already, but the go/no-go decision is often based on our own proficiency, aircraft capabilities and familiarity with it, and risk-tolerance level. There are obviously some situations where the probability for failure is at-or-near 100%, but I know of no pilot who intentionally decides to go in such situations. Instead, it's more often complacency leading to denial of the actual situation.

Posted by: Gary Baluha | January 4, 2012 4:10 PM    Report this comment

Obviously there are an unlimited number of risk factors to balance here.

As commented, some folks will simply reject any flight requiring SE IFR, or night over mountain, or IFR at sub-freezing temps, etc etc, out of hand. Others want a virtually rock-solid Plan B (and maybe C and D also) All of these are indeed risk factors but everyone applies different weighting to them when reaching a decision.

Personally, I probably wouldn't have launched on the cited flight but wouldn't have considered it unthinkable either. The fact it did end badly doesn't prove much beyond demonstrating that you can never know every possible factor.

Posted by: John Wilson | January 4, 2012 4:32 PM    Report this comment

I fly a turbo charged piston twin with boots and hot props and I would mkae the flight. I would not make the flight in a single, chute or not. I also have flown nearly this same route (TRK - LVK) in the winter a couple dozen times and have some comments. First, winter IMC in California has an associated airmet zulu 99% of the time and ice would be my main concern. If the airmet was the usual light to moderate ice then I would go. I would also look at the icing forecast product on ADDS to get a feel for the forecast severity and whether there is any forecast SLD. Finally, I would cross the mountains at 160 or 180 which is 3-5K higher than the MEA. This way if I picked up severe ice I would have plenty of altitude to make it to the central valley where airports are well below the freezing level.

Posted by: scott dickey | January 4, 2012 4:57 PM    Report this comment

IFR flight. I'm instrument rated and current, 6 HIT. Check.

Night flight. I'm night current. Check.

Rest. Here's a wildcard that Paul didn't address. So, I'll say at least 7 hours good sleep in the previous 24. Check.

Visibility. Another wildcard. I'll assume 10+. Check.

Ceiling. 3400. Normally Check. But, in the mountains, I'll think about it.

Crosswind. Another wildcard. Assume +/- 20 degrees. Check.

Destination. Another wildcard. Assume VFR. Check.

Airport Familiarity. No, big negative for me.

Time in type. Assuming a NA A36, Check.

Flight time in previous 12 hours. Another wildcard. Assuming less than 3, Check.

Ceiling, visibility and familiarity with the fields in question say, I'll check with a local CFI or at least a pilot with local knowledge. If this was from AVL, to GSO, where I am familiar though not based, then doubts would be resolved in favor of flying.

Change some of the assumptions, then the answer for me could change.

Alan Bradley

Posted by: Alan Bradley | January 4, 2012 4:59 PM    Report this comment

Let's turn this example on its head:

What if you had been an air-mail pilot in 1929 flying the route from Cheyenne to Oakland/San Francisco in a Ryan M-1 "Mail Plane?" What would you have used to decide whether to launch on this leg from Reno to Oakland on a night like this, and what would have happened had you said, "No, I'm not going?"

That was a decision dozens of early air-mail pilots had to make every night, with only scant weather information we consider essential and take for granted.

Posted by: Gary Dikkers | January 4, 2012 5:44 PM    Report this comment

It's interesting that the more recent comments aren't with the knee jerk - "I'm not going under circumstances unless it's a jet or turboprop" crowd. I respect those folks for their initial reaction, flying takes preparation and lots of thought. On the other hand, those folks may not get much utility out of their planes. To me making the go or no-go decision is much more like Alan Bradley's checklist. - I start with the airplane. Our Aerostar makes the choice easier. Even on one engine, it can maintain MEA. A fully de-iced pressurized single with dual alternators, dual pumps, and well equipped would probably make it yes for me. As others have commented, the BSR is not really a go, no-go factor. Unless, I'd flown in that area a lot and felt comfortable with the weather and the outs, I probably wouldn't do it in a non-deiced, non turbo-charged single. - Recent IFR night experience is a definite must. Not just having night and IFR currency. - Reasonable experience with icing in that area. It's no guarantee, but it does give a frame of reference of what to expect. - How are your basic flying skills. If things like crosswinds at night are problem, that's a no-go. - Lot's of missing data in the scenario: Winds aloft, temperatures, destination weather, forecasts, weather at other airports along the route and in the Oakland area. All this and more would factor into an actual decision.

Larry Baum Ithaca, NY

Posted by: Larry Baum | January 4, 2012 6:10 PM    Report this comment

"Winds aloft, temperatures, destination weather, forecasts, weather at other airports along the route and in the Oakland area. All this and more would factor into an actual decision."

Little of which a 1920's air-mail pilot would have had. All they had to go on was what the other pilots had seen, info from a handful of WX observers on the ground, a few beacons, and the orders of their station chiefs.

