December 2008 Issue

Cold-Weather Flight Operations

Winter flying requires a different mindset because what’s just a nuisance in July can kill you in January. Here’s how to find the gotchas.

When living in a locale with winter weather cold enough for clichés and wanting to commit aviation, there are three alternatives for coping: 1) Borrow a snowplow and drive south—when someone asks, "What’s that?" stay there and fly; 2) subdue the urge (as did 1920s barnstormers, realizing the oversupply in warmer climes would cause them to starve), secure the airplane, rent a hotel room and hibernate after contracting with a bootlegger for regular deliveries; or, 3) keep flying. While not expressing a preference, our habit has been to continue flying while modifying our behavior. Among the changes is realizing winter means more than cold: It means fewer hours of daylight, so more-risky night flying also is likely. It means everything takes longer to accomplish, be it as mundane as putting on appropriate flying attire or as complex as readying a tied-down airplane for flight. It means hurrying means radically increasing the chance of making a small mistake and, in winter, small mistakes are far more likely to have a fatal outcome than in summer.

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