What to do if you can't fly away

August 22, 2008

The best protection from the storm is to fly out of its path, of course. But what do you do if your bird has to ride out the storm?

"Simply put, you want to do everything you can to make sure your airplane is immobilized and that there's nothing else loose that could blow into your airplane," said Woody Cahall, AOPA vice president of the Pilot Information Center.

Cahall says that all other things being equal, your airplane will likely fair better inside a hangar than out in the elements. But consider how solid the hangar is.

If your option is to tie down and weather it out, try for an area free of any objects that could blow into your airplane. If you have a storage box at your tiedown, make sure it can't be blown away. Check your neighbor's area as well for anything that could turn into an unguided missile in a strong blow.

Try to park upwind from other aircraft so the wind will blow them away from you, and try to park nose into the wind. But then again, you could be the victim of nature's caprice. If the eye of the hurricane passes over you, the wind will blow from one direction, then reverse course.

Make sure your windows and doors are latched. Cover engine inlets, the pitot tube, and the static ports, but don't leave anything dangling that could beat your airplane in a howling wind.

Chock the wheels and set the parking brake, but check your POH to make sure you can leave the brake set. Some systems can't compensate for heat expansion, and that can blow out seals and o-rings in the hydraulic brake lines. Your FBO may also want you to leave the brakes off so it can move the airplane.

Also consider deflating the tires or digging holes for the wheels to keep the airplane in place.

You want to make sure the control surfaces don't flap in the breeze. Install an internal gust lock. A lock that holds the controls in a neutral position is much better than looping a seat belt around the controls. That usually sets the controls for a climbing turn, which is exactly what the aircraft will do if the tiedowns let loose.

Even better, use external gust locks. Most aircraft don't have a rudder lock. An external rudder lock will cost much less than replacing a rudder. External gust locks on the elevator and ailerons can help prevent damage to control linkages and cables.

Speaking of tiedowns, replace your old rotted manila rope with nylon or Dacron rope or chains. Always use the tiedown rings; don't tie a rope to the wing strut. The rope could slip and bend the strut.

Tiedown ropes or chains should form roughly a 45-degree angle to the ground. A bowline knot is probably the best for securing a rope to the tiedown ring. Secure the loose ends of the tiedown rope or chain. If you're using a chain, pass a link on the free end through the tension side and use a clip to hold it in place.

Check the security of the anchor points. A tie-down anchor set in a tub of cement is fine in a zephyr; in a hurricane, it will become another heavy object beating your airplane to death.

Some airports have heavy wire cables stretched across the ramp to tie to. If this is the case at your airport, tie down perpendicular to the cable rather than at 45 degrees to it. That will help minimize any slack from the tie-down rope sliding along the cable.

Remember that hurricane wind speeds are likely to be higher than the stall speed of your aircraft. That means when the storm comes, your airplane is going to try to fly. A lift fence, attached to the top of the wing about a quarter of the way back, acts as a spoiler, making it harder for the wing to generate lift.

There are commercially made lift fences, but you could make your own with some two-inch square lengths of wood, padding, and attachment cords. Just make sure the lift fence can't break loose.

For more information, see " How to Tie Down an Airplane."