You have to tip your hat to those guys.

Posted by: Gary Dikkers | January 4, 2012 9:19 PM    Report this comment

"Many of us have used this exact strategy for years. The key to making it work is to have lower terrain and better conditions for the direction you plan to bolt."

Apparently do did the pilot of N731CA on Dec 20. Day, turboprop, non-mountainous terrain, VFR departure conditions, etc. Five fatalities 10 minutes into the flight.

Not such a good strategy, IMHO.

Posted by: R Boswell | January 4, 2012 9:22 PM    Report this comment

1. If I flew my own airplane which I am the maintenance man with A&P. 2. If all altitudes mentined are MSL.

The low OC not a factor. 6K' freesing level not a factor because the airport is almost that high.

Sure, I'd go for it.

I have made about 75 round trips between Fallon, NV and Whiteman airport in Pacoima, CA. At least 50 of them were over the Sierras the long way. I've flown at night and day. Cruising altitude is 2000' above the highest peaks. There are more opportunities to fly that route in the winter months than in the summer months. If there are no lenticular clouds in sight then you will find the air fairly smooth as long as you are about 2000' above the highest peaks you fly over, even with 50kts over the mountains. I have found it very acceptible flying day or night. If the winds are strong, over 40, then there will virtually always be some mild wave action. I have seen 1000' change in altitude more than a few times. Don't fight it.

More tidbits of information. You will not meet anyone else up there. And here is something else interesting. Since the air, at 15,000', weighs about half as much as it does at SL you will find the 10, 20 or even 30kt gusts does a lot less to your airplane than it does at SL under ths same conditions. The square law applies. It goes something like this. If a gust of 30 kts causes a 1G force on the airplane at SL then the same gust velocity at 15K will cause about .25G.

Have fun.

Posted by: kent tarver | January 5, 2012 12:49 AM    Report this comment

Boswell, if you're referring to the Teterboro TBM crash, you're leaping to conclusions based on information you simply don't have. Just because icing was mentioned in the transcript doesn't mean icing was a factor. That crash is still under investigation. For all we know, it could have been a structural failure or loss of control.

As for Plan B, no plan is perfect. All of flying involves risk. You make your choice and take your chances based on what information you have and your own experience. Don't want to do this? Stay home in the easy chair.

The trick is to pick the highest percentage option.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | January 5, 2012 5:06 AM    Report this comment

"Just because icing was mentioned in the transcript doesn't mean icing was a factor. "

If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck ...

I did say "apparently." Based on quite a bit of unofficial info now available, I'd bet my second to last dollar that icing will be determined to be a primary factor, along with pilot error. Lots of info available to the accident pilot that said "wait awhile" or "another day." There *are* other options between the easy chair and "going for it."

Posted by: R Boswell | January 5, 2012 6:51 AM    Report this comment

I would not make the flight in any piston single or twin. The BRS would not be a factor at all in the decision. My reasons: 1: In the event of an engine failure, it is highly likly that I could not see and avoid the terrain to select a suitable landing site. Both the clouds and the darkness would be working to obscure the terrain. I can, and have, made the decision on this alone. For me, this is the only reason I need to postpone the flight. I like rule that requires us to be able to make an safely make emergency landing should then engine quit. 2: Likly inability to see the clouds/moisture at and below the freezing level. I have had ice many times when it was not forecast, no Z airmen, and also had it many times well below the freezing level. Given the usual west winds at that latitude, the proximity to the ocean, it is likely that the air will contain moisture. The moist wind flowing upslope can cause super cooled liquid water droplets that are just waiting for something to freeze onto, like my plane. This is another single point reason to postpone the flight. Also, once again, no easy out to safety.

I can't think of a reason to make this fliht short of an imminent nuclear or bio. attack on Reno. The risk / reward is too great.

Posted by: Charles Wright | January 5, 2012 7:16 AM    Report this comment

I would not make this flight with passengers. I have made many similar flights in my early career of delivering aircraft for dealers. Otherwise it would depend upon my state of rest, my evaluation of the aircraft and weather.

I suggest that my Plan B is similar to the one when flying between Iceland and Canada. The alternate is on Greenland and you must choose to use it or not when passing Greenland. In this case, my Plan B would likely be getting on top.

