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Simple Rules for Winter Flight

by Darren Smith, CFII/MEI
from Winter Flying, October 2003 updated December, 2011
CFIDarren Newsletter, January 6, 2011, December 14, 2011

One of the best experiences is flying over white, rolling terrain.  The pristine views can compare to no other flight save flying over blue Caribbean water.  When undertaking a winter flight, a few simple rules will keep you and your passengers safe.

1.  Preflight - dress very warmly to avoid winter chill.  Peel off those layers and stow in the aircraft.   Be sure all frost & ice are removed from the aircraft especially flight control surfaces.   Ensure you meet your personal flight minimums using the IM SAFE checklist.

2.  Use an engine warmer - to protect your engine during cold starts.  Preheat to at least 30-40 degrees F.  Use proper weight oil during winter.

3.  Use good aeronautical judgment and decision making - from your weather briefing to flying in icing conditions, be sure that you execute a safe plan and always have a way out.  Consider filing a flight plan if you plan to leave the immediate airport environment.  Be aware of changing weather and get enroute updates.

4.  Smoothness in everything you do - apply power changes, control inputs, and flight maneuvers as gently as possible.   If you face an emergency, stay calm, don't panic, and don't give up. 

5.  Keep an eye on carb temp - and use carb heat as necessary.  Plan on using it earlier than manufacturers recommendations and often.  Test your carb heat during run-up at high and lowest RPM settings.

6.  Flight Conditions - Watch for ice buildups and understand how rime and clear ice develops.  Remain instrument current,  you never know when a white out can prevent a VFR landing. Read my article on “Avoiding Aircraft Icing.”

7.  Ensure that cabin heat works - be sure that cabin heat doe not introduce exhaust gases into the cockpit due to a leaking heat exchanger.

8.  Survival - keep extra layers of clothing and blankets in the unlikely event of an off airport landing.  Basic first aid supplies, VHF handheld, flares, matches, strobe lights, and a signaling mirror are also useful.  Basic shelter can be created using the fuselage and plant material.  Never sleep or sit directly on snow to protect your core body temperature.

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