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Review of Winter Flying Tips

By now, your plane has either been hangared for the winter, or you’re probably enjoying the unique beauty of winter flying. Here’s a brief review of winter flying operating procedures and best practices, from Plane & Pilot magazine.

Dress for where you’re going

It’s probably happened to you before — you leave one airport where the  weather conditions are decent, but arrive at another destination where the weather is substantially colder/windier/rainier/snowier. So dress for where you’re going, not leaving from. Also dress for the area you’ll be flying over. In case of an en route engine failure and off-airport landing, you’ll have to wait for search and rescue to arrive, possibly with injuries. Wear clothing that’s appropriate to walk around in the weather and terrain you’re flying over.

Pack a survival kit

In case of an emergency, you’ll have to move fast to protect against hypothermia. A smart survival kit should include things that will keep you warm and dry, including cold-weather sleeping bags, a sharp hunting knife, energy bars, strike anywhere matches, a fire starter (kept in a zip lock bag to keep it dry), a signal mirror, a few large heavy duty plastic bags to protect against heat loss, and a portable locator beacon in case you need to send a signal for help. Also consider a flight-tracking device to communicate with friends and family of your status, and to provide a data track in the event of an unforeseen diversion or accident.

Know the weather before you take off

The key to minimizing icing risks before or during flight is proper planning and preparation. Before flying, know the weather at your FBO, en route and destination airports. If the weather report says that freezing could take place, call ahead and get 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 have a copy of and review the Original Equipment Manufacturer Aircraft (OEM) de-icing 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.

Check the plane for frost, ice and snow

When temperatures drop below two degrees Celsius, ice, frost or frozen slush can form on an aircraft’s wings both on the ground and in the air. Even seemingly small particles of frost, snow, ice and slush can be dangerous and lead to power loss events such as stall, surge or flameout at altitude.

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.

In addition to normal preflight checks, check the aircraft for ice or snow, including the 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 to start. Never scrape or chip ice off the aircraft.

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. Make sure frost is thawed from the body, engine and controls, and windshield anti-ice is used to avoid loss of windshield visibility.

Check lights and carbon monoxide detectors

Make sure all the airplane lights are in working order. Also check the batteries in your flashlights, and make sure you have plenty of spares on hand. Also make sure your plane is equipped with a working carbon monoxide detector. As the weather gets colder, pilots use the cabin heat more. If the muffler system has a leak, the odorless, colorless CO can be deadly. Also thoroughly inspect the exhaust system of the aircraft. Look for cracks and loose clamps and talk to your mechanic for tips on what to look for.

Taxiing in cold weather

An aircraft should not be taxied until all engine temperatures and systems pressures are within normal range. Taxi at a low speed with wide-radius turns. If the tires are frozen to the runway surface, a slight motion should break them free. If taxiing in soft snow, engage higher than normal power.

If airborne icing takes place

If airborne icing does take place, do not overreact — understand the aircraft is flyable, but in a reduced speed range. As icing can increase drag and reduce lift, you may need to increase thrust in order to maintain airspeed.

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