I recall doing this one night going from IND to IAD in a PARO with forecast icing conditions. I went to 15,000 feet and asked to cross the marker at IAD at 9,000 feet. I was on top the whole way and got only a trace of ice during a rapid descent into IAD. No pax. Younger days. Not sure my body would stand up to that abuse today. :) :(

Posted by: William Zollinger | January 5, 2012 7:57 AM    Report this comment

No. I've already had my encounter with icing in IMC which was not in the forecast, but which was indeed over mountains. Fortunately it wasn't night. ATC had me climb from 12000 to 16000 on an off-airways flight from ABQ to SLC, and when I passed 15000 OAT went from +10 to -10 almost instantly. In 30 seconds I had over an inch of clear ice on the wing strut and (I assume) on the leading edges. I couldn't maintain altitude and pretty much fell out of the clouds at about 10000 just north of Mesa Verde. I was below the cliffs before I shed enough ice to be able to fly again, so I cancelled IFR and flew back to ABQ under the cloud deck. I landed and had a couple of linemen rock me to break the suction so I could exit the a/c, and took a commercial flight to SLC. Night over the mountains in IMC in a single? Nope. Plan B at this point would be to call Hertz or Southwest

Posted by: Bill Hill | January 5, 2012 8:09 AM    Report this comment

I'n not sure night has that much to do with the decision making process. If one looses an engine on that route in a single the outcome is still pretty much the same. And the BRS is a red herring with not real world value other than as a "placebo". The real issue is aircraft performance within the defined scenario. I have a very well maintained and equipped NA V35B and 40 years experience and I WOULD NOT do it. If I had a B36TC or T210 (or Baron) with O2 maintained and equipped similarly then yes. Many, if not most GA singles just simply are not equipped for this flight. Also, pilot experience has to be part of the decision making process. To those living out west with a good background in mountain flying and IFR experience could do it safely, but notice how many "limiters" we've placed on this.

Great subject Paul and well presented.

Posted by: Burns Moore | January 5, 2012 8:38 AM    Report this comment

I'm interested in some of the commentators who consider passengers on board a deciding factor, and wonder what the thinking behind that is. I fly for pleasure (even when I'm using GA to actually go somewhere), and have no desire to intentionally put myself in a situation that could be dangerous, passengers or not.

As for day vs night, I do consider that a factor, but only as a modifier to other factors, rather than a go/no-go by itself. For instance, if any of my "outs" require me to visually avoid something (such as clouds or terrain), and nighttime conditions would make that difficult-to-impossible (where it otherwise would be possible during the day), then day vs night does become a factor.

This is an interesting discussion, in any case.

Posted by: Gary Baluha | January 5, 2012 9:07 AM    Report this comment

Because you can make personal risk tolerance decisions for yourself that will envision more risk because you, as a pilot, can weigh the ramifications of those risks. (Or at least you *think* you can.)

When you are making the decision for passengers who don't understand the risk factors, I think it's natural to build in more margin to allow for their fears and concerns. I used to routinely plow through turbulent and low IMC, sometimes at night, by myself or with another pilot. Wouldn't do same with pax.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | January 5, 2012 9:19 AM    Report this comment

In Norden accident mentioned above, it took about 10 minutes from the pilot mentioning ice to ATC and the final end of the conversation. Standard rate 180 turn takes 2 minutes. So, pilot had about (10-2)/2 = 4 minutes, perhaps even less to make decision to turn back and still have a chance to survive. Too little time to ponder the options. That means the decision to turn back should be automatic and immediate (emergency) as soon as any icing is discovered. Given the freezing level 6K and clouds the icing will be discovered, perhaps too late because of night. Will it be enough time to climb through the icing in your prized turbo equipment? The answer is "no", not enough time. So, why waste gas launching in such conditions, just to practice real emergency? The Norden accident teaches one lesson - there is almost no time left to escape icing when it is discovered. So, forget about trying to make that flight - the sun will raise tomoorow and there will be another day.

Posted by: Andrei Volkov | January 5, 2012 9:24 AM    Report this comment

Sorry for the mistake in time to standard rate turn: make it 5 minutes to make a decision to turn back and still have a chance to survive. :-)

Posted by: Andrei Volkov | January 5, 2012 9:27 AM    Report this comment

The link below is to an very well done analysis of wx conditions prevailing at the time of the NJ TBM 700 accident in Dec. While not specifically dealing with the question posed originally in this thread, I found it most instructive re assessing risk for flight in icing conditions and recommend it to others as a learning opportunity.

http://avwxworkshops.com/forum/read.php?8,443

Posted by: R Boswell | January 5, 2012 9:49 AM    Report this comment

This screwy forum software removed the link. Trying again. Add the usual prefix or do a search on avwxworkshops and poke around for the forum thread.

avwxworkshops dot com/forum/read dot php?8,443

Posted by: R Boswell | January 5, 2012 9:52 AM    Report this comment

I can only answer for the airplane I actually own, a normally aspirated C-182. I might consider it in the daytime, but being in clouds above freezing level would rule it out for me, even without night. If I knew the terrain well I'd probably try to sneak it by VFR daytime, but not IMC, although perhaps being well acquainted with the area might let me feel I had a daytime plan B.

Posted by: David Chuljian | January 5, 2012 10:28 AM    Report this comment

Pilots who crash in bad weather are typically buried 3 days later in the sunshine!

