Cold, Alone and Afraid: Flying in the Northeast

by HPA · March 27, 2014

Stay Ahead of the Airplane: Icing and Risk Management

During my time as a pilot in a Part 135 environment, one particular trip stands out as the most challenging/dangerous flight in the Northeast. It was one of those days where I woke up well rested and confident about the flights I was scheduled to complete. Leaving Hyannis (HYA) that morning was uneventful, with calm winds and near perfect sunrise array. It was a simple, VFR flight up to Boston (BOS) to await the main part of my line which included two roundtrip flights to Lebanon, NH (LEB). After landing in Boston and unloading the passengers, I walked inside to the Operations room where I was greeted by the news no pilot wants to hear: my schedule had been altered. In place of the Lebanon flights I would now be transporting a full plane of passengers to Saranac Lake, NY (SLK). One thing about planning and being comfortable with a certain airport is that the familiarity with instrument approaches (IAPs) and terrain increase the pilot’s confidence during the flight. Saranac Lake was an airport I had visited only once before and on a beautiful VFR day, this day would be nothing close.

Schedule Change: Preparing for Unfamiliar Airports

I was given one hour notice to change my flight planning and decided to add 20gal of fuel to the plane for the increased headwinds along the route. The weather forecast for that section of NY State was anything but friendly, calling for OVC007 ceilings and 1mi visibility for my ETA. Saranac Lake’s airport is nestled in the hills of the Adirondack region and, although beautiful, creates problems for radar coverage and radio communications at certain altitudes. The airport has two runways available for landing, however only RWY 5/23 had an IAP with usable minimums for the forecasted weather conditions. I prepared myself for the ILS 23 which would favor the winds and reviewed the approach thoroughly. After a few last minute glances and checks of the weather, the passengers were loaded and I received my clearance for the trip.

In the Clouds, Over Your Head

In this operation, the Twin Cessna was used to its fullest capacity. The 9 seat configuration allowed for 1 passenger to sit adjacent the single-pilot, making for a very memorable experience for someone who rarely flies. The weather in Boston that day was VFR with a BKN layer around 2700ft, taxi and takeoff went as planned with no complications. As expected, we entered the clouds just North of Boston and never exited them until eventually landing in Saranac Lake. Climbing to my planned cruise altitude of 8000ft was routine with the temp dipping to -2C giving me an awareness that I was entering in possible icing conditions. The Cessna 402C is equipped with both Anti/De-icing methods and is certified to fly into known icing so I was prepared for this possibility. As we crossed the NY boarder, Boston Center inquired what the ride was like at 8000, meaning the level of icing/turbulence I was experiencing at the time. My reply was light rime/light turbulence but nothing I could not handle, I would soon regret thinking that last part.

It was approximately 15 min further into the flight when my right-seat passenger tapped me on the shoulder asking “What is that noise I just heard? Like something hitting the side of the plane.” She was referring to the pieces of ice being melted by the prop de-ice and flung against the nose baggage compartment of the aircraft. I knew we had been slowly accumulating ice but when enough starts collecting on the propeller to be noticeable, a change in altitude and power setting is required. I began by increasing power to a high cruise setting and made the request with Boston center for a descent to 6000ft. Reaching 6000ft, though the temperature was slightly higher, ice continued to accumulate and airspeed began to diminish. With the approach into SLK about to begin, I requested a decent to the enroute MEA of 5600ft hoping to gain another degree of temperature. After being cleared for the approach, I could no longer receive or transmit to Boston Center at lower altitudes, I was on my own. Beginning the approach was routine but the power setting used to keep the correct airspeed was much higher than usual, due to the ice’s effect on the aircraft. I decided to perform the approach at an airspeed higher than normal, attempting to prevent a stall or loss of directional control due to icing.

As forecasted, the weather at SLK was OVC006 1mi –RA and that made the approach very challenging. Not only was I worried about the effects of the icing already on my plane, I was also worried about the event of missed approach (MAP) and how it would perform in the surrounding mountainous terrain. Luckily, I was able to see the runway and make a normal decent to landing to many relived passengers. After the passengers were de-planed, I breathed a sigh of relief and went to inspect the plane for any residual ice. I found plenty along the wing’s leading edges, tail section, and propeller hubs. Since there’s no control tower at SLK, I made the phone call to Flight Service to cancel my IFR flight plan.

