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Tips For Flying in the Winter

Winter is notorious for bad weather, so it’s not a surprise that many aircraft owners decide to put their planes in storage until spring. But, some pilots actually prefer flying in the winter months. Why? Visibility can be higher in the winter unless there are snowstorms. Some pilots also believe aircrafts perform better in winter because the air is much denser when it is cold. You can also benefit from winter winds, which can give a little push to aircrafts and shorten flight times.
If you’re willing to give winter travel a try, here are some tips to help you stay safe in the skies and actually enjoy flying during the winter season:

Dress appropriately

Pilots often make the mistake of dressing for the climate they are in instead of the climate they will be in at the end of the trip. Plan ahead before taking off in the winter and dress yourself in clothing that will keep you warm in the area you are flying over. This way, if you have to make an unplanned stop on the way to your final destination, you will still be prepared.

Invest in wing covers

Where do you store your plane when it’s not in use? If you don’t have access to a hangar, it’s best to invest in wing covers to prevent the buildup of frost on your plane’s wings. Why is this so important? Frost can impact a plane’s lift, which means your safety may be at risk if you take off without properly deicing your plane. But, deicing can be time consuming, so it’s wise to keep wing covers on your plane that will help reduce the need for it.

Remember, days are shorter

Days are shorter in the winter season than they are in the summer, so there will be fewer hours of daylight until spring rolls around. If you’re not comfortable with flying at night, make sure you keep this in mind when planning your trip. If you do end up flying at night because of the shorter days, check the condition of your aircraft’s lights before you take off. This should be a part of your preflight inspection during the winter months in case you find yourself stuck flying after the sun goes down.

Don’t cut inspections short

Pilots who are planning a trip during the winter should conduct preflight inspections as they would in any other season. But, if you’re doing these inspections outdoors in freezing temperatures, it’s tempting to cut corners and rush the inspection process to save time and get out of the cold. Don’t give into this temptation—preflight inspections are important year-round, so dress warm and perform a thorough inspection.

Keep a flashlight with you at all times

Because there are fewer hours of light in the winter,  it’s strongly recommended you keep a flashlight (and an extra set of batteries) with you at all times. If you perform your preflight inspection outdoors, make sure to use this flashlight instead of relying on natural winter lighting, which isn’t anywhere near as bright as summer or spring light.

Do not taxi through snow

Many pilots will have to deal with runways covered in snow or ice during the winter, which definitely makes take offs and landings more challenging. If you don’t have much experience flying in this type of weather, it’s important to remember to never taxi through snow. Even if you can’t see it, there could be a layer of ice underneath snow on the ground, so be careful to avoid snow that tends to accumulates on the side of the runway.
You should also go slow while taxiing and avoid any quick stops or sharp turns, as these are difficult to make in icy or snowy conditions. When you do have to apply the brakes, do so gently and in a slow, even motion.

Check your tires

The colder it is outside, the lower your air tire pressure may be. Some pilots make the mistake of visually checking their tires’ air pressure, but drops in pressure can be difficult to visually detect. Even if your tire pressure isn’t dangerously low before take off, if you are flying through cold temperatures, it could decrease even further while in flight. Landing on tires with low pressure is a challenge and could leave you stranded on the runway unable to move your aircraft. Avoid these complications by taking the time to check the pressure prior to take off.

Review proper procedures

If you don’t fly during the winter on a regular basis, it may be wise to take a look at your pilot operating handbook to see if there are specific instructions on how to maintain and safely operate your aircraft during this season. The pilot operating handbook may have guidelines on starting the plane in the cold, as well as checklists to help you prepare for winter weather flights.

Preheat slowly

If temperatures drop below freezing, you will need to preheat your engine prior to taking off. Plane manufacturers usually recommend you preheat your engine if temperatures are 20 degrees Fahrenheit, but pilots will often preheat if temperatures are at 32 degrees Fahrenheit or below. Don’t rush through this process by cranking up the heat for a short period of time—slower is better when it comes to preheating. Applying the heat slowly gives it time to make its way deep into the heart of the engine. If you apply a burst of heat, your engine may be warm on the surface, but the heat will probably not have made its way to the center.
Finally, don’t be afraid to change your plans at the last minute if the weather suddenly worsens and you don’t feel comfortable flying. Even the most experienced and skilled pilots will have to cancel flight plans in severe weather conditions, so you should never attempt a flight if you don’t feel safe doing so.

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