Tuesday, December 14, 2010


Cold weather ops are, well, challenging in an older airplane.

First off, the output by the cabin heater is negligible. I have an insulated jumpsuit that I wear for winter-time flying. Since my airplane has toe-brakes, not heel-brakes, I can get away with wearing insulated boots.

You'll need some kind of head covering and gloves. Sometimes you'll see a pilot getting out of a newer Cessna or Piper and he is putting his coat on. Try not to think evil thoughts towards him. Console yourself with the idea that if you both had forced landings, you're already dressed for it and he is not.

My "winterization kit" for the engine consists of duct-tape over the oil cooler inlet. If the air temperature is below 40F, I cover it completely. The oil temps get to where they need to be (180F). It doesn't get cold enough around here to warrant blocking off parts of the cowling inlets.

If I ever have the funds to repaint the airplane, I am going to paint it in a color other than white. Even a white with a little tinge of yellow, a sort of coffee-cream color, would help in using the Sun to shed ice and snow. But you have to get all of the snow and all of the ice off the airplane. Sometimes that means getting most of it off and then repositioning it to take better advantage of the Sun's rays.

Preheating the engine is a must, in my view, whenever the temperature drops below 32F. If you are at a location without electrical power, you either have to use a combustion-type preheater or an electrical preheater with a portable source of power. Whichever you use, if your engine has a remotely-located oil filter (as mine does), be sure that also benefits from preheating.

And cover the cowling with a blanket while preheating the engine! You can get a cheap blanket from a discount place for that. A nice touch is to get a grommet-inserter from a crafts store, for you can then use bungee cords to hold the blanket in place when there is any bit of wind. (If you'd rather spend the money, an insulated engine cover works.)

What it all means, though, is that for an hour's flight in the wintertime, you can easily spend more than that getting the airplane ready to fly. If there has been snow, you may wind up making an extra trip to the airport to brush the snow off and dig out the tiedown a day or two before. (If the snowplow driver who was doing the taxiway plowed you in and you don't have your own snowblower, you might be SOL until the snow melts, so you may want to have a chat with the FBO's owner about that.)

It can be very pretty to fly over a snow-covered landscape in a light plane.

But if you don't have a hangar and you don't want to take the steps necessary to fly, then pickle your engine late in the Fall. That usually involves draining the oil and replacing it with a preservative oil, putting desiccant plugs in the cylinders, exhaust pipes and inlet manifold, and removing the battery. Your engine will thank you for it.

You also may want to add mouse deterrents. Buy a package of women's knee-high stockings, fill a couple with mothballs, tie them off and put them in the baggage compartment and the cabin. You may also want to think about opening an inspection cover and put one in each wing. If you plan to fly it, you may be better off soaking cotton balls with essential peppermint oil (the real stuff, not the synthetic) and using them instead of mothballs. The smell is better for you, the mice hate it as much and your airplane will smell like a candy cane.

The two coldest pilots I've ever seen where two guys who were ferrying an Aerostar whose Janitrol cabin heater had conked out. They looked like pilot-sicles when they got out of that airplane and the first thing they did, after they got warmed up, was borrow a crew car and head for a sporting goods store to buy proper winter gear. They were on a schedule and they couldn't take the downtime to fix the heater.

I'd ague that a prudent pilot should dress for the outside air temperature and control the cabin temperature accordingly. Forced landings can happen and it would be kind of ironic to get frostbite or hypothermia after successfully executing a forced landing. But it is a pain int he ass to wear that many layers and to fly while so dressed, so most pilots don't bother.