Posted by: Keith Bumsted | January 5, 2012 10:39 AM    Report this comment

I agree with Andrei's thoughts - among others here. Forecasts are only a guess (even if a good guess) and there is always a chance for surprises. I don't feel it is practical to make GO / NOGO decisions based on worst case scenarios - there are just too many things an imagination can conjure up.

While not a valid plan "B" for every scenario, being able to recognize a problem / unexpected conditions and quickly determine a diversion plan will always be a required piloting survival skill.

I am thinking that the poor sap caught above Norden didn't recognize the severity of the unexpected icing soon enough and/or didn't respond quickly enough or correctly. Accordingly, the question I am asking myself is would I do better than he did.

Its hard to say, but given my experience (700 hrs / Oregon) and equipment (Turbo Mooney with O2) and the forecast weather conditions - I would have *attempted* to make the flight. Certainly the discussion and facts around the Norden incident will give me pause in the future. However, I'd want to think that I'd fly away from the ice (and any other unexpected problems) to safety instead of trying to fly through it.

Posted by: Robert Yeager | January 5, 2012 10:59 AM    Report this comment

I've no experience flying singles at night IFR around mountains, and I'll probably keep it that way. However, I used to fly out of RNO for winter cloud seeding missions, and about half of those flights are at night in worse weather than this scenario. We used C340's, known ice, flying to seeding tracks that were on the west side of the peaks and icing was guaranteed. If I got too much ice then I'd divert west over the valley so I could descend and melt it off, then go back up to the tracks. The normal departure out of RNO was to climb south along the LOC BC (often fighting downdrafts from the wave) until 10K and then turn westbound, and sometimes the icing would be too much and I'd have to turn back for RNO. Nowadays we base our planes in Sacramento because most of our client agencies are in CA, and it's also a lot easier to climb up to the tracks from the warm side of the mountains. Still, about 40% of our flights will have to divert to melt off ice during a mission.

These flights are no problem, but an important thing to remember is we can pick our battles - we don't HAVE to land back at base, don't have a particular route other than the tracks that we have to fly, and have a good exit plan. And, our pilots have the last word always - if they don't like it, they don't fly.

Posted by: Hans Ahlness | January 5, 2012 10:59 AM    Report this comment

I agree with Andrei's thoughts - among others here. Forecasts are only a guess (even if a good guess) and there is always a chance for surprises. I don't feel it is practical to make GO / NOGO decisions based on worst case scenarios - there are just too many things an imagination can conjure up.

While not a valid plan "B" for every scenario, being able to recognize a problem / unexpected conditions and quickly determine a diversion plan will always be a required piloting survival skill.

I am thinking that the poor sap caught above Norden didn't recognize the severity of the unexpected icing soon enough and/or didn't respond quickly enough or correctly. Accordingly, the question I am asking myself is would I do better than he did.

Its hard to say, but given my experience (700 hrs / Oregon) and equipment (Turbo Mooney with O2) and the forecast weather conditions - I would have *attempted* to make the flight. Certainly the discussion and facts around the Norden incident will give me pause in the future. However, I'd want to think that I'd fly away from the ice (and any other unexpected problems) to safety instead of trying to fly through it.

Posted by: Robert Yeager | January 5, 2012 11:00 AM    Report this comment

About 75 per cent of GA fatals are risk management accidents (i.e. pilot failed to identify, assess, and/or mitigate risk). Stay tuned for an article showing this data in a future issue of "Aviation Safety" magazine. Even a quick reference to the PAVE checklist and assessment matrix would show this flight was clearly in the RED and thus should not be conducted without mitigation. Yet we do not emphasize these techniques in training, instead we emphasize the maneuver-based curriculum dating to 1940. We need both training reform and a culture change so that in the future Paul won't have to ask us such basic questions.

Posted by: Robert Wright | January 5, 2012 11:12 AM    Report this comment

I have crossed the Sierras a couple of dozen times in perfect day VFR conditions. The Sierras are at least 60 NM wide with virtually no suitable landing areas and zero cell phone coverage.

This flight is simply not advisable unless it is an extreme emergency.

Posted by: Ric Lee | January 5, 2012 11:13 AM    Report this comment

I have a T210, live under the route in the mountains and fly that route regularly. I flew trans-sierra yesterday in cloudy weather but maintained VFR. But my T210 is not FIKI and IFR over the Sierras scare me when there is ANY chance of ice. Besides the Cirrus crash that has been mentioned there was a 210 icing crash in the Sierras about 20 years ago a little south of that route. I'm confident I wouldn't do that trip since I've spent 4 nights I can think of on the eastern side waiting for weather before going home.

Someone said they don't consider passengers on board as a factor. I have to say I do. I will cross the Sierras at night VFR alone, but will not do that with my family on board.

