Flying in the winter months can deliver some of the most beautiful scenery you’ll ever spot from the air. It also places different demands on how you operate and manage the airplane. With our morning temperatures already hovering around freezing, we want to brush up on some cold weather considerations.
- Frost is bad: There is something beautiful about an early morning frost…as long as it doesn’t cover your plane. Airplanes are prohibited from taking off with any frost on them, and for a good reason. Even a small amount of frost on a wing can have significant aerodynamic impacts including a 30% reduction in max lift, 40% increase in drag, and it can even reduce the critical angle of attack! At Horizon Aviation, we install wing covers each night throughout the winter months so that we can get up in the air without any big delay.
- Ice is worse: Ice accumulation can happen any time during the year if the conditions are right. In the winter, those conditions are much easier to find. Remember, the two ingredients you need to pick up ice while flying are visible moisture and temperatures below freezing. Visible moisture doesn’t just mean rain or snow, it also includes fog, clouds and mist. So, if you are on an instrument flight and plan on entering the clouds, make sure you double check your temperatures. Ice can happen very quickly.
- Taxi with care: You probably exercise a little more caution driving your car when there is snow on the ground. You should do the same when you are taxiing an airplane. Snow, and ice can make taxi conditions slick on taxiways and runways. Slow down, be vigilant, mind the prevailing wind direction and avoid obvious areas of ice and snow as much as you can. If your brakes become caked in snow prior to takeoff, they can freeze in flight and make braking difficult, or even impossible upon landing. This is something more commonly encountered on aircraft equipped with wheel pants, though it can happen to any exposed brake system.
- Cold engines are unhappy engines: When oil gets cold, it gets thick and muddy. Starting an engine when temperatures are below freezing causes extra wear and tear on that engine because the oil isn’t able to properly move through the cylinders, and crankcase. This is why you should always let your car warm up before driving, and it is also why we keep our engines plugged into heaters overnight. These heaters keep the oil at about 60 degrees to maintain its viscosity. Make sure your oil temp comes up to at least the green arc of the temperature gauge before you do your preflight runup.
- Crosswind proficiency: The joke at PVD is that it is officially winter when the wind starts blowing 290 degrees at 20kts. More often than not, winters in New England are marked by a stronger wind than we see during the summer. At PVD in particular, the winds are almost always going to demand a crosswind takeoff and landing. This is a great opportunity to work with an instructor to gain great skill and confidence in your crosswind technique. Wind is not something to be afraid of, but it does require you to pay attention and respect it. With practice, you’ll “make friends” with the wind and enjoy the challenge.