Route radar
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This article is the first in a series called “Go or No Go?” We’ll present actual weather conditions for a planned trip. You study the forecast and tell us if you would fly the trip or stay on the ground–and why. Just write a comment below to post your answer.

The planned trip today is from the Clermont County Airport just outside Cincinnati, Ohio (home of Sporty’s Pilot Shop) to the Frederick Municipal Airport in Frederick, Maryland (home of AOPA). Your airplane for this solo flight is a 1999 Cessna 182. While it does not have a G1000 glass cockpit, it is well-equipped, with a GPS, multi-function display, autopilot and even a portable Garmin 696 with XM Weather. There is no deice equipment other than the heated pitot tube. Departure time is 1730Z.

Now for the weather. A low pressure system recently moved through Ohio:

Surface map

Click to enlarge

But the radar for the trip shows that most of the precipitation is already through your destination:

Route radar

Click to enlarge

METARs close to your departure report IFR conditions, but above minimums with decent visibility:

KCVG 211652Z 02011KT 6SM BR BKN007 OVC008 M04/M06 A3013 RMK AO2
    SLP210 T10391056=

The TAF suggests that conditions will stay IFR, but generally improve:

TAF AMD KCVG 211626Z 2116/2218 03013KT 5SM BR OVC008
     FM211900 06010KT P6SM OVC015
     FM212100 07009KT P6SM OVC022
     FM220000 09007KT P6SM BKN012
     FM221300 13009KT P6SM BKN025=

The Current Icing Potential report shows that icing is certainly a consideration for today’s trip, especially over the mountains:

Icing forecast

Click to enlarge

And temperatures are right around freezing at your best cruising altitudes (7000-9000):

FT  3000    6000   9000    12000
CVG 0620 3406-01 3216-02 3024-08

The area forecast says tops should be around 7000 in Ohio, but might extend up to FL180 in West Virginia and Maryland, so getting on top is probably not an option today. Fortunately, pilot reports (PIREPs) show only light turbulence and no icing below 10,000. The only icing PIREPs seem to cluster around 15,000 to 17,000 ft.

Weather at your destination is also fairly low IFR, and the winds favor the RNAV 5 approach instead of the lower ILS approach to runway 23:

KFDK 211655Z AUTO 02007KT 7SM OVC008 M02/M02 A3001 RMK AO2=
KFDK 211620Z AUTO 36007KT 5SM BR OVC008 M02/M02 A3001=
KFDK 211600Z AUTO 36006KT 5SM BR OVC008 M02/M03 A3001=

The TAF for Washington Dulles shows an improving trend:

TAF KIAD 211730Z 2118/2224 35007KT 6SM BR BKN012 OVC045
     FM212100 35007KT P6SM BKN015 OVC025
     FM220300 01007KT P6SM SCT025 BKN035
     FM221500 02006KT P6SM BKN015 BKN025=

So, do you make the trip? Or stay on the ground and fly another day? Why?

John Zimmerman
49 replies
  1. Nathan Tilley
    Nathan Tilley says:

    I’d say this flight would be postponed for me. I’d probably try to wait a little longer in the day to let some of that freezing possibility pass, and wait for the freezing level to raise comfortably above proposed cruising altitudes. You would be in visible moisture nearly the entire trip (if not the whole trip), and if you were to cruise at 7000, temperatures are below freezing. That’s the perfect scenario for icing up in an aircraft not certified for flight into known icing. The fact that the winds favor the RNAV instead of the ILS in such low ceilings raises some concern as well, with as close to the minimums the ceilings are, that extra 40 or so feet you can descend to on the ILS might just make the difference.

    Overall, I’d attempt to wait a little later in the day for the conditions to improve, and if they don’t, wait it out until another day. Although, it looks like another front is supposed to pass through tomorrow, it might be Tuesday before it clears up!

  2. Ian Seager
    Ian Seager says:

    This phrase

    ‘…shows that icing is certainly a consideration for today’s trip, especially over the mountains’

    means I’m not making this trip.


  3. John Haley
    John Haley says:

    No go for me. With almost certain significant icing, and “on the deck” cloud cover in the mountains, I’d at least wait until the complex frontal system moved further east.

