If You Plow It, They Will Come

The most recent December issue  of FAA Aviation News advises:

With a report of poor braking action, you would be well advised to divert to an alternate airport where the runways and taxiways are clear and there are no reports of adverse surface conditions. And further that: Ice, slush, and snow can turn your aircraft into a sled. Unless your airplane is equipped with skis, it is simply not designed to operate effectively on slippery surfaces. When the runway glistens… leave the airplane in the hangar.

True. After landing on snow and ice-covered runways, I’ve learned that a plane handles much like a car on slick surfaces, which is to say not very well. Keep the nose up for aerodynamic braking and use all available flight controls to maintain direction throughout the rollout. Forget nose-wheel steering and differential brakes.  Crosswinds are a white knuckle adventure. So it was with interest that I reviewed this month’s issue of AOPA magazine (link here  for members: “The Iceway is Open”) which extolled the wonders of landing on ice.

Alton Bay, New Hampshire offers an “iceport” that is only open for a few months each winter. Like a winter aviation Brigadoon, it “appears” when the ice is 14 inches thick and the entire airport—runway, taxiway, parking area—is made of ice at the south end of Lake Winnipesaukee. Seaplanes seldom ply the waters in summer due to the high volume of boat traffic.  According to AOPA:

Over the years, there has been occasional conflict between the ice anglers and the ice aviators. In 2006, an airplane’s wing actually hit a bob house (an ice fishing shanty) that was too close to the runway. Now the bob houses are required to be at least 150 feet away from the runway. But the majority of the pedestrians on the ice near the airport welcome the airplanes. The big event that really draws both townsfolk and pilots is the winter festival. For one day in February, the ice is crowded with visitors eating local food, playing games, and watching the Alton Bay bed race (entries range from cribs to four-posters with prizes for style as well as speed). Last year the festival was on a day with perfect weather and the ramp was packed. More than 70 airplanes flew in.

And who doesn’t enjoy bed racing?  Ice runway operations require that you plan for a long rollout. Expect the slickest runway when the ice looks deep blue or black from the air. A light dusting of snow actually helps with rolling resistance and shorter stops. Here’s how it’s done:


3 responses to “If You Plow It, They Will Come

  1. I realize that most G.A. aircraft don’t have landing gear stressed for it, but in the F-4 even we in the USAF used to use a more Navy-style steeper approach and firmly “plant” the bird to dissipate energy on impact prior to roll-out–as opposed to the usual Af-style slightly flared “grease-job” approach and roll-out normally used when we were faced with icy and/or wet runways.

    • Actually I’ve learned that G.A. gear is capable of a lot given some of my unintended “firm plants” during my training days. One time I flared way too high and ended up plopping it on the runway with bone rattling results. My instructor looked at me and offered only one helpful suggestion: (Very Loudly): “Don’t EVER do that again.

      Which was good advice.

  2. virgil xenophon

    As my IP in ROTC years ago at old Ryan Field in Baton Rouge once said of another student’s landing as we waited for clearance onto the active: “That wasn’t a landing, that was an ARRIVAL.” LOL.

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