Windshield Heat…required?

Are you one of those guys that thinks windshield heat is not an “airworthy item” on a PA-46?  I’m in agreement that 99.9% of the time the windshield heat is not needed, but when that 0.01% flight happens, you want it to work!  I had a recent flight which highlighted this need.

I owe a huge debt of gratitude to Tom T. for bringing me along on such a cool flight!  We flew from Texas to Terrace, British Columbia, Canada in his immaculate Jetprop, enjoying the Rockies with stunning views the whole way.  He wanted to do some heli-skiing and asked that I go along as a safety pilot.  As it turned out,

Want windshield heat?

Want windshield heat?

the weather was absolutely beautiful 90% of the flight, and my “mentorship” was not really needed for much of the trip.  Plus, Tom is one of the “good guys” in the PA-46 world that is a borderline “pro-pilot”…really one of the best I’ve seen.  He didn’t need me, but I’m sure glad he thought he did!

As we came into Terrace, the clouds decided to make a grand entrance into our flying party.  The weather was forecast to be 8,000 BKN, but as we came down on the ILS, we were in solid IMC from 12,000ft thru 5,000ft.  When we finally broke out at the bottom, we were greeted with a lovely coating of ice all over the frontal surfaces of the airplane.  I was on the co-pilot side and Tom was on the controls on the left.  When we popped out of the clouds, Tom remarked at how beautiful the ground was, and I was having trouble seeing the ground!  My side was caked with a frosty glaze and Tom had a perfectly clear view of God’s creation below.  I took the picture (shown above).  Bottom line…if I had to land the airplane, I don’t think I could have seen well enough to do so.  What if the windshield heat had not worked on Tom’s side?  We’d have been in quite a fix hoping sublimation would work fast.

I think “windshield heat” is misnamed on the PA-46.  It should be called “Landing Windshield Heat” because it is rarely needed except when landing.  If I’m at altitude in IMC, I really don’t care much about ice is on the windscreen.  But, I really need to see to land!  For those of us who fly in the southern USA, we get lots of ice while at altitude (even in the summer), but we’ve most-often got warmer temps nearer the ground which melts off the ice in the descent.  Consequently, we rarely need the windshield heat.  But, as the picture demonstrates, if the temps are below freezing all the way to the surface, you will absolutely need “landing windshield heat”.

For those of you who fly PA-46’s but don’t even know where the windshield heat switch is located, maybe this article will entice you to find the switch and give it a try.  While you are at it, make sure to check the amp increase to make sure it works properly (see this post for a good discussion about that).

For those who don’t know, Terrace, BC is absolutely stunning from the air.  As we came into Terrace the weather opened up wonderfully and we did a little sight-seeing by flying over the clear skies west of Terrace.  I took this pic about 20 miles west of Terrace over the Skeena River.  The Canadian people are super-friendly in Terrace and it’s a great place to visit.  I highly recommend British Columbia, Canada!

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About Joe Casey

ATP, CFI, CFII, MEI, CFI-G Commercial Pilot - SE, ME, Rotorcraft, Glider US Army AH-64 Pilot and UH-60 Instructor Pilot and Instrument Flight Examiner
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