    (AWS meteoroligist for 20 years)

  4. Len Forster
    Len Forster says:

    I’ve been flying for 49 years. There’s no way I would take this flight. Wait for improving conditions, then go.

    I always try to remember that old adage from Pensacola flight school. There are old pilots, and there are bold pilots, but there are NO old bold pilots.

    I’m too old these days, anyway, to go where no man has gone before. Gee, that sounds familiar.

    • Harry Toll
      Harry Toll says:

      Len, a good adage that all pilots should keep in mind. I also like: “I’d rather be down here wishing I was up there, than up there wishing I was down here.”

      • Len Forster
        Len Forster says:

        Thanks. I like both expressions. People too often forget them, then get themselves into deep trouble because their egos are bigger than than their decision making skills are good.

  5. Tracy Van
    Tracy Van says:

    I would definetly side with the previous comments and agreeing with the icing issue that exists on this trip. The FAR 91.527 States no pilot may fly under IFR into known or forecasted moderate icing conditions. For me in that type of aircraft any possible icing known or forecasted is too much, and I would say with the temperature at below freezing, and visible moisture thats enough to call that forcasted icing. I am waiting unti vis or temps improve.

  6. Ken Ludwick
    Ken Ludwick says:

    I would have to say no go.
    There are alot of reasons not to go, icing being the obvious reason but look at the destination I would prefer to use the ILS for lower minimums, there for I would need more information on nearby airports so I can plan an alternate. I am just be

  7. Sir John Trinder
    Sir John Trinder says:

    No-go for me because of the icing. I am from U.K. and we dont get forecasts covering as much ground as you. Is this a typical forecast? One of ours would give fog, ice, wind and dead calm within a 500 mile trip! We can have a whole years worth of weather in a day!
    Great exercise, can we have more?

  8. John Zimmerman
    John Zimmerman says:

    I guess I’m going to sound irresponsible given the previous posts, but I think I’m going. The weather at the destination isn’t an issue –it’s above minimums and the visibility is very good. To me, visibility is more important than the ceilings, and both the trend and the forecast show improving conditions. The RNAV mimimums are only slightly higher than the ILS (not 200 ft.), so I don’t see this being much of an issue.

    That leaves icing, which is certainly worth studying, but not a no-go here. Most importantly, I’d be flying on the backside of the low, so the deep moisture and the worst icing is most likely past. And the PIREPs support this–15,000 being the lowest report gives a lot of buffer from my 7000 or so cruising altitude. Plus, the first part of the flight looks like I might be on top, so there’s a last out.

    Not an easy flight, perhaps, but one I’d make.

    • Len Forster
      Len Forster says:

      I understand where you’re coming from, John, and I understand your analysis.

      I would just ask you one question: Do you have experience flying over the Appalachian mountains in the wintertime. If you do, then, you’re a good judge of what you’re willing to do.

      If you have never experienced flying over the Appalachians, especially west to east, in the wintertime, as I have, then I would say that, your analysis, as good as it is, is flawed.

      On a day of severe clear, you would not want to lose an engine over the Appalachian mountains. There are NO flat places anywhere in those mountains on this route of flight. Going down there would not be a controlled crash. It would be certain death, especially on an IFR day. You’d fly into a mountain before you ever saw a flat spot.

      So, I’d say that is about as big a consideration as you can make it.

      Want to reconsider your decision?

      • John Zimmerman
        John Zimmerman says:

        Thanks for the comment, Len. I have actually flown this exact flight before, more than once in a 182 in the wintertime. There’s no doubt that the terrain is rough over West Virginia, but it sounds like you wouldn’t ever fly over the mountains (“certain death”). I disagree with that. If we never flew out of gliding distance of a flat landing area, we wouldn’t get much utility out of our airplanes. With good maintenance, conservative operating practices and plenty of fuel (still the top way to make an engine quit), I’d make this trip.

        • Len Forster
          Len Forster says:

          Au contraire, mon ami. I used to fly from Huntington to Martinsburg on a regular basis, as well as south into eastern Kentucky and southern West Virginia. I’ve done it many times. And, that, my friend, is exactly why I would not take this flight in a single engine airplane under these specific weather conditions. Back when I was bulletproof and invisible, I might have considered it. These days, at age 68, I wouldn’t even think about it, and I’m still a damned good instrument pilot. I’m just afraid of dying too young.

