CHAPTER 7—Skiplane Operations


Landings on unprepared areas can be accomplished safely if the proper precautions are followed. Evaluating each new landing site thoroughly, obtaining advice from well-qualified pilots already familiar with the area, and staying within the limitations of personal skill and experience can all contribute to safety and reduce risks.


There are a number of factors that must be considered when operating from glaciers. There can be many hidden hazards.

The first consideration is the condition of the snow and its suitability for landing. To evaluate a new area, fly downhill with the skis on the surface, just touching the snow, as slowly as possible above stall speed. This helps determine the snow condition. If unsure of the quality of the snowpack, look for a gentle slope and land up the slope or hill. This situation will allow the airplane to accelerate easily on a downslope takeoff.

If the slope angle of the landing area is very steep, always evaluate the area for the possibility of an avalanche. Avoid landing near the bottom of a valley because ice falls may exist and provide rough and unusable terrain.

Glaciers are very deceptive. It is advisable to train with an experienced glacier pilot and become comfortable before departing alone. Use extreme caution, as just a few clouds overhead can totally change the picture of the intended landing area.


Snow-covered frozen lakes and rivers can provide a number of obstacles. Wind causes snow to form into ripple-shaped wind drifts. Wind also breaks snow into smaller particles, which bond quickly together to form solid ridges. These ridges can be so rough that they can damage or destroy the landing gear and skiplane. The best plan is to land parallel to ridge rows, even if there is a slight crosswind. Another option is to find a lee area (protected area), where there are no wind drifts and land in this area.

Other problems that may be encountered are beaver dams, houses, or other hidden obstructions that have been covered with snow and have become invisible, especially in flat lighting situations.

A condition known as “overflow” can present problems on landing and takeoff. The overflow is water, in a liquid state, that is cooled below its freezing point. The moment a ski or any other part of the skiplane touches this supercooled water, it freezes solid. As the water freezes, it will provide a rapid deceleration. Overflow may exist on frozen lakes and rivers with or without snow cover. Thin ice also creates a problem because it is not always obvious. It may be thick enough to support a layer of snow or other material, but not a skiplane.

It is easier to see obstacles on lakes and rivers that are frozen without snow cover. Spider holes are ports formed by escaping air from under the ice, forming a weak area or bubble at the surface. These may or may not support the skiplane. Avoid running over spider holes.

Clear ice, under certain conditions, can be extremely slick and will not allow directional control once the aerodynamic controls become ineffective due to the loss of airflow. This becomes critical in crosswind landing conditions.

Avoid landing near the shoreline where rivers or sewer lines empty into lakes. The ice is likely to be very thin in those areas.


Tundra is probably the least desirable landing surface since most of the above hazards can exist. Tundra is typically composed of small clumps of grass that can support snow and make ridge lines invisible. They also hide obstacles and obscure holes that may be too weak to support skiplanes. Avoid tundra unless the area is well known. [Figure 7-6]


Pilots routinely encounter three general lighting conditions when flying skiplanes. They are flat lighting, whiteout, and nighttime. The implications of nighttime are obvious, and in the interest of safety, night operations from unlighted airstrips are not recommended.

Flat lighting is due to an overcast or broken sky condition with intermittent sunlight. Hills, valleys, and snow mounds take on varying shades of white, and may appear taller, shorter, or wider than they really are. This indirect lighting alters depth perception. The pilot may not realize that depth perception has been compromised, and this can cause serious consequences when operating skiplanes near hilly terrain. When flat lighting is encountered, avoid or discontinue flight operations, especially at an unfamiliar strip.

Whiteout can occur when flying in a valley with both walls obscured by snow or fog. Clear sky conditions can exist, but references cannot be established. Reference to attitude gyro instruments helps when this condition is encountered. Climb out of the valley so additional visual references can be established.

Takeoffs and landings should not be attempted under flat lighting or whiteout conditions.

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