Plane Answers: Sunburns and inflight icing

Welcome to Gadling’s feature, Plane Answers, where our resident airline pilot, Kent Wien, answers your questions about everything from takeoff to touchdown and beyond. Have a question of your own? Ask away!

David asks:

Do pilots get sunburn from being up at 39,000 feet for several hours? Especially during the transcontinental day trips. If so, how do you protect yourselves?

I’ve never had an issue with sunburn while in the cockpit and apparently that’s because windscreens on airliners block the UV-B light which causes sunburn.

More worrisome is the fact that airline crews are classified as radiation workers in Europe and the United States. In fact, the level of radiation that crews are subjected to is in the top 5% of all radiation workers, and occasionally twice as high as a typical nuclear plant worker.

This radiation has caused an increase in cataracts among pilots as well as DNA damage among the more high time aviators. And if that weren’t enough, the incidence of melanoma is also slightly higher among air crew.

Dan brings up a timely topic:

After taking off in winter conditions with everything done properly for the de-icing of the plane is there anyway that snow or ice can accumulate on a plane while in flight? If yes how would this happen?

Inflight, we use engine anti-ice, which is essentially hot bleed-air from the engines piped through the leading edges of the engine cowl and, on some airplanes, the nose cone or ‘spinner’ of the jet engine. This anti-ice feature is left on anytime we’re in the clouds and the temperature is below 10C/50F.

This same hot air is piped through the leading edges of the wings. As ice begins to build up, we turn on the wing anti-ice to eliminate the ice. Unlike the engine anti-ice, wing anti-ice isn’t left on, however, but it’s cycled in intervals.

The tops of the wings remain free from ice inflight for the most part.

Also, the windshield is electrically heated whenever the engines are turning on a jet. This prevents frost and fog from building up on the outside and inside, respectively.


We need your help! Do you have a question about something related to the pointy end of an airplane? Ask Kent and he’ll use it for next Monday’s Plane Answers.