Oil on windshield
3 min read

It was a rough flight. One of those flights where you think to yourself, I should have taken up boating. It started as a routine mountain departure. Typical go now in the 30-minute window between snow, sunshine, and the rapidly approaching rain clouds. After clearing mountainous terrain, I picked up my instrument clearance and looked at the broken cumulus build ups in front of me. Be a good chance to use my new Avidyne IFD440 in some real IFR I thought. And then the fun began…

“41F direct Deway, rest of route unchanged.” Great! A vector direct through the big cumulus build up; what could go wrong? I wasn’t real surprised when the moderate turbulence started but the 1000 fpm downdrafts were kind of exciting. I was certainly happy to be alone in my C206 with the extra climb capability, even at 12,000 feet.

“41F we have a change to your clearance, advise ready to copy.” Don’t they know I am busy? “Go ahead…” I mumbled while tightening my harness to keep me in the seat. I’ll say this: in moderate turbulence every touchscreen GPS is totally useless. I was really grateful the Avidyne can do every function with the included buttons and knobs; I got the changes in pretty quickly.

Oil on windshield

Well that’s no good…

About five minutes later, I noticed some light rime ice and immediately told SoCal Approach I needed a lower altitude.

“41F if I give you a lower altitude, we need to change your clearance again.”

“Whatever, it takes. I need to get out of the ice.” Got a southbound vector with a descent to 8,000. I also got to enjoy the bumps getting worse and a ground track 30 degrees different from my heading in the wind.

Twenty minutes later, after yet another change to my clearance, I was thinking I would be glad to land, when I noticed that the last of the thawing ice was turning yellow on the windshield. It smeared and became more of a brown color. Just what I needed. The oil was very slowly coming down the cowling and covering the left side of the windshield. The right side was clear, oil pressure and temp were fine. When I leaned over to the right, I could see a thin line coming from the front of the cowling and onto the windshield.

I was already being vectored for the ILS and made the decision to continue into Long Beach. It was easier and safer to stay stabilized than go into a less familiar airport with smaller runways. I couldn’t see clearly in front and would need to go where I had the most experience. As I was preparing to land semi-blind, my overworked brain decided to kick in a little last-minute advice.

“Dude, you’re a flight instructor… just move to the right seat where you can see!” Wow, look at the big brain on Gary… Duh…

I moved to the right seat, got my seat belt on and shot the ILS. Besides reaching over to the left to use the push to talk, it was not bad for a 15-knot crosswind landing. After landing, I opened up the cowling to find the oil filler cap had come undone in the turbulence and in 1.2 of fairly rough air only lost about 1/2 quart, which made a mess but didn’t hurt the plane.

P.S.: It was still better than driving in LA rush hour traffic.

What brilliant ideas have you used to overcome a challenge in flight? Let us know in the comments and, as always, fly safe!

Gary Reeves
Latest posts by Gary Reeves (see all)
4 replies
  1. Cary ALBURN
    Cary ALBURN says:

    Couple of events come to mind, using the words “emergency” or “Mayday”–which I’m surprised you didn’t use, Gary! To me, the combination of ice and a material oil loss comes awfully close the “E-word”.

    First one: In a Mooney 231, southbound at 12,000′ between Colorado Springs and Pueblo, solid IMC, temp about -20F, no ice on the wings, just “breath frost” inside the windows, the MP started coming down and with the altitude hold on the AP doing its thing, the airplane was slowing–the engine was obviously dying. I clicked off the AP, called Denver Center with a Mayday, and asked for vectors to Pueblo. It was only a slight right turn, but Pueblo’s weather was at minimums–an ILS into either 8R or 26L was going to be tough with no engine. Fortunately at some point I remembered the manual alternate air door knob hidden under the panel, pulled it, and the engine came back to life; we’d lost some 1300′ in the meanwhile. We continued on our flight to Durango where the weather was good VFR. Upon landing, I found that the entire front of the cowl was covered with thick ice, blocking the air intake. Why the cowl and not the wings or windshield, I don’t know, but I’ve always guessed that it might have been that I had the hot prop turned on, causing some of the moisture in the air to soften just enough to stick.

    Second one: In a Cutlass RG, very lightly loaded, at 14,000′ east of the Dunoir VOR enroute to Jackson, WY, in-and-out IMC but mostly VMC, the windshield started to opaque over and the leading edges started to collect rime ice. The airplane was already about as high as it was going to go at the 14,000′ MEA, and no 172 variant is capable of carrying very much ice. I called Salt Lake Center to advise about the ice and that I’d need to expedite my approach into Jackson. He said, “expect to hold east of the Dunoir VOR; there are two ahead of you.” I’d been listening and knew that both of those were cabin class twins, most likely FIKI equipped. So I said, “Negative, I need to have an immediate approach, or I’ll have to declare an emergency. This thing can’t handle much ice.” Right away, he directed both of the twins to hold, then cleared me for the ILS into Jackson. About half way down the lengthy descent (it’s roughly 28 miles from the IAF to touchdown), the ice started to melt off so that by the time I was on the ground, the airplane was just wet.

    Often enough, getting ATC involved early is a good plan, when things aren’t working out the way the pilot wishes they would.

  2. Biton Liad
    Biton Liad says:

    Only emergency if I dare to call it that was an open door on takeoff with my CFI, so it dosent count. I would say that the experience is something any new pilot should try. It’s extremely loud, distracting and even answering the tower who asked if we need assistance took all the CPU power I had. Thank you for sharing guys, us low time pilots truly appreciate the insight.

    • Gary Reeves
      Gary Reeves says:


      I had a door pop open on me as a low time pilot and made the mistake of focusing on trying to close it in flight. You’re right it is very distracting. Thanks for the great comment!

      Fly Safe,


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