Learning and Experience

The things I learned from that flight were simple, not the least of which is weather can change in a matter of minutes. I was prepared for and expected Trace to Light Rime icing in the clouds, however I was not prepared for Moderate Mixed icing/Turbulence. So in conclusion, as pilots we should always be actively learning from our experiences. Taking away something from every flight and increasing awareness of our own abilities.

Cold, Alone and Afraid: Flying in the Northeast

How it Started

One of my best friends in high school, (Doug Gray) was a private pilot. He offered to take me up for a flight in a 1967 Cessna 150, N6228S. We took off from Calhoun, Georgia, and he took me on a scenic tour of the area, I was hooked. I later found out that my English teacher, (Jan Haluska) was also a flight instructor and the school was offering a ground school course the next year, which he taught, along with flight training with the goal of becoming a private pilot. I managed to talk my dad into funding the training, at the time the total cost was right around $500. Cessna 150 rental rates where $12 an hour, and the 172 we used for cross country was $15 an hour including fuel.

Training Begins

It started August of 1977. The fall semester rolls around, and I am enrolled in ground school, and if memory serves me, we met twice a week. First came the paperwork for my student pilot certificate, which at the time was included with the 3rd class medical. I loved ground school, especially learning navigation, plotting courses on the sectional, again this was before iPads and GPS, so we did a lot of dead reckoning and VOR navigation for cross countries. At the end of the course, I made an 83% on the Private Pilot written exam, remember this was before we had the question-and-answer books that on future test I would consume before taking a written.

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The fun really began on August 22, 1977, it was my first flight. To my surprise we used the same Cessna 150, N6228S that my friend Doug Gray had taken me for a ride in. The Cessna 150 had a standard VFR instrument panel, with one NAV/COM, and one VOR CDI. No intercom, so no headset, at the time I didn’t know what I was missing. I didn’t get my first headset until I started my instrument training in 2003. I was a big guy, I was 6’ 4” and weighed 245 lbs. but I do not remember being uncomfortable in the 150 even with the instructor in the right seat.

First flight lasted .8 hours, and we accomplished orentation, shallow turns, stability, and effects of flight controls. Over the next few months we added steep 720’s, slow flight, stalls, turns around a point, S-turns, emergencies, landings, (short field, soft field and normal).


At this point I want to talk about a training experience that still stands out. We were close to solo and were practicing takeoffs and landings. Turning base to final Jan got very upset at the way I was cross controlling the aircraft. Cross control is when you are in, say a left turn, and use opposite rudder to line the nose up with the runway. So, he had me depart the pattern and head east to the practice area, and climbing up to 5500 feet MSL, he had me slow down to just above stalling speed, start a left shallow turn and add right rudder. As the airplane stalled I had the strangest sensation, no roller coaster has ever come close, instead of blue sky in the windscreen I was looking at brown ground, and as far as I could tell we were upside down, through the terror of the moment Jan talked me out of the spin, controls neutral, oposite rudder, pull slowly out of the dive. As we leveled off he asked me what altitude we were at, as I remember it was around 2,800 feet MSL. Then he asked me what would happen if I experenced this on base to final in the traffic pattern. The answer was obvious, I would be a pile of wreckage off the end of the runway with a very short-lived aviation career. Needless to say this cured my cross-control tendencies.

Another training event the sticks out in my mind was the first time we did takeoffs and landings at the High School runway. The runway was 1,500 feet long, not sure of the width, but it seems like we had about 5 feet on each side of the wheels when on the center line of the runway. Landing from the south you also had to go between a cutout in the trees to be able to stop in time on the runway. After getting confortable landing here every runway since seemed huge. I remember landing at Chattanooga (KCHA) on a night cross country and commenting to Jan, that I felt like I could of landed sideways on the runway, it felt that large.

Very soon after this I started wearing old shirts to all my flight lessons, the reason for this occurred on February 8, 1978. The lesson that day was stalls, takeoffs and Landing. As we were taxing back in Jan told me it was time for my first solo. I was very excited, and after some last minute advice from Jan, including watch for floating on landing the plane will be light with him not in the right seat, complete 3 takeoffs and landings to a full stop. It was a blast, and at the end of my shirt was shorter in the back because Jan cut the tail out of it signed and dated my solo [an aviation tradition]. Total flight time accumulated on the day of my solo was 18.1 hours. I was now officially a pilot with solo priveleges.

In my next article I start cross country training, when Jan decided that it would be best accomplished this in the 172. Checking out in N5970R was like moving into a 747, this started a love affair with one of my faviriote planes to date. Since this time I have flown over 900 hours in many different models of the 172 and feel like I am stepping into an old friend every time.

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