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Winter Prep and Safety Checklist

It’s getting colder outside and pilots and FBOs know what that means — it’s time to start prepping aircraft for winter flying or storage. Back by popular demand — and to promote everyone’s aviation safety — is our annual winter flying safety checklist.

This is a general overview of winter prep and safety tips. Please refer to the Original Equipment Manufacturer Aircraft (OEM) recommendations and your FBO/aircraft mechanic for the necessary pre-flight preparation for your aircraft.

  • Change the old oil. Change the plane’s old engine oil and refill with the correct grade. Old oil left in the engine can become acidic when combined with water from the atmosphere and cause corrosion, which can lead to pitting of components. When rust particles get into the oil and grind when the engine is started, it can lead to expensive repairs — all for the cost of an oil change.
    During winter break-in and high altitude flights, pilots should also be especially observant of their oil temperature and pressure. If the oil pressure or temperature moves significantly up or down in flight, you may be experiencing oil cooler plugging or bypassing. If this occurs, take appropriate action.
  • Cover it up. Cover the windows, canopy, wings and horizontal tail, as well as the prop blades. They are some of the most critical flying surfaces on the aircraft, and covers will reduce damage to the airplane’s upholstery and avionics caused by sun and rain exposure and bird droppings.
  • Fill fuel tanks. Filling the fuel tanks prevents the build-up of condensation in the tanks over winter. This is particularly important if your aircraft is stored outside and will likely prevent corrosion and potentially expensive tank repairs. If your aircraft is hangared, make sure you have permission to store your aircraft with full tanks. Also make sure the fuel cocks are closed and master switches are off.
  • Grease the airframe. Grease is vital in preventing metal to metal contact so that mechanisms resist wear and operate smoothly. Grease also provides excellent protection against weather and corrosion, seals against dust and dirt and enables additives to be evenly held in dispersion. Make sure you or your mechanic uses and applies the correct type and amount of grease on the airframe.
  • Use covers and plates. Use pilot tube covers and static vent covers to prevent insects and dirt from forming blockages. Also, placing blanking plates over engine intakes and exhausts will reduce the amount of moisture that gets into your engine, and help prevent corrosion.
  • Remove the battery. You may also want to consider removing the battery to prevent any leakage current from draining it.
  • Secure the tires with chocks. Winter wind can be nasty. To keep the plane secure and keep the brakes from seizing up, chock the front and back wheels and release the parking brake. 

Important note on winterization kits

If you are going to fly during the winter or at high altitudes, some manufactures recommend baffles, winter fronts and oil cooler kits for their aircraft during low temperature operation. Winterization kits will reduce airflow through the oil cooler and reduce the chance of oil cooler freeze-up. Be sure to remove the winterization kit when it’s no longer needed.

If a winterization kit was installed, was it properly signed off and placarded? Do you know at what ambient temperature it should be removed? If installation approval is not provided by the kit’s manufacturer, FAA approval may be needed. Read FAA and manufacturer guides, air worthiness manuals and service bulletins to make sure your kit is safe and compliant.

Beware of ice and frost

Especially if you don’t fly in cold weather often, it’s essential to understand the proper techniques for mitigating the risk of ground and airborne icing.

Don’t underestimate the hazards associated with frost formations, particularly at low airspeeds, takeoffs and landings. If left on an aircraft, frost can increase drag, prevent windshield visibility and even cause fatal engine failure.

When temperatures drop below two degrees Celsius (35.6 degrees F), ice, frost or frozen slush can form on an aircraft’s wings both on the ground and in the air. Frozen contaminants about the size of medium to coarse sandpaper can reduce maximum wing lift by 30 percent, or increase lift-induced drag by 40 percent. The results of not taking frozen contaminates seriously can be devastating.

Check for ground icing

If possible, hangar your aircraft indoors during the winter to protect it from frost and frozen precipitation. Before flying, know the weather at your FBO, enroute and destination airports. If freezing could take place, report to the airport earlier than usual and speak to the FBO regarding their de-icing and anti-icing capabilities, as well as your requirements. Also refer to your aircraft’s Original Equipment Manufacturer Aircraft (OEM) recommendations. If airborne icing is likely, have alternate plans in mind, such as altitudes and re-routes and alternate airports/routes to work around weather.

In addition to normal preflight checks, check aircraft for ice or snow, including propeller blade, flight controls and engine inlets. Even though cold weather does not particularly affect the engine itself, it may cause ice in the fuel lines, control valves, and fuel sumps, and certain parts may need preheating.

If ice or snow is found, remove as much as possible by hand and thaw it with heated air or de-icing fluid before attempting start. Never scrape or chip ice off the aircraft. Make sure frost is thawed from the body, engine and controls, and windshield anti-ice is used to avoid loss of windshield visibility.

Whether your small aircraft needs winterizing, maintenance or full-service repair, BAC’s service crew will deliver fast, dependable service to get your airplane flying safely. To learn more about the quality service, available from BAC, visit our services page.

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