  9. Richard Rieck
    Richard Rieck says:

    As presented…maybe. PIREPS report no in flight icing, and you can stay away from the front by routing up through Columbus and South of Pittsburgh to test the atomosphere/clouds-file for 9000, they also would be good alternates, then head for the front if inflight weather reports confirm no icing, however worry…the overriding moisture is a good set up for ice and freezing rain over the mountains but PIREPS are currently neg….CIP is a supplemental report and I have seen it significantly off….but…

    The clincher is the Area forecast … not shown, if it is anything like today, 12 hour later….on the 22nd; it would be a no go without Known Ice equipment for me…This is a complex wx system and i worry about the back side of these for severe icing and freezing rain, forecast or not….agree with John Haley!! (2 people beside the pilot make for a safe flight, a good mechanic and a good meteorologist!–even in todays world of internet wx, i would try to talk to a wx guy/gal to get their input- i have learned alot from them…thanks John)

    WAUS41 KKCI 221445
    BOSZ WA 221445
    MOD ICE BLW 045. CONDS ENDG 15-18Z.
    140ENE ACK
    040 ALG HNN-30N BKW-40S PSK
    040 ALG 60S RIC-30SE RIC-60SSE SIE-200SE ACK

    dont want to be heading into this with low approach after being ice coated in freezing rain over the mountains in a 182.

    ps…great exercise….give us more.

  10. Jim Winner
    Jim Winner says:

    A no go decision is always a good decision,,,or as my CFI would say…”I’d rather be down here wishing I were up there than up there wishing I were down here.”…

  11. Mark Smith
    Mark Smith says:

    I might be missing something here, but assuming the CVG METAR describes the current conditions at I69, how can you go legally go when you will immediately enter a frozen cloud on takeoff?

  12. Jeremy
    Jeremy says:

    I’d stay down till the next morning and see what the day brings. Whilst I don’t think ice would become an issue it’s sure no fun over mountains

  13. Larry Baum
    Larry Baum says:

    I’m with John. Tough flight, but doable with that plane and equipment. I’d be checking weather all the way, using airports along the route and to the north as outs.

  14. Jason
    Jason says:

    Definitely a no go. I’ve gone on flights through fronts where I had low terrain and warm air below for a definite escape and had ice. When you see icing firsthand, it is amazing how quickly it can build. Here you are most likely to encounter it at the worst time, over the mountains before the destination and the terrain is no friend there. In addition the MEA’s are going to be higher so getting on top OR below the freezing level is impossible. If there is a potential for icing conditions you want a plan B AND C in addition to plan A. Plan B is a 180but there is no escape North as it will get colder and South puts you into the front and moisture so definitely no plan C. NO GO…..

  15. ErIc
    ErIc says:

    No go for me why take a chance. Doesn’t look as if it’s going to clear enough and the possibility if ice over the mountains is too great for me.

  16. Richard Collins
    Richard Collins says:

    I would go but it would be based on previous experience with this scenario. The low surface temperatures along the east coast are caused by cold air damming, where an easterly flow pushes cold air back to the mountains and it pools in the lower levels. It was likely warm above 2,000 feet. Also, the lack of precip indicates low moisture content in the clouds. We actually had a pretty sunset that afternoon, just four miles east of FDK.

    • Charlie Masters
      Charlie Masters says:

      Whoa John, You would plan to make a flight figuring you would need to use the parachute? If icing is your concern, how effective you think the chute would be with a heavier, iced up airplane. What effect does ice have on the chute? Would you run your car through broken glass figuring you had a spare so what the heck? In my opinion this is why Cirrus airplanes have proved to be less safe than the GA fleet as a whole, pilots start to rely on a system that was put there for the marketing department.

  17. Nate
    Nate says:

    I’d leave the 182 in the hangar and pull out the Caravan. Hasn’t anyone else been watching ‘Flying Wild Alaska’?

