The Dangers of Ice Buildup on an Airplane
Flying through icy conditions is dangerous, especially in a small airplane. According to the FAA, this is partially because many pilots are unaware of the effects that ice has on the control of the aircraft, as well as on navigational instruments and communication. It is imperative for a pilot to know what causes icing and how it can effect the aircraft.
There are two kinds of icing that can create difficulty for a small aircraft (or a large one for that matter). These are Structural and Induction. The FAA says that Structural icing is the buildup of ice on the outside of the plane. This can result in the blockage of ports and the damage of antennae that affect instrument readings. However, the most hazardous effect of Structural icing is aerodynamic. Ice can change the shape of the airfoil, which causes control problems and change the angle and airspeed at which the plane will stall. In addition, the extra weight of the ice will make it more difficult for a plane to maintain altitude. This is especially hazardous for a small plane.
According to the FAA a major concern of structural icing is the roll upset. This refers to an unexpected, and uncontrolled rolling action that is caused by severe icing during the flight. Roll upset is caused by a separation of airflow resulting in the inability to maneuver in a roll situation.
According the the FAA, induction icing will affect the power plant of the plane. Small aircraft engines typically utilize either a carburetor or pressure fuel injection system to supply enough fuel for combustion. Both systems can fall victim to icing, which may cause the engine to fail. Carburetor icing can happen if the temperature falls to a level between minus seven and 21 degrees celsius. if there is visible moisture or high humidity. This is possible because of the vaporization of fuel in conjunction with the expansion of air as it flows through the carburetor. This causes sudden, significant cooling within a fraction of a second. Fuel Injection systems are less susceptible to icing that carburetor systems. However, the pilot still needs to be cognizant of the dangers of induction icing.
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