It's Not Too Early to Consider Winter's Effects On Your Airplane

Here are a few ground-up tips for preparing for cold weather.

Aircraft owners in Wisconsin, where I lived for a while, almost all keep their airplanes in hangars. But inside storage space in the high-rent Northeast is not only more expensive, but sometimes unavailable at any price. The ultimate in luxury, a heated hangar, is the best answer to winter aircraft care. But for those of us without that privilege, there are a few checklist items to think about now that can save some time and effort when the flakes start to fall.

First, consider taking the time now to give the airplane a good wash and wax job. Besides the added protection against winter ravages, the good cleaning you give the airplane now will be a lot easier and more pleasant than it will be in the upcoming bone-chilling cold. When cleaning and waxing, pay special attention to leading edges. A fresh, healthy coat of wax helps inhibit ice buildup. Also, consider taping off lightening holes on control surfaces that allow rainwater to penetrate. While you can drain them during a preflight when the temperature is above freezing, there is the possibility of standing water freezing inside an aileron or elevator and creating an imbalance.

If you've been considering acquiring hangar space, now might be the time to make the deal. If you have your own hangar or space in a common hangar, you will be free from blowing dirt and sleet; but I found that my airplane would collect a layer of dust when it was kept inside. I used an old parachute as a dust cover; light and easy to remove before flight and re-install at the end of the day.

If you aren't blessed with indoor storage, consider purchasing wing and tail covers if you live in a snowbelt. Even if there isn't a lot of snow or sleet, early morning departures can be compromised by a coating of frost on your wings and control surfaces. And now is also the time to ensure you have either your own preheat device, or an understanding with the FBO where you keep your airplane for early morning departures. The rule of thumb I have subscribed to is that I will preheat if the temperature dropped below 20°F overnight. And after a precipitous drop in the mercury, be sure to check for lowered tire pressure.

Speaking of tires: After repairing my Bonanza's cracked tail cone one winter, I now have a pair of old car tires stacked underneath the tail feathers with the tiedown rope slipped through them. Heavy snow accumulation can turn a nosewheel airplane into a taildragger-sometimes with a damaging thud.