Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Winter Flying: A Strategic Approach


Tips for staying safe in a cold season


winter flyingWinter presents many complications for those who live in northern latitudes. Residents of warmer states like Florida and Arizona probably consider us northerners to be their somewhat slow-witted (and perhaps crazy) cousins, but winter offers its own set of pleasures—and challenges.
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winter flyingWinter presents many complications for those who live in northern latitudes. Residents of warmer states like Florida and Arizona probably consider us northerners to be their somewhat slow-witted (and perhaps crazy) cousins, but winter offers its own set of pleasures—and challenges.

Northerners, particularly northern aviators, must develop strategies to deal with winter’s challenges. Some recreational pilots simply don’t fly much, if at all, during the winter months. That’s not my favorite strategy, since some of the smoothest air occurs in winter, and some really fun flying can be had.

Winter flying differs from summer flying in more ways than the need for long underwear during preflight inspections. Whereas summer flying is more of a tactical exercise, winter weather necessitates a more strategic approach.

From Wikipedia: “A strategy is a long-term plan of action designed to achieve a particular goal, most often ‘winning.’ Strategy is differentiated from tactics or immediate actions with resources at hand by its nature of being extensively premeditated, and often practically rehearsed.”

In summer, many pilots look at the weather on a given morning or evening, and decide to go for a short flight, perhaps to a nearby pancake breakfast or maybe just for the joy of flight-seeing around the neighborhood. It’s always advisable to get a thorough weather briefing prior to any flight, of course (which also provides pertinent information on NOTAMs and TFRs), but other than that, the drive to the airport and a preflight inspection are about all that are required to prepare for a summer flight. Oh, yeah—don’t forget the sunglasses.

Winter demands a bit more preparation, hence my suggestion that winter flying is best thought of as a strategic effort, one that requires more advanced planning and preparation.

First things first: If your airplane resides outdoors or in an unheated hangar, you’ll have to preheat the aircraft’s engine prior to flight. You need to have a plan for safely accomplishing this and the time to do so adequately. If you have access to electricity where you park, an engine-mounted preheater may be your best choice. Unless you choose to leave these units energized all winter (and there are varying thoughts on this practice), use of these devices will require that you go to the airport well before the flight to plug in the heater. There are now units that use a cell phone to energize an engine heater with a phone call, but you still have to do so well in advance of your proposed departure.




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