Winter Checklist: Maximizing the Colder Flying Season

September 21, 2020

Plane flying during winter

As the days get shorter and the temperatures drop, now is the ideal opportunity for those of us in the northern climates to take the necessary steps to prepare for the arrival of “Ole Man Winter.” While the colder temperatures can bring both inconveniences and risks, getting ahead of winter before it arrives can help ensure a smooth winter flying season. Check out our tips on maximizing the winter flying season.

Aircraft Preparation

Wash, Wax, and Detail the Exterior: It’s a good idea to clean off all of the residual bugs, dirt, and oxidation that has gathered from flying. Additionally, a freshly waxed exterior more readily sheds ice and snow on the ground during preflight. And don’t forget the windows! Using an aircraft-specific window cleaner and polish helps protect and seal those as well.

Change the Engine Oil: The oil is extremely important in low temperatures. Check your aircraft manual for the proper weight oil to be used in low-temperature ranges. Changing your engine’s oil removes harmful acids and contaminants and, along with them, any water that is in the mix (at least, until your next flight). 

Check the Batteries: Batteries don’t perform well in low temperatures, so it’s vital to ensure they are in top condition as the temperatures drop. Beginning with the aircraft’s main battery, have your batteries tested to ensure they are still performing at the required capacity. If one fails a capacity check, replace it. And don’t stop at the aircraft’s main battery. Replace every other battery you can think of, including your headset batteries, flashlight batteries, and carbon monoxide detector batteries.

Prepare for Preheating: If you already have an engine preheater installed, test and inspect it to make sure it is working properly. If you don’t have one, consider the major convenience that it can provide. HangarBot’s Premier Engine Preheating Solution allows you to remotely preheat your engine from your mobile device, saving you valuable time. If you use a portable preheater, get that ready for use as well.

Aircraft Operations

Check the Weather: As many as a couple of days before the trip, start looking at the weather patterns and see how they compare with the forecast for your departure time and return. Don’t be lured into adverse weather by a good pilot report. Winter weather is often very changeable; one pilot may give a good report, and five or ten minutes later, VFR may not be possible.

Don’t Rush: A thorough preflight inspection is important in temperature extremes. It is natural to hurry over the preflight of the aircraft and equipment, particularly when the aircraft is outside in the cold. However, now is the time you should do your best preflight inspection. If you are lucky enough to have a heated hangar, you can turn the heat on remotely with HangarBot’s Thermostat. You’ll get confirmation that the heat is rising and the heating unit is functioning.

Remove Ice, Snow, and Frost: A common winter accident is caused by trying to take off with frost on the wing surface. All frost, snow, and ice should be removed before attempting flight. It is best to place the aircraft in a heated hangar, but if you can’t, be thorough in removing all elements. Also, be cautious of pulling your warm aircraft into snow or other precipitation at below-freezing temperatures. The precipitation will melt on the aircraft (especially on a fully fueled, warm wing) and may refreeze before you can takeoff. Additionally, be aware that pulling a clean, dry aircraft from an unheated hangar into very dry, very cold (< –10°C), and snowy conditions may not require any de- or anti-icing action. Dry, cold snow will not stick to a dry, clean aircraft. Verify by touch that the snow is not adhering.

Check the Fuel Vents: You should always check the fuel vents before each flight. A vent plugged by ice or snow can cause the engine to stop, the tank to collapse, and possibly very expensive damage.

Be Cautious when Taxiing: Please keep in mind that braking action on ice or snow is generally poor. Short turns and quick stops should be avoided. Do not taxi through small snowdrifts or snowbanks along the edge of the runway.

Be Aware of Snow Showers and Whiteouts: Snow showers are, of course, quite prevalent in colder climates. When an aircraft penetrates a snow shower, the pilot may suddenly find themselves without visibility and in IFR conditions. Snow showers will often start with light snow and build. Another hazard that has claimed some very competent pilots as victims are whiteouts. Always be prepared for the possibilities of these events occurring.

Aircraft Landings

Watch for Blowing Snow and Ice Fog: The landing surface can be very treacherous in cold weather operations. Blowing snow can be a hazard on landing, and a close check should be maintained throughout the flight as to the weather at the destination. If the weather pattern indicates rising winds, then blowing snow may be expected, which may necessitate an alternate course of action. 

Check the Fuel Tank: After the fuel tank has settled, take a fuel sample to identify any water in the fuel system. This action will help prevent the sump drains from freezing before your next preflight.

Store the Aircraft: If you have a hangar, you can remotely activate your snow melt system before you arrive. HangarBot’s Industrial Grade Outlet, combined with a powerful 15-amp 120V power relay, will ensure a clear path to your hangar door. If your aircraft will be stored outside, be sure to put on engine covers and pilot covers. Also, do not forget to tie down your aircraft, because the winter wind could be very gusty.


Preparing for the winter can be a great excuse for a day at the airport bonding with your airplane. In winter, preparation and cautiousness are inevitable, and there are countless things to keep in mind. This post is a rough overview of all the things you must consider when it comes to winter operations. With a little preparation, your wintertime in the air will be fun, efficient, and enjoyable. Happy flying!

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