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What to know about winter flying

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General Aviation, Private Pilot, Student Pilot

What do I need to know about flying during the winter? Where I live we don't get snow usually (from the south) however we do get frost. I fly carbureted aircraft (C-152, C-172). What should I know about flying these aircraft in these conditions besides the frost and ice on wings, meaning actually flying in these cold conditions? Is most everything the same or is there differences? Thanks

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  1. Brian on Oct 22, 2013

    I’m up north, but I’d do this anywhere when the temps were down. For me here from October fist through till the end of March I have what I call winter ops. For my students that means have a winter jacket, hat, gloves, boots, and wool socks. I also carry one blanket in the aircraft. This is for the rare case where we have to stuff the plane into a field and wait to be picked up. I’d rather not land safely then keel over to exposure, would you?

    Airplane batteries are far more feeble in the colder months. Not a big issue above freezing, but still something to keep in mind. On a preflight you might consider not doing anything that requires turning on the master. Save battery for the start, you can check most of that stuff after the airplane is running. Sure you can’t touch each flap control arm in a Cessna, but you can move the flaps up and down while visually ensuring they move freely and don’t bind. Finally, on this note, battery tenders are very useful.

    If you fly through any moisture, then land and expect a night below freezing with a flight anticipated early the next morning: lower the flaps before you store the airplane. The water caught between the flaps and the wing can freeze the flap in place.

    When you park a plane make sure at least one propeller blade is pointed to the six o’clock position. This will allow any moisture, such as due, from pooling up in the spinner and freezing over night.

    Take care for snow banks. Your airport might not have theses issues, but you may fly somewhere that does. Also, in a low wing, your wing might clear the bank..what about that pitot tube? Had a guy at my local field do 15,000 in damage to his columbia over a similar oops moment.

    Black ice really sucks in your car, but it’s a more expensive sucky experience in most airplanes.

    Slush is as slippery as ice. Thin coatings of slush or snow are more dangerous than deeper slush or snow. The deeper stuff piles up and stops a slide, the 1/4 inch conditions let you twirl around like a figure skater.

    Frost on the wings is bad, anywhere on the wing. Aerodynamically, however, the flow over the top is more important. The sun will clear most frost by 8-9am on a clear down. In a pitch, though, a zip lock bag or two filled with hot water can make for a quick way to clear an aircraft of a little frost. And a great way to get a frozen shut fuel cap open.

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