By the way, people absolutely do fly trans-sierra at night in weather. We'll be out in the hot tub at night in a snow storm and we'll hear a piston engine go over. I've always wanted to know who they are, where they are going, and what circumstances made them fly that night.

Posted by: Ney Grant | January 5, 2012 12:26 PM    Report this comment

"About 75 per cent of GA fatals are risk management accidents (i.e. pilot failed to identify, assess, and/or mitigate risk)."

Bingo! Prior to *every* flight the pilot should take three or more steps back and repeat this to himself, and then enumerate the risks, preferabbly as part of a risk assement component of a formal safety management system. Human nature being what it is, this wont happen for many pilots, but could be a bacon saver big time.

Posted by: R Boswell | January 5, 2012 1:04 PM    Report this comment

After 40years covering the country as a traveling salesman..using the same PA-24 Comanche ..no de icing equipment..I will call my account and tell them I will be at least one day late due to weather enroute. That way I was able accumulate over 8thousand hours without hurting the equipment,or myself.

Posted by: Herbert Yuttal | January 5, 2012 1:52 PM    Report this comment

A wry comment from pilots being in a bad non-flying situation has always been "I'd rather be IFR at night with ice." So why would a pilot knowingly put himself into a situation like that? Many pilots have done it and lived to brag about it. Others did not, which caused "What was he thinking?" comments as people went to the funeral. It may take a plane quite awhile to ice up. On the other hand, they will sometimes ice up almost instantly. It all depends on the conditions. Bottom line: don't do it.

Posted by: Jere Joiner | January 5, 2012 2:24 PM    Report this comment

The FAA defines known ice as any visible moisture (cloud or limiting visibility due to moisture) with temperatures at or near freezing. If you go there in a non-known-ice-certified aircraft, you are in violation. Period. In this scenario, we know this before we even saddle up. So why would we? Seems like a handful of pilots in here would launch and "test things out". Is it me or do some pilots not know/care about this rule???

Posted by: Dana Files | January 5, 2012 2:31 PM    Report this comment

"Is it me or do some pilots not know/care about this rule???"

It's you, I'm afraid. :)

Not to shock you too much, but for years pilots have been flying unprotected singles and twins in icing conditions. When the FAA made the unreasonable rule change to visible moisture, I doubt if it changed much. People talked about it, but they still did the same thing.

The reality is that the risk has proven manageable or it would be raining airplanes as a result of icing accidents. It isn't. Anyone who makes the decision to fly in visible moisture below freezing is taking a risk measured against the gain of operational utility. Every once in awhile, someone gets into a box with no planned outs and you have an icing accident. It happens. There's a little slice of icing out there that no amount of equipment will protect you from. There's just not much of it.

Some people stay on the ground during the winter because they're fearful of this. Some don't. It has always been thus and probably always will be. People are wise to be fearful.

See Hans' illuminating message above about seeding flights in known icing conditions. He knew very well that he would get ice and in some circumstances, he would have to bug out of it because FIKI or not, you're not gonna survive it. Perfectly reasonable.

It's just that there's always a slim chance than no matter what you do, you can't find a way out.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | January 5, 2012 3:05 PM    Report this comment

Actually, the FAA definition of "known ice" is a little murky and not so clear-cut. As far as considering a pilot "guilty" of violating known-icing limitations, it comes down to if a "reasonable and prudent pilot would take the same actions or make the same decisions as the pilot in the icing situation". So, like a great number of things in aviation, "it depends".

As others have mentioned, it's about finding the right personal balance between the utility of our aircraft and our risk tolerance. The FARs exist to provide guidelines for safe operations, not to act as straight-jackets.

Posted by: Gary Baluha | January 5, 2012 3:06 PM    Report this comment

Forgot to include a reference to my quotes (link includes another link to an official FAA document:

www aopa org/advocacy/articles/2009/090128icing html

Posted by: Gary Baluha | January 5, 2012 3:08 PM    Report this comment

"The reality is that the risk has proven manageable or it would be raining airplanes as a result of icing accidents."

I guess part of the risk equation would be getting busted for icing that ATC helped you out of. If operational utility was that important, seems like you'd invest more in the plane.

Posted by: Dana Files | January 5, 2012 3:30 PM    Report this comment

"I guess part of the risk equation would be getting busted for icing that ATC helped you out of."

I think that kind of thinking is why some pilots are reluctant to ask for ATC's help to get out of icing, or to make a pirep. Sometimes you can get caught in a sticky situation that looked highly unlikely when you took off.

If you really feel asking for ATC's help to get out of a bad situation would put you at risk of being busted, then file an ASRS. But I hope most pilots aren't avoiding asking for help just because they think they might be busted. Besides, better that happens than not making it out of the situation at all.

