Pilots have many items to take into consideration when planning and executing a flight in cold weather. Cold weather planning begins before you even reach the aircraft.
Pilots need to take into consideration the temperature and dewpoint spread to determine cloud height and possible IFR conditions (this is especially relevant to VFR-only pilots). Other considerations are AIRMETS and SIGMETS for icing, winds aloft and pilot reports.
The Dangers of Icing
Icing is a very real risk when flying into precipitation if temperatures are below freezing. Using tools like freezing level charts and pilot reports can help you make decisions on if the flight is safe to go based on the type of aircraft you're flying and what anti/de-ice equipment that it has. There are various providers offering easy and free access to this important information. Jeppesen offers access via MyJeppesen.com (www.myjeppesen.com). With a simple and free sign-up, you can access Jeppesen’s full suite of weather products including icing charts as well as AIMET and SIGMETS. For Jeppesen customers using our iPad application, our MobileFD app also offers various weather information including icing charts (visit www.jeppesen.com/mobile for more information).
If you make the decision to proceed on your flight, there are preflight considerations that you must look at when you are physically at the aircraft. Is there snow, ice or frost on the aircraft? Remember that the FAA prohibits taking off with 'polished frost' on the aircraft surfaces. This means you must remove ALL snow, ice and frost off of the aircraft before you can takeoff. There are different ways and tools available to remove frost, snow and ice - brushes and sprays are two common methods. Make sure you follow recommended procedures for your specific type of aircraft.
Heat it up
Another big consideration when the mercury plummets is aircraft engine temperature. It is recommended to preheat the engine when temperatures are below freezing. This can be done with a propane drive heater that goes directly into the engine cowling or by placing the aircraft into a heated hangar. This prevents engine damage due to cold temperatures.
In very cold temperatures it is also recommended to cover the whole cowling with an engine cowling cover. Before takeoff it is recommended to make sure that the oil temperature goes into the green arc on the oil temperature gauge, which means you may have to wait longer than usual before takeoff. Winter weather may also bring snow and icy conditions to ramps and runway surfaces. Listen carefully to pilot reports, if available, for braking action reports and snow bank heights. You need to take special care when landing and taxiing on slick runway surfaces and even more care when dealing with a crosswind.
Winter flying can be extremely enjoyable and beautiful when you take into account the precautions mentioned in this article. Stay warm!
About the Author: Craig Thighe is an Airline Transport Pilot, Gold Seal Flight Instructor, FAA Designated Pilot Examiner and recognized Technologically Advanced Aircraft expert. He has served in multiple capacities at Jeppesen and currently serves as a Business Partner in the Government & Industry Affairs organization.