Answers for Pilots

Cold comfort

January 1, 2002

Tips for winter flying

"It's getting really cold in my area now; is there a certain kind of oil that I should use in the wintertime?"

"What is the proper way to heat the engine on my airplane? The temperature outside is positively frigid here now."

"What should I use to get the ice off of my airplane's wings? We've had icing conditions for more than a month here."

These are typical questions heard by the aviation technical specialists in AOPA's aviation services department at this time of year. When the weather turns cold in most of these United States, flying takes on a whole different set of concerns for pilots.

"Flying in the winter offers new challenges but great rewards," says aviation technical specialist Brent Hart, who learned to fly in Minneapolis. "You have the best performance from your aircraft, the air you fly in is much smoother, the skies are crisp and blue and offer great visibility, and an added bonus is the thrill of landing on ice!"

However, says Hart, winter flying takes more preparation. "You must think ahead," he says. Here are a few tips from this veteran winter flier, but much more information can be found on AOPA's Web site (see " AOPA Web Resources").

  • If your aircraft isn't hangared, make sure the wings and cowling are covered. Ice builds on the wings, resulting in inefficient airflow and longer takeoff runs. If you don't have covers for the wings, use a hand broom to brush off snow and ice.
  • Consider getting a new battery before winter sets in.
  • Because of contraction and expansion caused by temperature changes, control cables should be properly adjusted to compensate for those changes. Your airframe and powerplant mechanic should check the tension and make any adjustments needed.
  • Park in the direction that the sun rises in the morning; it will help melt the snow and ice on the windshield. Cover the pitot tube and vents.
  • Use a preheating device but have a fire extinguisher nearby and someone to supervise the preheating. Prime at least three times before starting the engine (check your aircraft's manual). Have a carbon monoxide detector, especially if you have a tightly sealed airplane.
  • Take off the airplane's wheelpants. Ice and slush can collect under the pants and cause the wheels to lock up when you land.
  • When taxiing, look out for ice. Check the brakes so you know that you can stop when doing your runup. Attempting to perform a runup on ice can result in sliding out of control.
  • If you're flying on skis, put something such as a plastic garbage bag or blocks between the skis and the snow when the airplane is parked.
  • Dress warmly; pack a snack bar for fuel; keep a well-stocked survival equipment kit.

As an AOPA member, you have access to the best resource anywhere for information and answers for pilots. AOPA provides information for its members through a vast array of communications technologies. You can reach experts in all fields of aviation via AOPA Online (, the AOPA Pilot Information Center (800/USA-AOPA), and e-mail ( [email protected]). Aviation technical specialists respond promptly to member requests while AOPA Online provides members with access to information and resources 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The toll-free AOPA Pilot Information Center gives you direct access to specialists in every area of aviation. The center is available to members from 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Eastern time, Monday through Friday.

AOPA Web resources

AOPA Aviation Services' subject report on winter flying includes articles from AOPA Pilot and FAA advisories and circulars.

The FAA's General Aviation Accident Prevention Program guide Tips on Winter Flying.

ASF Safety Advisor on Aircraft Icing, with flying tactics for flying in icing conditions.

AOPA's Online Weather services with downloadable graphics.

Julie Walker

Julie Summers Walker | AOPA Senior Features Editor

AOPA Senior Features Editor Julie Summers Walker joined AOPA in 1998. She is a student pilot still working toward her solo.