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High-Up Ice-Up

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Iron Monger: You had a great idea, Tony, but my suit is more advanced in every way!
Iron Man: How'd you solve the icing problem?
Iron Monger: ...Icing problem?
[Iron Monger's systems short out from the cold, sending him plummeting to earth]
Iron Man: Might want to look into it.

The higher you go, the colder the air gets. The logical extreme of this results in ice forming on anything that gets too high up; birds, jets, jetpacks, anything. This is a common event in early aviation stories, creating suspense as the co-pilot or a passenger must go out on the wing or tail to dislodge the ice. This can also be invoked, as a sort of inverted Wronski Feint. Compare and contrast Icarus Allusion.


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    Anime & Manga 

    Comic Books 
  • One Planetary story has a character get rid of a Nigh-Invulnerable mook with a chokehold by flying so high up the mook freezes.
  • One Buck Danny story has Sonny climb up to escape an assailant, and noticing his plane freezing after staying up too long.

    Films — Animation 
  • Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole: This happens to Digger while he and the others are on their way to the Great Tree where the titular Guardians reside. Fortunately, one of said Guardians manages to save him before he falls to his death.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Iron Man: When testing the Mark II armor, Tony nearly dies when he flies too high and freezes up. To remedy this, he creates the Mark III out of an alloy that one of his high-atmosphere satellites is made out of (and conveniently gives the armor its signature gold color). It becomes a Chekhov's Gun at the end of the movie: since Obidiah Stane's Iron Monger suit was built from the remains of the Mark I, Tony lures him up into the atmosphere, correctly guessing that Stane never worked out the "icing problem" himself.
  • Gamera vs. Viras (a.k.a. Destroy All Planets): At the end of the movie, Gamera is impaled by the head of the Big Bad. He flies high up into the atmosphere, causing the Big Bad to freeze to death.
  • In the 2003 Hulk movie, the pilot of a fighter jet that the Hulk has grabbed onto does a variation on this to get him to let go — he flies straight up until the cold and lack of oxygen cause the Hulk to pass out.
  • In the film version of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Harry flies upward to escape the Dementors when they attack during a Quidditch game in a violent, winter thunderstorm. As Harry climbs higher and higher, ice forms on his hair, clothes, and broomstick while his face sustains multiple cuts from the rain becoming more icicle-like.

  • In Tarnsman of Gor, Tarl takes his tarn (a giant bird that some warriors ride) extremely high up; he doesn't realize how high he is until the tarn starts to struggle with the thin air and ice crystals hit him in the face. Then he lets the tarn descend to a more manageable altitude.
  • In I Shall Wear Midnight, Tiffany keeps her broomstick tethered to herself on a piece of string because if she ties it to a bush, some kid is likely to steal it and fly so high this trope would come into play.
  • The Inheritance Cycle: This happens to Eragon and Saphira when they try to fly over some extremely high mountains. They come to the conclusion that they just have to go around, not over.

    Live-Action TV 
  • MythBusters has tested the "blue ice" phenomenon, where the contents of an airplane toilet are dumped midflight and freeze in midair into a dangerous chunk of ice. While dumping the toilet went too fast to form a solid mass, a slow leak was found to build up ice on a plane's fuselage until it broke off for a similar effect, confirming the myth.

  • From Pink Floyd's "Learning to Fly":
    Ice is forming on the tips of my wings
    Unheeded warnings I thought I thought of everything
    No navigator to guide my way home
    Unladened, empty and turned to stone

    Myths & Religion 
  • Interestingly, the Greek tale of Icarus and Daedalus inverts this: As both are flying over the sea with their fake wings, the former flies up too close to the sun, something that the latter warned not to do since it could melt the glue for the wing construction and make the wings break. Predictably enough, Icarus ultimately fell to the sea and perished. As ever, though, Science Marches On; we now know that high altitude doesn't (exactly) mean increase in heat, but rather the reverse. You need not just space travel, but interplanetary travel to get close enough to the sun so heat kicks in. Icarus would still have fallen, though—the frozen wax/glue would turn brittle and it would break instead of melt.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Flying Circus's ruleset for flight combat simulates the freezing dangers of high heights. The core rulebook notes the rate that the temperature drops as altitude increases, and the advanced rules describe how batteries hold half their charge in extreme cold, on top of increased flight stress.

    Video Games 

    Western Animation 
  • In the Barney Bear short The Flying Bear, Barney flies too high up and is subject to Harmless Freezing before he literally hits "ceiling zero".

    Real Life 
  • Truth in Television: Icing on the wings is a very real danger of high-altitude flight. Ice forming on the carburetor of small private planes is another common hazard and can choke off the fuel supply. There's a device that routes exhaust gases through the carburetor to warm it up and melt ice, but using it comes with a pretty serious power loss, so careful judgement (and remembering to use it when conditions are right) becomes part of the checklist procedures.
  • Also, severe storm clouds form hail because powerful updrafts can reach as high as 50,000 feet. Hang glider pilots have gotten sucked into storm cells and encrusted with ice.