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  Home > Newsletter > Pre-Flight Preheating FAQ, March 2011

Pre-Flight Preheating FAQ

It may seem like common sense, but it’s critically important to preheat your small aircraft’s engine before flight in the cold winter months. Here are some "frequently asked questions" about the why, when and how of preheating your plane. These are only guidelines. Before taking flight, be sure to call BAC about the best winter maintenance program for your aircraft.

Why should I preheat my plane's engine?
The primary purpose for preheating an engine is to ensure that the engine assembly is warm and at proper clearances. When an engine cools down after a flight, the aluminum pistons and crankcase decrease in size more than the iron crankshaft and cylinders. Then when the engine is started again in very cold temperatures, the clearance of the main bearings is less than specifications call for, while the clearance of the piston to cylinder walls is more than what is called for. This can result in increased wear and reduced engine life and is why preheating is so important.

What if I use a multi-vis oil?
Using multi-viscosity oil gives you an extra margin of safety in that it provides improved flow at low temperatures, but it does not mean you do not have to properly preheat your engine. Proper preheating is critical to your engine life even if you use a multi-viscosity oil. Also keep in mind that just heating the oil is not doing a proper job. There are many electrical heating systems that just put a heating pad on the oil pan. Make sure there are heating elements on the cylinders as well. In addition, you should either blanket or at least plug the cowl to ensure that the entire engine assembly is heated.

At what temperature should I preheat my engine?
To be on the safe side (the only side), it is wise to preheat whenever the temperature is below freezing (32°F). Some engine manufacturers recommend preheating at temperatures below 20°F, but keep in mind that, even if the air temperature is 20°F, the engine and its parts are still well below that temperature. If you use the 32°F target temperature, it gives you an extra margin of safety.

Do I have to preheat if my plane is in a hangar?
Yes. Regardless of whether your aircraft was tugged out of a hangar or not, it is still cold compared to flight ready temperatures. In the September 2008 issue of Aircraft Maintenance Technology magazine, Harold Tucker, Director of Technical Information and Training of ConocoPhillips Commercial Lubricants stated: "An engine at rest is always cold relative to its normal operating temperatures; therefore, the oil is also thick relative to its designed operating viscosity." Again, consult your manuals and mechanic for details on how to preheat your specific engine, battery and cockpit.

How long should I preheat my engine for?
How long you should preheat depends on various factors, such as the type of aircraft, age of the plane and outside temperature. The time required to preheat will also depend on the method that is used, but expect the duration to increase exponentially as the temperature gets colder.

Let BAC Preheat Your Plane
BAC’s new preheating services will get your plane warmed up and ready to go in the coldest weather. During the winterizing time of year, we provide you with a checklist that will help you through the process. And ensure that your plane is safe, well maintained, and running smoothly. Call us today at (203) 748-7000 or visit our services page.

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