Six Winter Weather Flying Tips For New Pilots

The Importance of Winter Clothing and Gear

Carrying extra clothes while flying in winter conditions cannot be over-emphasized. Cabin heat can give the pilot and passengers a false sense of security even though the outside temperature is freezing or below. After landing in cold temperatures at your destination you could be faced with a mild or severe trek across snow or icy landscape to accommodations, or heaven forbid, you have to make an emergency landing in unfamiliar territory during freezing conditions. Your cabin heater control could malfunction, turning the cabin into an icebox. Some essential items would include pullover or insulated hats, ear muffs, heavy down coats, insulated boots with wool socks and heavy denim or wool pants. A fully charged cell phone will prove a life-saver if you’ve brought your craft down in a remote or inaccessible area.

Frost and Ice Contamination

A plane left out overnight in freezing or below conditions without coverage, or one that has just landed and been evacuated, is a good candidate for icing and frost on the control surfaces. Planes should be covered or hangered in freezing conditions to prevent frost buildup. Tarps or covers work well to keep a layer of frost or ice off the fuselage and wings. Frost can also build up after a short jaunt from airport to airport during freezing or below conditions. Sometimes deicing equipment is available for pilots who need to remove accumulated ice, which might consist of just a hose and hot water. Monitor your plane every 30 minutes in cold conditions if it is parked but expected to fly another leg.

Cold Weather Checklist

Before any cold weather trip, review the limitations and statistics of your aircraft’s emergency and normal cold weather emergency procedures. This means studying and making notes from your POH that includes thresholds for battery and starting operation during freezing conditions, which will pinpoint battery cycle time and energy output per specific temperatures. Extremely cold weather can cut your battery starting power and performance by as much as half. This also pertains to engine warm-up time and RPMs. Know your aircraft’s limitations.

Landing Practice in Icy Conditions

Make it a habit to practice landing on airport runways that are contaminated with light snow or ice. Such conditions can never be avoided entirely. Get a feel for the way your plane brakes on slick runways. Review the NOTAM reports from airport officials who will divulge the status of the runway conditions: good, fair, poor or zero. Test your plane’s braking response on the taxiway before approaching the warm-up area. Reduce taxi speed accordingly. Get a feel for how the plane should be brought into final approach at the proper speed without too much throttle. Slow for turns and maneuvering on taxiways by using slow and easy brake pedal pressure.

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Engine Limitations

Aircraft engines behave differently in cold conditions, but especially at or below 20 degrees Fahrenheit. This means engine warm-up must be extended before normal operating temperatures are reached. Make sure your engine oil is the proper grade and viscosity for very cold conditions. Avoid snappy throttle response where the engine must attain instant, full power. Do not practice touch-n-gos, recoveries from stalls or simulated engine cutout. Monitor your engine temperature and RPMs more frequently than normally. Active carburetor heat every fifteen minutes or less, in planes equipped with such systems.

Check the Airport and Weather Service

Call ahead to destination airports to determine if they provide hanger availability, deicing, engine preheat and other cold-weather services. Do not assume that even large airports can furnish these services. If making a cross-country flight, check and record all weather forecasts in your flight corridor and make note of any approaching cold or storm fronts.

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