With ice, snow, blustery winds and cold temperatures, winter presents a unique set of challenges that the pilot needs to address during preflight. And although winter weather conditions bring higher risks with it, there shouldn’t be a reason to stop flying altogether the winter months. One of the most important things to do to stay safe in the air this winter is to master the preflight check procedure.
While you should always conduct a thorough check regardless of what season it is, it’s especially critical to take extra precautions during winter due to weather and other concerns. In addition to your normal preflight procedures, check the following items off your list to ensure a safe and trouble-free flying experience this winter.
Mechanical and Operation
❑ Preheat the engine, especially if the temperature is below freezing.
❑ Check aircraft for ice or snow, including propeller blade, flight controls and engine inlets.
❑ If snow or ice is present, remove as much as possible by hand and thaw it with heated air or de-icing fluid before attempting to start the aircraft.
❑ Fill your tank with enough fuel, especially if you’re facing headwinds, and increase the fuel reserves if necessary.
❑ Check for fuel contamination using all installed fuel sumps.
❑ Make sure frost is thawed from the body, engine and controls, and windshield anti-ice is used to avoid loss of windshield visibility.
❑ Install baffles, winter fronts and oil cooler covers if recommended by the manufacturer.
❑ Inspect all hose lines, tubings and seals for any deterioration, as well as all clamps and fittings.
❑ Check openings in the aircraft where snow can enter, freeze and then obstruct operations, including pitot tubes and static system sensing ports, fuel vents, heater intakes, carburetor intakes, wheel wells and tail wheel area, and check for frozen snow around the elevator and rudder controls.
❑ Check the safety kit and update the kit if anything is missing. Make sure you have a good knife, fire starters, a signal mirror, emergency flares and medical supplies in case of an emergency.
❑ Remove any mud or slush that’s made its way into the aircraft’s wheel wells during taxi and takeoff. This may freeze in flight and cause landing gear problems upon landing.
❑ When starting the engine, avoid the tendency to overprime. It may lead to cylinder walls scoring, poor compression and hard starting. It may also be a cause of engine fire.
Flight Planning and Weather Preparations
❑ Before your launch date, watch the weather closely, especially fronts, forecasts, icing and winds aloft.
❑ Check all pilot reports before take off for icing conditions, airport closures, cold fronts, cloud locations and other issues in your path.
❑ Check the Pilot’s Reports of Icing, a precise and constantly updated resource for pilots, providing accurate information about what’s currently happening in the sky.
❑ If airborne icing is likely, have alternate plans in mind, such as altitudes and re-routes and alternate airports/routes to work around the weather.
❑ Those flying by Instrument Flight Rules (IFR), file for an ice-free altitude.
❑ Those flying by Visual Flight Rules (VFR), make sure your route of flight leaves you in the clear.
❑ If you’re traveling over multiple days, check that the weather on your return date looks good too, as you don’t want to get stuck. If you can’t make the return, don’t risk flying through poor conditions – wait it out or find some other way to get back home until you can retrieve your airplane.
❑ Know the geography your destination–not just the airport but the region too. Are you flying through mountain ranges or over big lakes? It’s important to know in case the weather gets bad.
❑ Know your alternates. When flying in winter, it’s often more than an exercise.
❑ Watch the winds. Winter brings big winds, both aloft and on the surface.
❑ Those pilots taking passengers should brief them of potential emergency scenarios, weather delays and airport closures.
❑ Those pilots without night training should plan appropriately since the sun sets earlier during the winter.
Other Preflight Considerations
❑ Ideally, get your airplane inside before you takeoff and after you land to keep it warm and reduce preheating procedures.
❑ Dress as warm as possible. Wear good gloves, a warm hat, coat and snow pants if necessary.
❑ Air traffic, specifically during the holidays, is often much worse than any other time of the year. Take this into consideration and allow for extra time to get to your destination. Expect runway delays and runway closures due to snow and ice.
❑ Imagine all the possible worst-case scenarios before you head out onto the runway to mentally prepare yourself for an emergency.
❑ Remember that temperatures in the atmosphere could dip as low as -30 degrees, and that turbulence is often much worse in the mountain areas that are popular winter destinations.
Completed the Checklist? Get Ready to Fly!
Now that you’ve completed your preflight winter checklist, you’re ready for take-off. Remember to always check your aircraft’s operation manual for any other necessary safety procedures during winter. With the proper preflight planning, you can have an enjoyable time flying throughout the cold season — have fun!
Are you interested in learning to fly? Get in touch with the team at Inflight Pilot Training today!
We are a leading flight instruction company serving Minneapolis, St. Paul and the surrounding areas. With a reputable training program and an extensive roster of highly skilled, certified flight instructors, we can give you the freedom to fly to the greatest destinations in the country.
For additional information on Inflight training programs, contact us today or call (952) 698-3000.