December 6, 2011

Though the calendar maintains that winter is still a few weeks away, cold weather has already made its way across continental United States. Blustery winds and freezing temperatures are already being felt on airport ramps from coast to coast, chilling both aircraft and their pilots in equal measure.

Winter can be particularly tough to bear when your aircraft is parked on the ramp, instead of inside a hangar, but that doesn’t mean the cold temperatures should deter your operation. Dave Dinneen, executive director for the Massachusetts Airport Management Association and president of KING Aviation Mansfield, offered a few tips to help operators keep their aircraft at the ready.

Above all, “it is incredibly important to secure the airplane as if there’s going to be a major storm,” said Dinneen. “Be sure to tie it down very well, and use the recommended gust locks and controls. Those should be standard practices anyway.

“Go through the pilot’s operating handbook and review wintertime practices,” he continued. “Find out what oil you should use, what fluids should be topped off, and whether you should adjust tire pressures.” Dinneen added that pilots flying piston aircraft should also check if the manufacturer recommends winterization plates or baffles for the engine, to help prevent in-flight cold soaking.

Speaking of chilly engines, a number of covers are also available to keep the frigid air – and wildlife, looking for a warm nesting spot – out. Dinneen also suggested wing covers, to keep frost and ice off the wing skin and moisture from seeping in to the structure. Similar covers are available to shield cabin windows, and in some cases most of the fuselage.

“They’re pricey in the beginning,” Dinneen said of these measures, “but if you do a lot of winter flying, they really do help.”

If you fly your plane regularly, a professionally installed engine heater also saves valuable time by keeping the engine block and fluids relatively warm. This will also help prevent wear-and-tear on the engine upon startup.

“I tell people the hardest part about cold weather is walking from the FBO to the door of your airplane,” Dinneen concluded. “If you can deal with the in-between, you’re in good shape. When it’s time to go, however, you must still do a thorough preflight. Follow the proper procedures, and don’t cut corners, even though it’s cold!”