Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Winter Flying Tips

Twenty Things You Can Do To Stay Safe and Have Fun

7 Speaking of night operations, when was the last time you checked the function of all the lights on your airplane? How about the batteries in your flashlight(s)? Checking the function of ALL the lights on your plane should be a mandatory preflight item, especially during these short winter days.

8 Even after sunrise, winter lighting isn't as good as during the summer. Often, we perform preflight inspections and secure our airplanes in marginal lighting during winter. Having a good, strong flashlight is a great plan, even if flying only in daylight hours. And, don't forget spare batteries for those flashlights. The old saying goes, "A flashlight is a storage container for dead batteries."

9 About preflight inspections, it's really easy to conduct a slightly more "concise" one when the temperature hovers well below the freezing point. Again, proper dress, including good gloves and a warm hat, permits us to maintain a modicum of comfort during the preflight inspection. And, the irony is that good preflight inspections are even more important during winter months. If you're blessed with a heated hangar, I'm envious, but good on you. Years ago, I found that my preflights were much more effective when we moved our airplanes from outside tiedowns in northern Alaska to a heated hangar. And, they didn't take as wing/engine covers to remove and reinstall.

If you keep your plane tied down at an outside location, then it's a good idea to wrap the engine in a good-quality insulated engine cover. You should also consider using a set of wing covers.
10 Is your airplane equipped with wheel fairings? Slush-covered runways and temperatures hovering close to the freezing point can fill those wheel fairings with ice. Climbing into freezing temperatures will freeze this slush. Consider this factor when flying a retractable as well, and let those wheels/tires hang out there in the breeze and spin a bit longer after takeoff from a slush-covered runway to dry them off a bit prior to retraction.

11 Is your airplane equipped with a carbon-monoxide detector? If not, install one. Inexpensive replaceable CO detectors are available, or do as I did and install a panel-mounted electronic CO detector, complete with warning alarm. As temperatures cool, we use the cabin heat more, and if cracks have developed in the muffler system over the summer, your first indication of this potentially deadly threat might be a screaming headache or worse. CO is colorless, odorless and deadly. I've been exposed to CO once courtesy of a cracked muffler, and I can attest that you really don't want to go there. I was very fortunate to have survived that encounter.

12 And, on the subject of carbon monoxide, pay particular attention during your preflight inspections to the exhaust system on your aircraft. A VERY close inspection of this critical system in the fall is a great idea and could save your life. Look for cracks, loose clamps, etc. Talk to your mechanic for tips on what to look for.

13 Do you carry survival gear in your airplane? You should—even if you never really need it—it's insurance, after all. Carrying some survival gear can offer alternatives when you divert due to weather to a small field with no services, and where everything is locked up. In the fall, I go over my survival gear and replace summer sleeping bags with cold-weather sleeping bags. At the same time, I verify that my survival kit is up to date, change out a few "summer" items for "winter" items, and ensure that everything is in good condition. There are a number of good internet resources on building a survival kit. One of my favorites is "Equipped To Survive" ( written by Doug Ritter. Do a little research, and you'll be able to put together a good survival kit on your own or purchase one already made up.

14 I carry a Portable Locator Beacon along with a few items of personal survival gear on my person any time I fly. The latest generation of PLBs are slightly larger than a cell phone and cost less than $300. In an emergency, these devices can send a signal to the Rescue Coordination Center and get help on the way. The poor man's PLB: a cell phone. That said, cellular coverage is very spotty outside towns. And, if you crash in town, you probably won't need either a PLB or a cell phone.


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