Posted by: Gary Baluha | January 5, 2012 3:38 PM    Report this comment

My definition of a fool would be someone who launches into cold clouds, hits an icing layer and (a) doesn't report it and (b) doesn't request higher, lower or a diversion to resolve it.

As for getting busted, ATC has better things to do than to rat out pilots. However, if you have to declare an emergency or you're handled as an emergency, things could be different.

The worry about getting busted is just slightly misplaced. I'd worry more about getting into an emergency of my own making that could have been avoided. One way, of course, is to stay on the ground. Nothing wrong with that.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | January 5, 2012 3:57 PM    Report this comment

First an observation about the change over years in my risk acceptance. Twelve years ago, having a full year of IFR experience, I flew single piston at night in IMC, usually handling some risk of icing, sometimes over terrain that some would call mountains. I flew an old Mooney and a nice F33 Bonanza.

Now I have kids. I still fly frequently and comfortly at night, but not if I expect more than a little IMC, and not if I see a risk of any icing. I only fly in terrain in day VMC. Apparently having kids changed me.

Then there is the equipment. I like the Cirrus for electrical redundancy, but not the "side yoke" handling I will have to rely on in case the autopilot quits (and no, the BRS/CAPS leaves me cold, too). In my trusty old Piper Dakota I like the benign handling and the climbing power, but it has vacuum and only one battery/generator. I am aware that there's a real risk I'll suddenly need either my headlamp or my partiel power flying skills and handheld GPS and COM. In 2200 hrs I have lost vacuum 3 times, 1 in low IMC (day). I have had 4 generator failures (3 of them in 3 different PA-32s in a total of 150 hrs of PA-32 flying - go figure!), 1 gen failure was in night IMC with a not fully charged battery. How well I understand aircraft systems and their risks are parts of my decisions.

No, I am not taking that flight. But twelve years ago with no kids, in a capable single that I knew well, with a good understanding of geography and weather? Quite possibly.

Posted by: Henrik Vaeroe | January 5, 2012 4:37 PM    Report this comment

I don't fly singles at night period, so this would be an easy one. Even if it was flat calm and CAVU, there is at least half of the route of this flight where engine failure equals a high probability of death....

Posted by: David Gagliardi | January 5, 2012 4:49 PM    Report this comment

I would not make this flight in my plane, a Cirrus SR22 Turbo, at night. My rules for flying over the mountains at night is for strictly VFR conditions. As you know, A cirrus crashed doing exactly this when unforcasted iceing built up so bad the plane stalled and the pilot dodn't use the chute until the speed was too high and the chute failed. I would make the flight during the day in those conditions and would make the flight in a twin with full deicing. Phil

Posted by: Phil Wadsworth | January 5, 2012 8:59 PM    Report this comment

"I would not make this flight in my plane, a Cirrus SR22 Turbo, at night. My rules for flying over the mountains at night is for strictly VFR conditions."

Phil,

You've just admitted that even with an aircraft as sophisticated as the SR22, and with all the advances we've made in technology such as aviatronics, GPS, and WX data, you could not have hacked it as an airmail pilot in the 1920's.

What those guys wouldn't have given to have available what you would have at your fingertips in an SR22 to make this flight safely.

Posted by: Gary Dikkers | January 5, 2012 9:30 PM    Report this comment

Great discussion/thread even if we aren't resolving anything.

All boils down to your personal risk analysis and risk tolerance. I've sat out 25 minute holds for release at the departure end on dark nights while wind-blown rain rocked the little bird that had only only one of everything to keep it aloft and wondered if what I was doing was really all that great an idea. Plenty of my fellow pilots would have said 'absolutely no way' while others would have considered it routine.

Maybe the fact we get to make such a serious, and absolutely personal, decision in this regimented world is what keeps us plugging away at an increasingly difficult avocation. a good idea.

Posted by: John Wilson | January 5, 2012 11:50 PM    Report this comment

"you could not have hacked it as an airmail pilot in the 1920's. "

Many airmial pilots in the 1920's couldnt hack it either. Any idea how many died flying the mail? Fatality rate pretty grim.

Posted by: R Boswell | January 6, 2012 7:13 AM    Report this comment

"absolutely personal, decision "

Well ... sorry but its not absolutely personal. An aircraft accident, especially a fatal one, creates issues and costs for many others: families, pilots, insurers, airctaft owners and manufacturers, etc. Its not just about you. Consider this when assessing what level of risk is acceptable.

Posted by: R Boswell | January 6, 2012 7:20 AM    Report this comment

"...not just about you."

All things that bear even remotely on the decision are data points to be considered and certainly the effect on the overall insurance rates within the world of aviation is one. However it is possible a few others should receive the bulk of attention. :-)

Possibly a day will come when the go-no go decision will indeed be made by committee of hundreds and the sum of all fears can rule. Won't be as personally satisfying then however.

