Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, November 1, 2005

Aircraft And Engine Preheat Is A Big Deal

Pilots need to stay warm during the winter months. Your airplane deserves the same consideration.

Aircraft Engine Preheat Is A Big DealYour engine needs preheat. Starting a cold engine can give it the equivalent of 500 hours of cruise wear and tear, according to engine authorities. Assuming no other potentially catastrophic damage occurs, this single event easily could raise the hamburger price to a healthy four-digit value.

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The cost of admission to winter flying doesn’t have to be great, but an investment in some basic items is essential. This dollar figure will vary based on your established minimum operating temperature. An insulated engine blanket designed for the aircraft should be your first imperative. Even when an aircraft has been in a heated hangar, Mother Nature quickly will rob whatever heat was absorbed by the aircraft once it’s moved outside. In this situation, a short ground run to generate some additional heat may be a good idea before fitting the engine blanket. As the temperature approaches Fahrenheit teens, a propeller will become like a giant radiator rapidly dissipating internal engine heat. Under these conditions, insulated prop and spinner covers should be added to your list. Power will be required to operate heating equipment, so one or more extension cords will be needed. Do not go cheap here. Buy industrial-grade cords designed for cold weather. A 100-foot cord that won’t coil can be quite frustrating to get back into the airplane.

So how do we deliver heat to the aircraft without risking a total meltdown caused by a portable barbeque grill undergoing thermal runaway? The choices are either heat by combustion or resistance. FBOs that provide preheating services often have industrial-sized, kerosene-fired heaters that can simultaneously pump hot air through flexible hose ducts into your engine cowl and cabin. These units can get the job done on a small single-engine airplane in about the time it takes you to run to Starbucks. Portable units in this genre vary in performance and generally will require a 12-volt power source and propane, which vaporizes poorly at subzero temperatures. Devices on the order of a camp stove and pipe, while certainly far superior to nothing at all, may lack the output to get you thawed from a deep freeze.

Resistance heat is measured in watts and offers some advantages in terms of simplicity. Engine preheating systems from manufacturers like Tanis and Reiff, which incidentally cost less than one replacement cylinder, are easy installations and require only a reliable AC power source. If grid electricity isn’t available, these systems can be operated by a portable generator, like the lightweight Honda EU1000i rated for 900 continuous watts. A small, remove-before-flight, interior car warmer or ceramic heater carefully placed and secured can be quite effective underneath an insulated cowl, especially if plugged in while the engine is still warm. While not able to bring the cockpit to a balmy level, these small units will be more than sufficient to warm your gyros and prevent their premature seizure. Those with fans will, of course, have a greater current draw, which may be a consideration if you’re using portable power.


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