Old Man Winter is here, and he’s brought his little bag of tricks with him — here are some simple strategies that could save you a bloody fortune…
PRE-FLIGHT STRATEGY: A winter pre-flight can feel like your own personal cryogenics experiment and what you’re not wearing shouldn’t impair your safety checks. Interruptions can lead to skipped checklist items, so if lack of circulation forces you to stop mid-stream, start by rechecking the item you left off with and moving on from there. Remove ANY snow, ice or frost from ALL airfoil surfaces. Important: Do not use an automotive scraper. Carry cotton rags in your car to rub all frost from the wings and tail. Pay Special Attention To: Water in the fuel system; cracks in heater shrouds; ice or water in any vent, static port, the pitot tube or even the crankcase breather line (underneath, usually by the nose wheel). All openings are targets for obstruction by ice.
START-UP STRATEGY: When temps drop below 32 degrees Fahrenheit, an engine pre-heat is highly recommended — below 25F it is critical.
Why: At freezing temperatures: Pistons may grind cylinder walls; valves may stick; ice may have formed from condensation on sparkplugs; your engine will struggle against nearly solidified oil and the battery will struggle against increased load.
Translation: Trying to start an aircraft engine at extremely low temperatures is a good way to buy yourself an early overhaul — or worse.
Caution 1: Be careful NOT to direct heated air directly onto fuel, oil, or hydraulic lines!
Caution 2: DON’T try to start even a warm engine by pumping the throttle! That’s a great way to have an airbox fire. Use your primer!
A COLD MINDSET
Planning: Winter weather systems are generally smaller and faster, so conditions change quickly. Get up with your favorite Certified Fright Inflictor and shoot some crosswind takeoffs and landings! Even your Cherokee 140 can take you into an entirely different weather system, so do your homework and file a flight plan! Call ahead to find the conditions of taxiways and runways wherever you’re headed.
Taxi: S-l-o-w-l-y, especially when there’s snow and ice on the ground. Snow may be covering ice. Braking may be poor-to-nil and even your tricycle gear airplane may weathervane into a breeze. Avoid short turns and quick-stops, and give snow banks a wide berth!
En-route: The world below may be a homogeneous sheet of white … with your favorite landmarks (even lakes) buried. Pick visual checkpoints carefully and keep tabs on weather by calling FSS. Be alert for feelings of sluggishness, headache, and dizziness. Be ready to shut off that heater and open a window — you may have a carbon monoxide leak!
Landing: What you see is not necessarily what you’ll get. Snowdrifts may be larger than they appear and ice may be invisible. Plan to use all of the available runway length and be on guard for wind shifts. If your destination is a non-tower field, contact an aircraft that has just landed and ask about runway conditions.
After Landing: During engine shutdown, turn off the fuel to run the carburetor dry — this reduces the fire hazard on the next preheat. Fill the tanks right away, put on those control locks and tie down … and close that flight plan!