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Monday, January 11, 2021

Night flights in Winter present challenges

What’s Up
By LeRoy Cook

Despite some interludes of flyable conditions, there wasn’t a lot of aviation activity during the first full week of 2021. Low clouds and bouts of precipitation discouraged flying, and few lightplane operators wanted to chance getting ice accumulation in the clouds.

We did see and hear some high-flyers cruising along above the cloud decks, even some brave single-engine pilots. The B-2 bombers out of Whiteman Air Force Base came and went as usual, and there were the common strips of contrails left by overflying airliners.

Dayne Kedigh and I did accomplish some night-flying requirements on a clear evening, using a Cessna 150. We visited Lamar and Nevada, where airport beacons welcomed us as we scanned in the darkness, attempting to see the runway lights. Lamar is particularly well-lit, with REIL (runway end identifier lights) and taxiway lighting. One could see the glow of Springfield’s city lights from their traffic pattern.

When the clouds gave way to sunshine later in the week we went up for some proficiency practice, finding that the inversion layer limited visibility to five miles or less. This happens when pollution and water vapor get trapped in the stable cold air, rather than mixing by rising air currents. So, clear days aren’t always as clear as they seem.

We had a question posed about a regular night flight that comes over in the wee hours every morning at the same time, probably a freight or mail run. How, we were asked, was the pilot able to keep a schedule even while the ice storm was going on New Year’s night? Ice collects on trees and wires because rain falls out of warm air riding on top a cold-air layer parked on the ground. Liquid water instantly turns into ice when it hits a cold object. The airplane, on the other hand, was in the warm air, where it remained ice free.

Our question from last week, about the early designation of the McDonnell F-4 Phantom jet fighter, was answered by reader Bryan Farley, who knew it was first called the “F-110” before the services went with shorter designations. For next week, tell us what types of ice can bedevil pilots of little airplanes in the wintertime, even though they stay out of clouds to avoid airframe icing. You can send your answers to