Don’t rush your preflight on cold days

Reprinted with permission from Darcy Kaapke of

Winter is just around the corner. It is 20° with a 10° wind chill and you are out on the ramp preparing for your next flight. But just because you are freezing your tail off, ready to get in that plane, get that engine started and crank that heat full, you need to be aware of the hazards of not fully preparing your aircraft before takeoff.

Condensation in your fuel tanks tends to be more prevalent in winter’s cold months. This can be caused by the temperature change from a warm aircraft to half-filled tanks that have been sitting outside being subjected to cold temperatures. Be sure to sump your fuel, removing all water and any other contaminants that may have entered.

Cold temperatures can affect your aircraft in several ways: For example, thickening of the engine’s oil, frost on spark plugs, poor battery efficiency and even instruments sticking on you. Pre-heat of your engine and cockpit in cold temps is advised, not to mention a warmer aircraft to sit in! “Cold Starts” are not recommended for aircraft when the OAT is below 20° Fahrenheit. An external pre-heater or external power source is an option for the pre-heating of your aircraft. After you pre-heat and start the engine, be sure to give your aircraft an adequate amount of time to warm up before run-up and takeoff. Generally 5-7 minutes is substantial at a lower RPM.

Make sure all snow and ice has been removed. This may seem obvious, but it needs to be stated again. Ice, sleet and snow can SIGNIFICANTLY change the shape of airfoils, not to mention add plenty of weight to your aircraft. This can lead to loss of lift and increase your stall speed. Be sure your aircraft is cleared of all of this and pay special attention to your control surfaces. Also check that your heater intakes, pitot tubes, static ports and carburetor intakes (if applicable) are free of ice.

Winter’ s weather is something all pilots need to pay special attention to: One thing we can never beat is Mother Nature. Be safe and take the appropriate precautions so every flight this winter will be a memorable one.

Now get out there and enjoy one great thing about this cold — increased performance!

Tailwinds be with you.

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