Answers for Pilots

Winter wise

January 1, 2005

Knowledge is key to staying safe when the temperature drops

Now that winter is upon us, it is essential that pilots learn how the colder temperatures and changing weather affect their flying. There is no reason to stay on the ground during this beautiful season, and for some, it's the best flying of the year.

The mercury dropping in the thermometer is the most obvious change of the season. With the temperature decline comes ice. Perhaps the reason ice has been such a deadly factor in general aviation over the years is because it is still not completely understood. While the general rule of thumb is that the aircraft will pick up ice if it is in the clouds or in precipitation when the temperature is below freezing, this is not always the case. One never knows which cloud will have ice and which will not. Thus it is always smart to avoid instrument meteorological conditions whenever possible when flying above the freezing level — the forecasted or reported altitude at which the temperature is zero degrees Celsius. (See " Wx Watch: Escaping the Frozen Zone," page 99, for tips on what to do if you encounter ice, despite good intentions.)

Although most pilots rightfully worry about conditions aloft, a successful winter flight begins on the ground. Most aircraft now have a cold-weather starting and run-up procedure in the pilot's operating handbook. This section usually contains some good tips on best engine practices and things to watch out for on the preflight inspection. There also may be tips on proper engine preheating procedures. If your aircraft does not have cold-weather procedures set by the manufacturer, take some time to speak with a knowledgeable mechanic about engine care during cold temperatures.

If your aircraft is kept outside, there will probably come a point when you must deal with frost on its wings. Leaving it on seems harmless, but studies have shown that even a thin layer of frost can degrade performance by up to 40 percent. Although the increase in weight is fairly small, the decrease in lift is dramatic. Frost essentially changes the shape of the airfoil, rendering the wing relatively ineffective. Taking the time to scrape it off (carefully) or let it melt off in the sun or a heated hangar could be your best decision of the day.

Whether you are a seasoned pro at flying during the chilly months or you are just starting out, AOPA's Pilot Information Center can help. With thousands of winter hours between them, the pilots of the information center love to share their knowledge with members.

Membership Q&A

Answers to frequently asked questions about your AOPA membership

Q: I've heard about the Automatic Annual Renewal program. How does it work and what are the benefits?

A: After you enroll and provide us with your credit card number, we'll charge your card for your yearly dues — and any other optional services you carry — within the first week of your renewal month. You won't receive renewal notices, which saves AOPA money that we can use to invest in programs that benefit you and general aviation. And you'll save $4 off your membership dues your first year for enrolling. If you enroll using your AOPA credit card, you save $2 each subsequent year you continue to participate in the program using the AOPA credit card.

Q: When is the best time to call AOPA when I have a question or need assistance?

A: Our member service representatives are available between the hours of 8:30 a.m. and 6 p.m. (Eastern time) Monday through Friday. The best hours to call are from 9:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. to 5 p.m. when our staffing is at full capacity. Another way to limit your wait time is to listen to the menu at the beginning of the call and make the appropriate choice, which will eliminate unnecessary transfers. Having your AOPA member number handy will help us locate your membership information and assist you more efficiently.

Q: I didn't get a membership card this year after I renewed. Why not?

A: Good question! A new membership card is included in your first renewal notice, which is mailed before your membership expires. Members who participate in our Automatic Annual Renewal program receive a new membership card with their credential package because they do not receive renewal notices each year. If you need a new card, just give us a call at 800/872-2672 and we will be happy to send you one.

Member Services contact information:

Phone: 800/USA-AOPA (872-2672), 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. (ET) Monday through Friday
After hours: Renew your membership, reset your Web password, or enroll in Automatic Annual Renewal using our self-service touch-tone phone option.

E-mail: [email protected]

Web: Update your personal information, renew your membership, and much more by clicking on My AOPA in the left column of our home page.

AOPA Web resources

Cold-weather operations are discussed in detail in more than 26 aviation subject reports and AOPA Pilot and AOPA Flight Training magazine stories.

Ian J. Twombly

Ian J. Twombly | "Flight Training" Editor

AOPA Pilot and Flight Training Editor Ian J. Twombly joined AOPA in 2003 and is an instrument flight instructor.