Since it’s January, and I happen to be in northern New Jersey where evening temperatures have been dropping into the single digits this week, I’m feeling particularly motivated to bring up the subject of winter flying. If you’re feeling a bit cramped and compromised by cold weather though, take heart, because it could be worse: you could live up in Frostbite Falls.
You've probably already read my call to watch your tires and preheat your engine when the temperature gets cold. Now I'm going to remind you about another important part of your flying that needs a little time to warm up on those spring mornings (and most any other day) - namely, your Avionics! The key here is to remember that aircraft are generally built for transportation over large distances. (Translation: just because the nights are warm where you came from, that doesn't mean they'll be warm where you're going.) As a pilot you must be very aware of your surroundings -- more so than you are attached to your expectations.
I have a hard time trying to think of something good to say about stationary fronts. They not only tend to wear out their welcome, they never have any in the first place. Especially in the eastern United States, a stationary front associated with a low pressure system can drape itself over higher ground, and in the company of adjacent troughs and large areas of moderate rain showers (which are in turn fed by maritime air that drags in plenty of Atlantic or Gulf moisture), you have, aside from a formula for low clouds and wet, sticky weather, a recipe for disaster.
Winter's coming (or here), and that means ice. If you were merrily motoring along and suddenly noticed ice forming on your wings, windshield, and elsewhere, aside from vacating that altitude pronto, you probably wouldn't slow down (unless it involved a maximum rate climb to warmer air). Your pulse would quicken, and most likely so would your engine, at your behest. That's probably a good idea -- except for one thing...
If you've read my work here, you know that I respect Mother Nature. She is the force that creates beautiful sunsets, and gives us the delightful spring rains that bring forth the green fields that feed our world. I also believe that Mother Nature is a witch of the worst order, who will use the weather to beat sense into any pilot who should happen to disregard her power.
I remember the old "Star Trek" series, in which the communications officer would utter those famous words as she established contact with another vessel. "Hailing Frequencies Open, Captain," Uhura would say, to indicate that the captain could talk to the other ship.
If you live in the northern climes -- specifically where the outside air temperature dips below the freezing mark -- then you are probably familiar with engine heaters. These little units do a single, simple task: they pre-heat our aircraft engines, so that the engines will start when needed... and not self-destruct in the process.
The "categorical outlook" is a very general description of ceiling and visibility conditions contained in the Area Forecast. How can we use this extremely broad description to make a good go / no-go decision?
The weather briefer told me there'd be 'nothing' between me and home for the 2.5 hour flight -- so why am I seeing towering cumulus up ahead?
When you get right down to it precise knowledge of local weather is the one critical determinant as to whether your three-hour instrument flight is going to have a happy ending, or become a cliffhanger at decision height.