How All-Weather Pilots Maximize Their Winter Hours and You Can Too

For some of you, winter means basking in the sunshine and warm temperatures of your tropical hometown while others aren’t so lucky. Winter is making its full force felt through its four elements of cold, ice, snow, and wind. If you’re anything like us, these elements can freeze your winter flying in every sense, particularly when it comes to your aircraft.

Waiting for the first signs of spring to arrive before you return to the skies means you’re missing out on one of the best times to fly. Luckily for you, we can’t bear the thought of you missing this winter wonder, so we’ve compiled three tips to scramble you back into the air!

Practicality Prep

    • Me, Myself and I. Although preparing for off-airport landings may seem evident, it is often missed, and we always have to consider the possibility and be prepared. In the brutal days of winter, this type of landing could result in a legitimate survival situation. Dress very warmly; you can always take off layers when you get into the aircraft. Wear boots and heavy waterproof gloves. Wear a warm hat or ear muffs and a scarf. Also, be prepared to bring survival gear like food and water, a fire starter of some kind, and a multi-tool like a Swiss army knife. When flying in dangerous locations, having a satellite SOS messenger device such as a spot will help increase your chances of contacting first responders.
  • Get Your Weather On. News flash: winter weather is different than summer weather. And just like summer storms, winter storms require just the right amount of dynamics to form. In the United States, winter storms are common from November through April, and can sometimes happen earlier and later than that. The winter dip in the jet stream allows polar air to surge south with results such as widespread storms with snow, ice, sleet, freezing rain, and reduced visibility. As much as a couple of days before the trip, start looking at the weather pattern and seeing how that compares with the forecast for your departure time and return.
  • Pre-Flight Prep

      • Slow Down, Speed Racer. Although it is uncomfortably cold and you are doing everything to get that engine started, It is essential that you take more time for your pre-flight prep during the winter hurried preflight than in the relaxed summer cadence. The plane’s oil is extremely important in low temperatures. Check your aircraft manual for the proper weight of oil to be used in low temperature ranges, and remember that tires may lose pressure when the temperature drops. A good rule of thumb is to pull out the checklist and follow it.
  • Show Your Engine Some Love. Preheating is the most critical aspect of winter flying. It’s a good idea to think about preheating when temperatures drop below freezing (50°F/10°C). Manufacturer-listed minimum temperatures for preheating are often listed lower, but it’s good to err on the side of caution. How bad could it be if you don’t do so? Well, according to engine maker Continental Motors, it could be pretty bad. They note that “Failure to properly preheat a cold-soaked engine may result in oil congealing within the engine, oil hoses, and oil cooler with subsequent loss of oil flow, possible internal damage to the engine and subsequent engine failure.” Want to save time on this? Use HangarBot’s Outlet to start the engine heater remotely ahead of time. The leading manufacturer of aircraft engine preheat systems, Tanis, recommends fully heating a cold-soaked engine six hours before flight for maximum benefits, but we always urge you to refer to your particular engine’s recommendations. Additionally, something to keep in mind as the weather does get warmer, Tanis advises not preheating when temperatures exceed 104°F/40°C.
    • A Heated Hangar Is a Happy Hangar. Lucky enough to have a heated hangar? Don’t go to the inconvenience or expense of having someone turn on the heat. Remotely turn it on with HangarBot’s Thermostat. From the comfort of your home, remotely turn it on with the HangarBot Thermostat. Get confirmation that the heat is rising and the heating unit is functioning.
    • Proactive Awareness A heated hangar can be used to melt off any frozen contaminants. Beware, however, of pulling your warm aircraft into snow or other precipitation at below-freezing temperatures. The precipitation will melt and may refreeze before you can takeoff, especially on a fully fueled, warm wing. Also be aware that pulling a clean, dry aircraft from an unheated hangar into very dry, very cold (< –10C), 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.

    Post-Flight Prep

    • Fuel for Thought. After your amazing winter flight and after the fuel tank has settled, take a fuel sample to identify if there is any water in the fuel system. The same action will help prevent the sump drains from freezing before your next preflight.
    • Out in the Cold. If your aircraft is going to be outside, it may be tempting to quickly head to a warm car or home as soon as possible. However, 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.

    Winter can provide some of the most enjoyable and scenic flying you will ever experience, but it presents challenges as well. Fighting the urge to cut corners and instead take the proper steps will increase your chances of having a safe mission.