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Effects of Icing on Critical Aircraft Systems

in Aerodynamic Factors

In addition to the hazards of structural and induction icing, the pilot must be aware of other aircraft systems susceptible to icing. The effects of icing do not produce the performance loss of structural icing or the power loss of induction icing but can present serious problems to the instrument pilot.  Examples of such systems are flight instruments, stall warning systems, and windshields.

Flight Instruments

Various aircraft instruments including the airspeed indicator, altimeter, and rate-of-climb indicator utilize pressures sensed by pitot tubes and static ports for normal operation.  When covered by ice these instruments display incorrect information thereby presenting serious hazard to instrument flight. Detailed information on the operation of these instruments and the specific effects of icing is presented in Chapter 3, Flight Instruments.

Stall Warning Systems

Stall warning systems provide essential information to pilots.  These systems range from a sophisticated stall warning vane to a simple stall warning switch. Icing affects these systems in several ways resulting in possible loss of stall warning to the pilot. The loss of these systems can exacerbate an already hazardous situation. Even when an aircraft’s stall warning system remains operational during icing conditions, it may be ineffective because the wing stalls at a lower angle of attack due to ice on the airfoil.


Accumulation of ice on flight deck windows can severely restrict the pilot’s visibility outside of the aircraft. Aircraft equipped for flight into known icing conditions typically have some form of windshield anti-icing to enable the pilot to see outside the aircraft in case icing is encountered in flight. One system consists of an electrically heated plate installed onto the airplane’s windshield to give the pilot a narrow band of clear visibility. Another system uses a bar at the lower end of the windshield to spray deicing fluid onto it and prevent ice from forming. On high performance aircraft that require complex windshields to protect against bird strikes and withstand pressurization loads, the heating element often is a layer of conductive fi lm or thin wire strands through which electric current is run to heat the windshield and prevent ice from forming.

Antenna Icing

Because of their small size and shape, antennas that do not lay flush with the aircraft’s skin tend to accumulate ice rapidly. Furthermore, they often are devoid of internal anti-icing or deicing capability for protection. During flight in icing conditions, ice accumulations on an antenna may cause it to begin to vibrate or cause radio signals to become distorted and it may cause damage to the antenna. If a frozen antenna breaks off, it can damage other areas of the aircraft in addition to causing a communication or navigation system failure.


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