There was a time when I was timid. My siblings still relish the story of how “scaredy-cat Susan” was too shy to speak up at the fast food counter, leaving my younger sister to order for us both. I could argue that delegation of speaking authority was an early indication of my prowess with crew resource management (CRM), but you wouldn’t believe it any more than they do. The reality is that I was a mouse.
Of Mice and Ice. One of the first things I learned about flying, though, is that the left seat is no place for a mouse. Being pilot in command (PIC) means being in charge. In fact, the regulations state very clearly that the PIC is the final authority on safe operation of the flight. That is true at all times, but with winter upon us, I’ll focus on how the PIC must use that authority to escape any encounter with freezing precipitation. It is no sign of timidity to avoid ice in the first place. The best plan is to find the ice before it finds you and, as the saying goes, use superior judgment to avoid situations that require any exercise of superior pilot skills. If your avoidance methods fail, though, your top priority is to get out of icing conditions as quickly as you can. The worst thing you can do is to forge ahead hoping it will improve.
Know Before You Go. I can recall three flying occasions when ice surprised me, in part because each occurred in the spring. The first time, I was headed to Sun ‘n Fun in my club’s Cessna Skylane with a fellow pilot. He was the first to notice rime ice forming on the struts. Here’s where it helps to be prepared: I already knew that a 1,000 foot descent would put us below the cloud bases, and that there was no hazardous terrain at that altitude. I told ATC that we needed an immediate descent, and we got it.
The second time, I was flying a Piper Aztec with friends when an icy patch of cloud made the windshield instantly opaque. With hills below, my request to ATC was for an immediate 180-degree turn. Once out of danger, we were able to find an ice-free alternate route to our destination.
The third time was in a Cessna Stationair over New Mexico. We had several options: A 1,000-foot climb would put us above the tops, and a 30-degree course change would put us completely in the clear. Having just crossed the beacon marking a lower MEA, we also had the option of descending to warmer air. We told ATC that we could take anything but status quo, and the controller immediately approved a descent.
In each of these cases, the key to safe flights and happy landings was situational awareness, multiple options, and willingness to use them right away. (FAA Aviation News NovDec 2009)