Posted by: John Wilson | January 6, 2012 9:57 AM    Report this comment

I'd want to know much more about the weather, especially about the winds and the clouds. But in principle, in a FIKI Turbo Cirrus, yes. Does the chute change the decision? You bet - without it the answer would be clearly no. Same for the Turbo and the built-in oxygen.

Posted by: Thomass Borchert | January 6, 2012 10:34 AM    Report this comment

R Boswell ~ "Many airmial pilots in the 1920's couldnt hack it either. Any idea how many died flying the mail? Fatality rate pretty grim."

R~

You are correct. It took a long time for them to learn their limitations. I'm sure you are also well aware that by today's standards of risk management, Charles Lindbergh had no business leaving Roosevelt Field for Paris on 20-May-1927.

Had there been such a thing as an FAA or FSDO back then, they would have not let him go, and no one would know who recognize the name.

Paul should have asked this question: You are in an overloaded single-engine airplane on a turf runway on Long Island and want to fly more than 3,130 nm in a northeasterly direction across the Atlantic with nothing more than an earth inductor compass and maps for navigation and lots of fuel. You have to stay awake for more than 30 hours and have almost no idea what the weather will be like.

Would you make this flight?

Posted by: Gary Dikkers | January 6, 2012 10:50 AM    Report this comment

"Would you make this flight?"

Of course not. Many if not most of the others who attempted this flight died in the attempt. However, I suspect that most also understood the risks involved. That was then, this is now. Much is different.

Posted by: R Boswell | January 6, 2012 11:25 AM    Report this comment

"Won't be as personally satisfying then however."

Lets hope the decision doesnt come to a committe decision as you describe. There is "smart" risk and "dumb" risk. A single individual is capable of distinguishing between the two PROVIDED he makes the effort to do so (acquires the knowledge, skills, etc). Too many GA pilots cant be bothered. Consider the almost perfect safety record of some segments of corporate flying. No reason the average GA pilot cant achieve the same safety recod if sufficiently motivated.

Posted by: R Boswell | January 6, 2012 11:31 AM    Report this comment

"No reason the average GA pilot cant achieve the same safety recod if sufficiently motivated."

Ah, hope springs eternal, does it not? Let me list for you the reasons the "average" GA pilot--whatever average is--will never reach the level of safety you imagine.

One is because our GA pilot is allowed to fly even if he hasn't a lick of talent to manage the task. At least airline and corporate flying weeds out some of the worst candidates. Motivation won't overcome this. Lots of people who crash airplanes shouldn't be flying them at all. They are motivated idiots.

And a GA pilot is allowed to fly no matter how poor his state of training or currency. FAA training requirements are less than a joke. Motivation won't overcome this because many pilots can't judge their own state of training, much less do anything about it. They think they're hot sticks so motivation will be hitting a brick wall.

GA pilots are allowed and do fly crap equipment compared to airlines and corporate iron. Even a state-of-the-art Cirrus doesn't have much going for it when things go south. Place our "average" GA pilot in the left seat when s$#@ happens and he is a passenger, a crater looking for a grid reference. This, more than anything, explains why in 83 fatal Cirrus accidents, the pilots could not summon the wherewithal to act upon that which would save them--the BRS.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | January 6, 2012 3:55 PM    Report this comment

Having said all this, you are right in the individual sense. A smart, talented pilot who trains reasonably, flies good equipment and makes high percentage judgments can probably reduce his risk substantially, although never to the level of a two-person crew flying multi-engine turbines 500 hours a year. But he or she will be in the exceptional pool.

For the "average" guy or for the aggregate? I don't think so.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | January 6, 2012 4:02 PM    Report this comment

"Ah, hope springs eternal, does it not?"

But Paul, we are talking about making choices. Every choice involves tradefoffs. The idiots are making a tradeoff to accept the risk of being an idiot. There is a conspicuous body of evidence that appropriate choices pay off in improved safety. Its all about choices. That being said, I did state that many GA pilots cant be bothered and I will agree that a great many will not make the effort to make informed choices.

Posted by: R Boswell | January 6, 2012 4:14 PM    Report this comment

"There is a conspicuous body of evidence that appropriate choices pay off in improved safety."

True enough. But an overwhelmingly large body of evidence shows that by dint of training, talent and predilection, some GA pilots have proven that they can't or won't make these.

Let me qualify that. The vast majority of pilots are already making such decisions and are thus accident free. So many the accidents we do see are the inevitable Darwin candidates, the unavoidable outliers in a population that's bound to have them no matter what you do. Some are just stuff-happens accidents.

This makes me believe that, in the aggregate, the accident rate we have now is about as good as it's going to get. As has always been true, the committed individual can reduce his risk considerably. But those folks are way above average and in the upper strata of people who fly.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | January 7, 2012 5:07 AM    Report this comment

"There is a conspicuous body of evidence that appropriate choices pay off in improved safety."

