Flying in a Winter Wonderland
As cold weather and the holiday season approaches, many pilots who are native to the Florida area make the obligatory trek north to visit friends, family or even to enjoy a little winter wonderland. Unfortunately, with cold weather comes many engine maintenance and environmental inconvenience airplane owners who operate in Florida just don’t commonly encounter. The common tricks like spraying a little frost off the wings with a garden hose or dragging her into the sun just won’t work so well in still-freezing temperatures. So what precautions and preparations should you consider to keep your engine, airframe and airspeed healthy? Here are some tips from our mechanics and flight instructors:
- Check ahead of time for FBO’s with heated hangar space or engine-preheating service and avoid smaller remote airports that may not offer this service.
- Clean all airframe and wing surfaces prior to your flight (there may be a layer of ice or frost beneath a light dusting of snow – don’t assume your wings are free of ice.)
- Wait for your oil temperature to be in the green. This may take a while, so plan your flight departure times accordingly. Void time clearance over the phone before you start your engine may introduce additional pressure, so wait until your engine is warm to make that call.
- Know the limitations of your engine and when the manufacturer recommends preheating. For example, a common Lycoming engine requires preheating for 20 degrees fahrenheit or lower.
- On any flight, preflight your pitot heat and be certain it is warm to the touch.
- Be sure your battery is in good condition before leaving your aircraft in the cold. A questionable battery which may work fine in warmer temperatures will fail faster when exposed to extreme temperatures.
- Be ready for increased performance and level-offs that may come sooner than expected.
- Expect increased fuel consumption and increased true airspeed. Your POH provided fuel consumption performance is based on standard temperatures and corrected figures based on changes in temperature. Be sure to question all of the performance numbers you’ve memorized prior to your trip.
- Most southern pilots have not had the opportunity to use the heating system in their airplanes. Be sure to purchase a carbon monoxide detector and install it in the cabin.
- Long cruises at low temperatures can cause over-cooling of engines. Some northern airplanes have winterization plates to prevent this. If you’re planning to do some flying up north, consider a winterization kit.
- Prolonged flying in cooler temperatures may require more frequent oil changes. You will notice this is an issue if you are unable to maintain a warm-enough oil temperature.
- Avoid pulling your engine to idol for a descent, if you think shock cooling is an issue in Florida, certainly don’t try it out in 15 degree weather!
In addition to all of this, consider bringing your aircraft by our facility so that we can check it out ahead of time for exhaust leaks, battery function, pitot heat and evaluate the need for a winterization kit.