Flying in the winter provides a new set of challenges for even the most experienced pilots. But just because the weather gets colder, doesn’t mean pilots get to take a few months off. In fact, there are a number of unique benefits for winter flying, including incredible visibility on those cold clear days. Plus think of all the unique cold-weather destinations you can add to your bucket list!
There are additional precautions and considerations for flying in the winter, but by doing your due diligence, you’ll help provide a safe, efficient flight. Here are a few tips for flying when the weather turns cold.
1) Know your aircraft’s cold-weather procedures and limitations
Pull out your pilot operating handbook (POH) and brush up on the winter-specific information for your aircraft. This can include your aircraft’s temperature and battery limitations, emergency preparedness, and any other requirements you need to know when flying in the cold.
2) Complete a thorough preflight check
A preflight inspection is critical before any takeoff, but doing your due diligence in the winter months is especially important. Removing snow, frost and ice is crucial – not only for optimum efficiency but also to ensure the safety of yourself and any passengers. Remember that tire pressure may be lower in the colder weather. It’s also wise to make sure that all the lights work on your plane in the waning winter daylight. You may want to hurry through the inspection – particularly if you’re doing it outside in the cold – but it’s vital that you take your time and be thorough.
3) Install a carbon monoxide detector
If your plane doesn’t already have one, install a carbon monoxide detector. If you have a cracker muffler, using more heat in the winter could increase your exposure to carbon monoxide gas. This can be incredibly dangerous and even deadly. Keep a close eye on your exhaust system during inspections to help mitigate this risk.
4) Maintain deicing equipment
Deicing equipment is one of the most important components of winter flying, so you’ll want to make sure the equipment is in tip-top shape, such as checking deicing boots drying and cracking.
Just as you warm up your car before leaving in the winter, your plane’s engine needs time to warm up. Keep in mind though this engine is much larger than a car’s, so give yourself plenty of time to preheat and warm up the engine. You’ll want to be extra diligent about fire prevention when preheating your plane. Become familiar with your plane’s requirements for cold weather starting.
6) Mitigate fuel contamination
There are several key considerations when it comes to fuel in the winter months. If you’re in between trips, or have just brought your warm plane out of the hangar and into the cold, and have less than full tanks, it’s likely that condensation will occur. This water can get into your fuel and contaminate it.
7) Prepare for emergencies
While we always hope for the best, we must prepare for the worst. In the winter, this means bringing an extra warm gear for yourself, a good flashlight with extra batteries, a first aid kit, sleeping bag, matches and a fully charged cell phone.
8) Protect against frost
Frost and ice buildup can have negative impacts on an aircraft in the winter, including affecting airflow and reducing your wings’ lift. If you’re unable to store your plan in a hangar, you’ll need to take extra precautions to prevent frost buildup. You can try to prevent frost and ice buildup by making sure the entire aircraft is covered if it will be left out in the cold for an extended period of time. This is not just for overnight storage, but even if you deplane between stops, there is a chance frost could form on the aircraft, so pack your wing covers.
9) Practice, practice, practice
Landing conditions are very different when trying to bring your plane down onto ice and snow. That’s why it’s important to be able to practice with your flight instructor. Landing and taxiing on a runway that has ice and slick spots mean that you should use your brakes as little as possible because the brakes will heat up and melt any snow and ice, which could refreeze and cause issues.
10) Keep on top of weather reports
You don’t have to become a meteorologist, but the best pilots will keep an eye on the weather at all times. Winter weather can change rapidly, and there are different considerations for different areas of the country. Be sure to check the weather reports for your final destination regularly so you can be prepared. You should also always file a flight plan in case of inclement weather.
11) Prepare for night-time flying
If you aren’t already certified, now if a good time to make sure you have completed night training. As the days get shorter in the winter, you don’t want to get caught on a longer-than-expected flight and see the sun start to set at 4 p.m.
Flying in winter doesn’t have to be intimidating. By taking the proper precautions, and doing your homework ahead of time, you’ll be able to take off into the cold winter air in no time.
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