  18. Steve Phoenix
    Steve Phoenix says:

    The radar pic indicates that the heavy moisture is past making it possible to consider. However, below freezing temps on the ground at KFDK would be cause for pause unless I was well familiar with the route. Familiarity of local area and weather patterns can help a lot in a situation like this.

  19. Len Forster
    Len Forster says:

    John Zimmerman makes an excellent point. Let me respond by saying that in my original post, my statement was based on experience and erring, if at all, on the side of safety.

    What I did not say was that it was an impossible flight, even in a Cessna 182. I have made flights into worse conditions than the ones stated, but I was young and fearless (Or, if you prefer, bulletproof and invisible).

    Yes, John, you COULD make this flight. However, I would submit that the PRUDENT decision, especially with the aircraft equipment available, would be a No-Go decision.

    I can recall flying into Atlanta Hartsfield Airport at frontal passage one winter long ago, enroute from Ft. Lauderdale to Nashville. It was total soup and a relatively smooth ride, both of which the forecast had correctly predicted.

    However, at one point and at about 2,000 MSL, when I looked out the window 1 minute after looking the last time, I discovered about two inches of rime ice on my wing struts. The icing level was supposed to be nowhere near that altitude when I left Jacksonville and hour and half earlier.

    I ended up doing a full stall landing with full power and full flaps. When we got to the ramp, the Butler aviation ground crew had to chip the glaze ice off the door pulls just so we could exit the airplane.

    It’s not always what you can read that should dictate your go or no go decision. It should also be to consider what is the worst case scenario. Based on the data available to us with respect to this particular flight and taking into consideration what the data don’t say but could, it is still, in my opinion a NO GO decision.

    Now, if I were back in a C-130, there’s no question that I’d make the flight. But that was long ago and far away, boys.

  20. Dale
    Dale says:

    I would probably go. The biggest concern for me would be the possibility of enroute icing.
    The real beauty is that each pt 91 pilot gets to make his/her decision based on their own experience, proficiency, risk tolerance, etc., exactly the way it should be.

  21. Lee Simkins
    Lee Simkins says:

    No go for me. The possibility of icing, low ceilings, leaves few “outs.” The Appalachians can be inhospitable for off airport landings, even in VFR.

  22. Mort Mason
    Mort Mason says:

    Oh, I’d go. But I qualify this decision because of having around 20,000 safe flying hours as an Alaska bush pilot, where real mountains are the rule rather than the exception. And, if you’ve watched “Flying Wild Alaska,” you know that there is preciious little good weather up there. I guess we just learned to fly in a very different environment.

  23. Marc Coan
    Marc Coan says:

    Based on the very, very limited information provided, one would be smart to to wait a few hours. BUT, there really isn’t enough info here to make an informed decision. There are TONS of additional data points which one could find on the Internet.

    Now, if I was given the information I can get out there (see for links I use to plan flights), I might be inclined to launch (if the enroute TAFs and METARS show at least 800′ ceilings all day…which is my rule for any single engine IFR, since I’ve had 4 engine failures in my 4000 hours of flying).

    Never underestimate the power the “look see.” Conditions in the air often are different than they look on the ground. Go a case can always be made for going to take a look. I would plan an enroute stop somewhere near the halfway point. Then I could reassess the weather and decide whether to push on based on the NEW information I get at the enroute stop.

    Some notes on icing:

    “Known icing conditions are those where a reasonable pilot would expect a SUBSTANTIAL likelihood of ice formation on the aircraft based upon ALL available information.” — FAA Aviation News, Nov/Dec. 2009

    “If the composite information [total] indicates to a reasonable and prudent pilot that he or she will be operating the aircraft under conditions that will cause ice to adhere to the aircraft along the proposed route and altitude of flight, then known icing conditions likely exist.”–FAA Icing Letter, 1/16/09

    80% of the time, an encounter with airframe icing can be changed with a 2500′ or greater change in altitude.

  24. stuart
    stuart says:

    Did anyone else notice the temperature/dewpoint spread for KFDK? The very real possiblitly of zero/zero conditions upon arrival after a slog through possible icing makes this trip doubtful. I wouldn’t only start this trip unless my Plan B (and C…..F) would allow a safe alternative course of action.