True enough. But an overwhelmingly large body of evidence shows that by dint of training, talent and predilection, some GA pilots have proven that they can't or won't make these.

Let me qualify that. The vast majority of pilots are already making such decisions and are thus accident free. So many the accidents we do see are the inevitable Darwin candidates, the unavoidable outliers in a population that's bound to have them no matter what you do. Some are just stuff-happens accidents.

This makes me believe that, in the aggregate, the accident rate we have now is about as good as it's going to get. As has always been true, the committed individual can reduce his risk considerably. But those folks are way above average and in the upper strata of people who fly.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | January 7, 2012 5:08 AM    Report this comment

Although the icing most likely will be trace rime, there still is a hight risk of ice in an area of limited escape to plan B. So no...

Posted by: Chuck West | January 7, 2012 11:44 AM    Report this comment

The risk of ice (even though not forecast) is the deal killer for me. Night IFR, mountains, in a single - no doubt it raises the risk but wouldn't necessarily be a no go for me. Driving your car in the fog, or on snow or ice increases risk as well, possibly to similar levels - but here in the midwest we do that every day.

Posted by: Josh Johnson | January 7, 2012 7:32 PM    Report this comment

Just another $0.02... Why do I have to take that route? Is there another, longer, route that has better weather and/or terrain? What about waiting a few hours?

Posted by: Mike Hand | January 7, 2012 11:32 PM    Report this comment

Both ice encounters I've had have been when icing was not forecasted. Don't do it. On top of that, the FAA's lawyers consider any clouds/precip above the freezing level to be known icing conditions, whether forecasted or not. So if you have an accident, the law is not on your side.

Posted by: Steven Spicer | January 9, 2012 9:19 AM    Report this comment

I flew a T-prop airliner in the Mid-West and East Coast for about 5 years and 4k hrs. All I have to say is ice is an interesting monster. Sometimes ice will accumulate when you donít think it is possible. Other times it does not accumulate when you think it will. Add to that the varying rates of accumulation and it is not something to be taken lightly. For example one night I flew though freezing rain and would describe the encounter as light clear ice. In a separate incident while flying an ILS into MSP when the OAT was -20 (to cold for ice. Right?) we accumulated ice so fast it took 85% power to maintain the glide slope. Normal ILS power setting is 20-25%. Oh and we entered the clouds at about 6 miles out on the approach. So 6 miles at 120+ kts = 3 minutes. We estimated it at 6 inches of ice on the airframe for a rate of 2 inches per minute. Ice was on parts of the aircraft I had never seen before and did not think ice could stick to. It was interesting to see, of course being that I was on the ground safe! The same type of airplanes landing even 10 min before or after we landed did not encounter severe ice. All the reports were for light to moderate ice on the approach. Conditions change fast. Other experienced Captains have similar stories of severe ice encounters. I would never fly a non-protected airplane into ice EVER. You have no idea how bad it can get and how fast it can get that bad.

Posted by: Mike Doherty | January 10, 2012 10:30 PM    Report this comment

The old adage, "There are old pilots and bold pilots, but there are not many old, bold pilots" comes to mind. I read through the 1920's air mail scenario comments which are somewhat comical and then wonder how many folks here that would make the flight would put their wife and daughter in the back of the plane coming home from a ski weekend. Bottom line for me is, based on the scenario as it was outlined above, the trip is not worth the risk. There is an FAA pub "Risk Management Handbook" that it appears some commenters have read. While there are many factors that go into a go/no go decsion, I think it's pretty safe to say that it depends on the piston single you are operating and it's performance. Not sure how there is no icing in the route forecast with a freezing level at 6000, overcast starting at 10000 and terrain at 11000. I'm sure the briefer would tell you otherwise. There are piston singles that would make this a go with the other ADM factors satisfied but most would make this flight a no go.

Posted by: George Lutkitz | January 16, 2012 9:56 AM    Report this comment

Not enough information to make an informed decision. What's the synopsis and tops? Also keep in mind that Trace and Light icing is NOT forecast; nor is localized Moderate icing.

Terry Lankford OAK FSS Retired

Posted by: Terry Lankford | January 16, 2012 11:13 AM    Report this comment

I wouldn't take this flight in a single since I don't consider any single to have adequate power/equipment to tackle what icing can throw at you before you realize it.

A couple of things I didn't notice being mentioned here. Is there adequate oxygen aboard this aircraft to make the trip? I'm not asking about legalities here, but realities.

What's the REAL mission here -- is it to land this airplane in Oakland or get the pilot safely back to Oakland? These are two different missions.

Linda, who survived hauling mail in BE-18s.

Posted by: Linda Pendleton | January 20, 2012 12:49 AM    Report this comment

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