Traveling in winter can be a headache – icy roads, digging out your car, and slow going on the roads. But traveling by air in winter can present a new perspective and different opportunities. While some may think of winter as a dangerous or inconvenient time to fly, and may avoid taking to the cold, grey skies, that’s not always true. Plus, when you’re aching for sunny beaches on the ocean in the middle of February, you’ll want to plan a warm-weather vacation to jet off to.
If you’re thinking about planning a winter flight, here are five myths about flying in winter that are not actually true.
1) Winter Weather Makes it More Dangerous to Fly
While you may think that because of snow, ice and cold temperatures that winter weather presents riskier flying conditions compared to warmer seasons. However, spring and summer can actually be worse than winter in terms of weather-related flight problems.
In North America, it’s been said that the most challenging time to fly is mid-March to mid-April due to a mix of high winds, late-season blizzards and thunderstorms. And while you may be cold during a winter preflight, you probably won’t face thunderstorms, one of the most dangerous flying hazards. The cold air also provides increased visibility, letting you see everything more clearly from further away.
2) It Can be Too Cold to Take Off
If the airplane can be kept in a hangar prior to flight, it can operate in even the coldest of conditions. After all, at 40,000 ft., the normal altitude of a private jet, the air pressure drops to less than a quarter of its value at sea level and the outside temperature drops below negative 70F degrees. Therefore, if the fluids can be kept warm, most aircraft can usually operate in some of the coldest temperatures on earth.
3) Aircraft Engines Perform Better in Warm Weather
In general, aircraft actually perform better in colder weather over warmer weather. Why is that so? Well, colder air is denser than warmer air, which contributes to engine performance and airlift. It’s not actually that airplanes fly better in cold air; it’s that the engines produce more power when they take off in cold air. The amount of lift that an airplane wing generates is affected by the density of the air.
Generally, both turbine and internal combustion/reciprocating piston engines run more efficiently in cold air because colder air allows the engine to use a greater mass of air/fuel mixture in the same intake volume, generating more thrust and power. Likewise, for propeller-driven planes, the prop is biting into denser air, and thrusting a greater mass of air backward, generating more power. With additional power, the plane can accelerate more quickly, reach altitude faster, reduce takeoff roll, give the wings more lift and allows the plane to take off at a lower ground speed.
4) Planes are Built to Handle Snow and Ice
Planes, as incredible as they are, are not designed to fly with frost, ice or snow on the outside body. Ice on the wings and tail actually can prevent you from taking off – even a quarter-inch-thick layer of ice on a plane can disrupt the flow of air over and around the wings’ and tail’s specially designed shape, completely destroying the amount of lift. Ice buildup is the main danger of cold weather because it causes extremely unpredictable effects on the aerodynamics of a plane. Always ensure your plane is clear from any frost, ice or snow before takeoff.
5) Pre-flight Planning is the Same in the Winter as the Summer
Cold weather flying does have its fair share of challenges. Namely, it’s cold, and you need to take extra care when conducting pre-flight inspections, aircraft prep and de-icing. Simply put, winter preflight planning should take longer than flying in warm weather.
In winter months, perhaps the most important part of pre-flight is the weather brief in which you’ll make the final decision on whether to take-off or keep your plane grounded. Pay attention to storm patterns and potential problems at both your departing city and destination, as well as on your planned route. It’s better to be prepared and not take-off if you have any worries that you may face risky or dangerous snow, wind or ice.
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