What to do if you can't fly away
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 aviation services.
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. During Hurricane Charley, some hangars collapsed destroying aircraft, while airplanes tied down outside survived.
An FBO's hangar at Kissimmee Gateway Airport (ISM) near Orlando was one that fell. Inside were some aircraft that had fled from Tampa. Charley was predicted to hit Tampa. It didn't. And it wasn't supposed to be that strong by the time it had crossed the state. So the moral here: A hangar isn't always best, and if you move your aircraft, get as far away as possible.
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."
Frances at 8:15 a.m. EDT, Sept. 4 (NOAA satellite image)
Hurricane Frances has slowed down and is now expected to come ashore late tonight or early Sunday. But the slower pace means much greater potential of flooding, with the possibility of up to 20 inches of rain. The storm remains huge, twice the size of Andrew. The winds have slowed to about 105 mph, and forecasters expect Frances will be a strong Category 2 hurricane when it hits land.
In advance of the storm, aircraft owners in Florida and the Southeast should prepare to protect their aircraft. The best protection, of course, is to move the aircraft outside of the storm's predicted path. (Your aircraft insurance may help pay for that. See below. See sidebar for tips on protecting your aircraft if you can't move it to a safer area.)
After Frances passes, pilots should be alert for possible temporary flight restrictions as recovery efforts begin. The notams establishing these TFRs may be issued on very short notice, and the size will be determined by the scope of the damage and the type of relief efforts.
It's also possible that President Bush could visit to review the relief efforts. TFRs protecting the President are typically 60 nautical miles in diameter (30-nm radius) and contain one or more smaller general aviation no-fly zones.
"If you're in Frances' path, check now to see if your aircraft insurance policy contains Hurricane Protection Coverage," said Greg Sterling, executive vice president and general manager of the AOPA Insurance Agency. "This will pay to help you relocate your aircraft out of harm's way."
Members insured with AIG Aviation through the AOPA Insurance Agency automatically have this coverage included in their policy's Broad Coverage Endorsement.
Hurricane Protection Coverage kicks in when the National Weather Service issues a hurricane watch or warning for the area where your aircraft is principally based. The insurance company will reimburse you for a portion of the reasonable costs associated with protecting your aircraft by relocating it outside of the hurricane's predicted path.
Reimbursable costs can include the costs of hiring a ferry pilot (who meets your policy requirements, of course). You must already have physical damage (hull) coverage in force, and the aircraft must be relocated to another airport that is outside the warning or watch area and at least 100 nm distant from home base. Reimbursement is usually limited to $500 or 50% of the total cost of the relocation, whichever is less.
Check your policy for additional details or call your broker.
If you are insured through the AOPA Insurance Agency, contact them at 800/622-AOPA (2672) for more information on Hurricane Protection Coverage.
Update: September 4, 2004