Prep Your Plane for Winter Flying

For some reason we like to get ready for summer more than we like to get ready for winter. It’s time for winter so let’s get ready: Hat, warm jacket, gloves, scarf, boots. Good, now that you’re dressed— thank you very much for that—time to get the airplane ready. Here’s the “A” check list:

Engine Oil: Listen to all the experts, but check your operator’s manual for the real deal. The best advice is usually within the care and servicing chapter of the manual. Most operators approve a multi-grade oil application.

Winter Fronts: Some aircraft have these; some don’t. The operator’s manual is interesting on this subject. In most cases, these covers must be removed above certain outside air temperatures—usually 20 degrees F. However, the manual probably says nothing about putting them on below a specific temperature. Some aircraft use an oil cooler block off plate deep in the cowling. When temps rise, don’t forget about that pesky plate that is causing higher than normal temps.

Oil Breather: As air breather lines warm and cool with changes in engine temperature, moisture builds up, freezes and has the potential to block the breather. Whatever happens next is bad. Engine heaters and good pre-flight inspections are the best problem preventers in this case. Most have an “ice hole” about 3-4 inches up from the bottom for this very reason. Make sure you are starting off with a clear breather. I have come to the hangar to find the breather blocked with ice with only the “ice hole” open. This can pressurize your crankcase and cause damage, as well as oil loss.

Cabin Heater: A good inspection of the heater systems is the best defense against carbon monoxide poisoning. Each winter accident records show a few more tragedies as the result of defective aircraft cabin heaters. Some exhaust systems have 25-hour inspections that are ignored or forgotten about. These are crucial in the winter to stay safe. New G1000-equipped Cessna aircraft have CO2 detectors that have proven to find any signs of CO2, more than the old 2”x2” cards on the panel. We have found leaks in the system that we would have otherwise not found without that indication.

Battery: If you think the battery will survive one more year, it probably won’t. Gill and Concorde have one-year capacity checks, as well as 6-month checks thereafter. On that cold day when the airplane won’t start, it’s easy to turn one problem into two problems: A cold airplane, and a dead battery. A new healthy battery provides a sense of security and best chance for cold starts. Rapid charging rates can cause a battery to boil over with acid and cause a host of other airframe problems, as well as damage the paint.

Have a great winter flying season. Do you best to keep your family, yourself, and your airplane safe in some harsh flying conditions!