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The challenges of winter flying can be summed up in four words: cold, ice, snow, and wind. Every day's a weather day after the first snowfalls of winter arrive in colder regions. Now a whole set of conditions, accompanied by a cryptic stream of abbreviations to describe them, shows up in notams, regular and special surface weather reports, automatic terminal information service broadcasts, and verbally from the tower. After the season's first light dustings of snow give way to accumulating storms and snow-removal operations, pilots need to inform themselves continually about runway, taxiway, and ramp conditions. The information in this subject report will provide tips for successfully meeting the challenges of winter weather.
As always, feel free to call AOPA's Pilot Information Center at 800/USA-AOPA with questions.
This subject report provides information on winterizing your aircraft and operational tips for flying in cold weather. In addition, a large section is devoted to aircraft icing – everything from de-icing systems to taxiing on an icy runway to avoiding ice enroute. Many articles on the various aspects of winter flying are included in the AOPA Archives section for your review.
"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 Pilot Information Center during the winter months. When the weather turns cold across much of the United States, flying takes on a whole different set of concerns for pilots. Following is a list of important things to consider when entering the winter months. Keep in mind that many of the procedures listed are either better done, or required to be done by a certified aircraft mechanic.
Many special aircraft operating procedures should be observed when flying in cold conditions. These procedures will help to increase safety, reliability, performance, and best of all, help decrease engine wear.
We will start this section by discussing the different types of de-ice systems available. TKS (aka the weeping wing) works by secreting a controlled amount of de-ice fluid on different parts of the aircraft. Heated boots are typically used by larger aircraft, and use engine bleed air or electricity to heat parts of the airframe to melt ice. Finally, the pneumatic boots use engine bleed air to inflate bladders on various aircraft surfaces, thereby breaking off the ice. All of these systems serve a similar purpose – to keep the airframe ice-free – but each one does it differently. Some icing systems are certified for Flight into Known Icing (FIKI) while others are not.
A pilot should also be aware that there are two different types of icing – rime and clear. Rime icing is characterized by small super cooled water droplets and develops as a thin white cover on leading edges. Clear is, as the name implies, is clear. The super cooled droplets of clear icing are larger and typically found in cumulus clouds. Keep in mind that these two icing types can mix to form what we call “mixed icing.”
The bottom line on icing is don’t fly into know icing conditions, even if your aircraft is certified for it. There have been cases of aircraft that are certified for FIKI that crashed when icing exceeded the capability of their system. In-flight icing is an extreme circumstance that must be dealt with quickly in any aircraft, small or large. At the FIRST sign of icing descend to an altitude with an above freezing air temperature, or expedite a 180 degree turn. If icing is serious, or if you are unsure of your ability to properly handle the situation, contact ATC immediately. They can provide you with vectors and altitude changes.
When taxiing, look out for ice. Check the brakes before you do your run-up to be sure you can keep the aircraft from moving. Attempting to perform a run-up on ice can result in sliding out of control. Additionally be sure to hold proper aileron deflection throughout your taxi. This will help prevent the tendency for your aircraft to weathervane into the wind.
The following is a list of precautions to help make your icy landing a safe one.
Start your search for winter weather information and safety tips here, with a collection of safety publications, online courses, videos, stories, and quizzes from the aviation safety experts in the AOPA Air Safety Foundation.
Cold Comfort: Tips for Winter Flying
Cold Weather Whys and Hows
Airframe and Powerplant: Winter Prep
Survival Strategies: Winterskills
Wx Watch: Winter Warm Fronts How 'warm' air can turn ugly
Wx Watch: Ice Advice Escape and Evasion Tactics
Winterwise: Icing tips and traps
Tips on Winter Flying FAA Accident Prevention Program; FAA-P-8740-24, AFS-800 0879
The Weather Never Sleeps: Baby, it's cold outside - AOPA Flight Training, December 2008
Training at 30 Below - How a flight school in Fairbanks, Alaska, handles winter weather AOPA Flight Training, December 2008
America's Airports: An Air-Mailed Village Without airplanes, this Alaskan settlement might disappear AOPA Pilot, June 2008
Never Again: Whiteout AOPA Pilot, January 2007
Flying Season: Winter Wonderland? What looks pretty from the air can be a problem when you land AOPA Pilot, December 2006
Postcards: The Gods of the Hills Winter flying in Vermont AOPA Pilot, February 2005
Answers for Pilots: Winter wise Knowledge is key to staying safe when the temperature drops AOPA Pilot, January 2005
Wx Watch: Ice Flight NASA's Glenn Research Center pushes the (icing) envelope AOPA Pilot, October 2003
Frigid-Flight Fundamentals: How to Get Winter Flying Down Cold AOPA Flight Training, November 2002
The Hows and Whys of Aircraft Preheat Flight Training, December 1995
The Hot and Cold of It AOPA Pilot, December 1995
Recurrent Training: Ice, Snow and Frost Flight Training, November 1994
How to Fly in the Cold Flight Training, December 1993
Avoiding Frigid Flight Fright Flight Training, March 1992
Safety Pilot Landmark Accidents: Ice Crisis Never let your guard down AOPA Pilot, November 2007
Airframe & Powerplant: Deicing tools Exploring propeller deicing options AOPA Pilot, October 2007
Flying Seasons: Icing Accidents Learning from the stats AOPA Pilot, January 2007
Wx Watch: Icing, the Win a Six, and Expo A go/no-go decision prompts reflection AOPA Pilot, January 2007
Wx Watch: Ice Surprises Icing's sucker punches AOPA Pilot, October 2006
Never Again: A trace is ice AOPA Pilot, April 2006
Wx Watch: A Perfect Ice Flight Why on-top rules AOPA Pilot, February 2006
Instructor Report: ASF Safety Spotlight A cold lesson about icing AOPA Flight Training, January 2006
Accident Analysis: Ice isn't nice Lift can't touch this stuff AOPA Flight Training, December 2005
Wx Watch: The Trouble With Zero Is your OAT showing you SAT? AOPA Pilot, December 2005
Wx Watch: Ice Fighters Weaponry for the ice wars AOPA Pilot, November 2005
Surviving an inadvertent icing encounter AOPA Flight Training, February 2005
Wx Watch: Escaping the Frozen Zone AOPA Pilot, January 2005
Never Again: Unavoidable ice AOPA Pilot, December 2004
Wx Watch: Icing on the Web Two must-see icing Web sites AOPA Pilot, November 2004
The Weather Never Sleeps The ice man cometh AOPA Flight Training, November 2004
Wx Watch: Iced-Up Tails Avoiding ice-induced pitchovers AOPA Pilot, November 2003
Icing Rules of Thumb AOPA Pilot, January 1999
Winter Chills AOPA Pilot, February 1993
Carb Ice Versus Carburetor Heat FAAviation News
AOPA Air Safety Foundation's Safety Hot Spot: Winter Weather Here's a collection of safety publications, online courses, videos, stories, and quizzes from the aviation safety experts in the AOPA Air Safety Foundation.
AOPA Air Safety Foundation's Safety Quiz: Aircraft Icing Sponsored by Sporty's Pilot Shop
Cold Facts: Wing Contamination AOPA Air Safety Foundation Safety Brief
Aircraft Icing An AOPA Air Safety Foundation Safety Advisor
FAA rescinds known icing interpretation at AOPA's request September 25, 2008
Pilot Counsel: The law on 'known icing' AOPA Pilot, August 2005
Cold Weather Operation of Aircraft Advisory Circular 91-13C
Pilot precautions and procedures to be taken in preventing aircraft reciprocating engine induction system and fuel system icing problems Advisory Circular 20-113
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