General aviation weather safety is nothing to take lightly. Our pilot weather articles are designed to help you maintain your skills for flying in tough conditions and improve your overall aviation safety.
It had been a long day. It was January 2003, and I’d departed Reykjavik, Iceland, in a 58 Baron; destination Iqaluit, Nunavit, Canada, with stops in Greenland, where it was clear and cold—in this case, minus-20 degrees C. I’d landed on the gravel runway at Kulusuk in the dark of noon, refueled as quickly as possible to avoid having the engines cool down, and leaped back off across the ice cap for the old U.S. air base at Sondre Strom Fjord, well above the Arctic Circle. The weather remained perfect as I spanned the cap at 14,000 feet in smooth, frigid air.
Whether Punxsutawney Phil sees his own shadow or not, winter is losing its death grip. But it isn’t dead yet. Widespread icing still exists during the transition months of March and April. Gulf moisture, warmer temperatures and an overactive jet stream guarantees that convective SIGMETs will begin to spring out of hibernation. With temperatures slowly on the rise, you need to tailor your briefings to focus on key weather products that track the vernal transition.
Winter 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.
Icing is already a terribly complex topic without the many old wives’ tales and rules of thumb making it even more difficult. Rules of thumb generally plead ignorance. Ignorance often leads to bad decisions. When the weather is on its worst behavior, rules of thumb rarely apply and can actually be dangerous. Here are a few of my pet peeves when it comes to icing folklore.
With careful preparation, cold-weather flying can be great fun
Winter—it’s cold, it’s dark and sometimes it seems like spring will never come. But, lots of pilots live in cold country, and there’s no sense letting our airplanes sit idle all winter. Although it takes more effort and better preparation, winter flying can indeed be tolerable and sometimes even downright fun. So, if you’re up for the challenge, let’s consider some things you can do to mitigate the effects of winter and enjoy some flying.
More and more information outlets are available for pilots
Weather happens, and the vast majority of us mere mortals will probably never understand it. WX (as it’s rarely abbreviated) is almost universally regarded as the subject pilots understand least and fear most. For most aviators, it’s flying’s great question mark. Some people may have a perfect understanding of Bernoulli’s principle, but still consider weather a mystery.
Lessons learned from an Alaskan bush pilot can be just as valuable to pilots in the lower 48
It’s Gary Chamberlain’s second cup of coffee and it’s still dark outside. For months now the sun has been rising later and later each day, only to scribe a low arc across the horizon before disappearing again just a few hours later. As the winter solstice nears in December, even the twilight hours are gone. Still, there’s flying to be done, and Chamberlain has learned the lessons that decades of living in Alaska have taught him. Despite the constant risks of whiteouts, high winds, frigid temperatures and limiting visibilities, he’s developed a set of rules that allow him to crisscross Alaska and the Yukon Territory year-round in his Cessna 185.
Pilots need to stay warm during the winter months. Your airplane deserves the same consideration.
Your 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.
It was June 1977, and I had climbed out of Reading, Pa., in a new Rockwell Commander 114, heading for Bethany, Okla. The weather was characteristic June gloom, hot, hazy and humid, typically unstable for summer in the Northeast.
It can be vexing to any pilot, but is there a right and wrong way to take on the wind?
There are several ways to start an argument. They range from the old favorites, politics and religion, to the blonde/redhead/brunette thing. Or you can simply state that there’s only one right way to land an airplane in a crosswind and that’s the way you do it. Stand back, folks, brutal words to follow.
Here are a dozen effective suggestions for safer summertime flying
Most new-production and many high-performance aircraft have fuel-injected engines. There are some advantages of fuel injection over carburetion, but one drawback is that injected engines can be difficult to start when hot. Fuel vaporizing in fuel pumps and lines needs to be purged before the engine can fire. Here’s where a good read through the Pilot Operating Handbook (POH) is worthwhile—it should contain a hot-start procedure that takes into account the airplane’s design and make of its fuel-injection system. What is good hot-starting practice in some types can be downright damaging in others.
As the warm weather arrives, your airplane’s performance can really suffer
It can prevent you from taking off from the same runway you did the day before. It will sap power from your engine. It can eliminate any chance of a climb rate on departure. It can drastically increase your takeoff and landing rolls. What aviation phenomenon has this much power over your flying? Density altitude. And if you fly without paying it due attention, you may find yourself staring down the end of a runway without hope of stopping or taking off. Even if you do make it in the air, high-density altitudes can cause you to quickly meet up with terrain that has a gradient superior to your ascent.
A pilot relates the dos and don’ts he learned from cold-weather flying
Canada’s Maritime Provinces are among the country’s most beautiful regions, with rolling tundras, pristine lakes and dramatic coastlines. Unfortunately, the area also is possessed of some of the country’s most dynamic weather. While the far west may have the more vicious winter temperatures, often subceeding minus-40 degrees C, the northeast is infamous for its radically changeable winter atmospherics.
Maintain and expand your skills by unraveling some frequently asked questions about this intricate technique
The crosswind landing is a complex maneuver to understand and execute. There are many changing forces to evaluate and juggle simultaneously, and the high degree of control coordination and timing required is seldom matched by any other maneuver of a normal flight. This means that a pilot must use the technique frequently to remain proficient.
If you find yourself in hazardous situations, nothing helps you more than having a plan
There is absolutely no excuse for beginning or continuing a flight into known hazardous weather—“hazardous” being defined as any weather condition that exceeds the limitations of your pilot ratings and currency and/or those of the airplane as it’s certified, equipped, maintained and inspected. Our responsibility as pilots in command is painstakingly clear when it comes to weather planning and flight in adverse conditions.
Although winter may have the reputation, springtime can be just as notorious when it comes to freezing conditions
The first hints of warmer weather can cause a sigh of relief. Finally, winter is over. The grass is getting green. The birds sing. You know the story. But spring is a time when temperature ranges can easily move up and down above the freezing level. And even if it’s comfortable for your airplane when you’re on the ground, that doesn’t mean things will stay that way once you’re airborne. With slushy runways and spring showers to deal with, it’s an easy time to get into trouble, on the ground and in the air.
Last month, we took a look at how much cold-weather flying depends on groundwork preparation. In this issue, we’ll explore how to safely and effectively maximize wintertime flight once you’re airborne.
Read the owner’s manuals for several aircraft, and you’ll discover cold-weather starts are different for each engine, but there are some fairly universal rules to follow during cold start attempts. Some pilots refuse to move prop blades under any circumstances, but I always pull them through several times to break any possible hydraulic lock. Fuel is reluctant to vaporize in cold weather, and you’ll need to prime the engine(s) more than normal if you expect to start on the first or second try, an important consideration when two tries may be all you’ll get.