  25. rick
    rick says:

    Solid IFR in sub-freezing temps with no way to get above or below it? Not me. Possibly there are no PIREPS for icing below 10,000 ft. along this route because no one has been foolish enough to venture into these conditions in an ill-equipped airplane. If you did encounter icing, there’s no quick outs in this scenario.

  26. Matt Warmerdam
    Matt Warmerdam says:

    I would go. Radar show most of the precip out of the area. Lots of bail out options if icing becomes an issue. Forecast minimums for approaches aren’t unreasonable.

    Full disclosure, I fly part 121 equipment and have more wx capabilities with my equipment and probably more experience in this type of wx, but nothing I see reported in my 30 seconds of reading the wx report scares me away. But then again, if I was taking this flight for real I would dive into the reports more seriously. I understand that flying a ga single comes with it’s unique criterea for safety. Just giving my bigger iron viewpoint.
    Fly safe,

  27. Ernest
    Ernest says:

    Since we are speaking in the real world here…it’s a no brainer for me…I’m not IFR rated and therefor I do not go. Even if I were IFR, I would stay on the ground due more to the iceing possibilities than anything else. Being a Nor Cal pilot, I have zero experience in the type of weather that is normal for Ohio and surrounding states.

    • alan groves
      alan groves says:

      I tend be super conservative because I just don’t have the experience with this type of flying. I have very little to no icing potential experience. I don’t this type of flight would be one where I would choose to get my experience. That said, my analytical side would really like to see the Skew T’s along the route for the time of flight +/-
      a couple of hours, to see what the models are saying about the freezing level and the moisture content. I’d also take a look at the tops to see if could get above the mess.

  28. Larryo
    Larryo says:

    I’d probably go, but need more info for good back up plans. Not enough info, yet.

    Would get more pireps, winds aloft, temps, Skew T, metars and forecasts along the route.

    Ice would be a big consideration.

  29. David Heberling
    David Heberling says:

    Why fly today when the weather will be better tomorrow? I am not all that keen on flying an airplane with only a pitot heater in below freezing clouds. There is no chance on topping the clouds. There is no warmer air below. I also will take trips by myself that I would not take with my wife. If I were foolish enough to take the trip, I would definitely have a plan B. Plan B would be to make a 180 as soon as I started to pick up ice. I would also make a list of suitable diversion airports and make sure that I had the approach charts for each.

  30. Marc Coan
    Marc Coan says:

    I did a bunch more research on this route. There are lots and lots of airports along the way which could be accessed as needed. If I were to make the trip, and I wouldn’t with the little info provided here, I would print out and review all the best approaches to the enroute airports, and carry them with me in order I would pass them. About every 30 min., I would call ATC and ask them to request pilot reports from aircraft ahead of me. If I had a problem with ice, I would 1.) Climb or descend by 2000-3000′, and 2.) If still picking up ice at the new altitude, change my destination to the nearest airport and shoot the approach I earlier studied.

    Point is: You can’t really reach a good decision with the information provided. Best to get more info (several posters mentioned Skew T diagrams, for example. But if you visit, you’ll see links to other icing forecasts besides ADDS that might help.) And, if there are no PIREPs for icing at the planned altitudes, go take a look, with the idea that I could land enroute as needed. Risky? Yeah, more than staying home. But so is flying.

    • Len Forster
      Len Forster says:

      It’s pretty clear that you’ve never been in real icing conditions. Once ice starts to build, it builds very fast. If you climbed or descended 2-3000 feet and were still encountering icing, the likelihood of your reaching one of those along-route airports would be slim and infinitesimally small. More than likely, you would land like a rock miles short of the runway.

      • Marc Coan
        Marc Coan says:

        Actually, as a freight pilot, I was in and out of icing daily for years. That said, if the accretion is anything but light, you’re right: An immediate 180 is the best choice.

        I was once told by my chief pilot that 80% of icing encounters can be changed by a 2000′ change in altitude. Not only did I find that to be mostly true in my professional flying, I have since researched 100’s of icing PIREPs and for those that give a range for the altitudes where they were encountering ice, they also confirm it to be mostly true, although 2500′ seems more like the average.

        Of course, all of the information here is just opinions…your results could vary.

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