Recently a series of cold fronts have marched down from the region of the north pole, bringing biting winds, frigid temperatures, and enough ice to supply a wet bar that’s serving Jackie Gleason, Foster Brooks, and Dean Martin simultaneously. If you’re into ice fishing, snow machine races, or the latest cutting-edge snowshoe designs, the weather is ideal. If you’re a general aviation nut, however, it’s somewhat less conducive to getting out and putting some distance between your tires and terra firma. And if you’re a seaplane enthusiast, you’re pretty much out of luck for the moment.
Fear not, snow-bound aviators. This time need not be wasted. There are preparations to make, simulators to fly, maintenance to be undertaken, and maybe even a bit of studying to do if you’re bold and have plans for adding a ticket or two in the coming year.
Even when you’re grounded for weather, general aviation doesn’t have to take a back seat to the elements. This is merely a time to shift your focus.
When I was a teenager I lived in central Connecticut. My family occupied an unfinished house that sat on the northern face of a hill so tall it was flirting with being a mountain. In fact, my siblings and I still refer to mom and dad’s place as “the mountain.” The driveway is a mile-and-a-half long. In truth it’s little more than a slender path of dirt and loose rock. In the summer it’s a dust generator, in the winter it’s a frozen obstacle course, and in the spring it’s a mud bog that can challenge even the heartiest driver.
From our front windows I could see the city of Hartford in the distance, way down in the Connecticut River Valley. Lying between that shining city and the ancient stone wall in our front yard was a sprawling orchard that belonged to the Draghi brothers, Pete and Dave.
Dave was the primary workhorse behind pruning the trees, maintaining the lanes between the rows of their fruit-bearing meal tickets, spraying herbicides and pesticides and, when the time was right, picking the fruit. Or at least that was how it appeared from my vantage point as a 14-year-old sprout wandering through the orchard to a school bus stop that was significantly closer to the house than the one I was assigned to.
Pete was a major contributor to the operation, too. There was no doubt that Dave valued his contributions greatly. I suspect either brother could have operated the concern reasonably well on their own. But together, they were unstoppable. And that included the months of deep winter cold, blowing snow, and icy slopes.
Winter wasn’t a time for slumber or minimal effort. It was a time of preparation. It was during the winter months the brothers would tear apart their old red Massey Furgeson tractor, rebuild the engine, grease the joints, replace the tires and anything else that needed to be renewed.
Each spring that antique would emerge from its winter hibernation with all the pep and vigor of a brand new machine — for a fraction of the price. They even took down and re-assembled the big D2 Caterpillar tractor that could move a mountain of dirt and rock as easily as I might spread creamy peanut butter on a slice of bread.
While I didn’t recognize the value of the lesson at the time, in retrospect I can see the brilliance of the Draghi brothers’ method. They did what the seasons allowed them to do, but they were always productive in some way. If they weren’t growing they were picking. When they were done picking, they took their crop to market and turned it into cash. When the weather kept them indoors, out of the orchard, and unable to grow, they maintained the machinery that made it possible for them to do their work during the high season.
A well-paid consultant might term what Dave and Pete were doing utilizing optimum time management practices. I just call it smart. And best of all, their method of being productive without feeling overloaded can be applied to other endeavors with ease — for instance, general aviation.
If you’re not flying, this might be a good time to do some reading. Seriously. There is a lot of great information out there that can help you improve your skills, your insight, and your decision making ability — and a lot of it is available for free on the Internet.
That includes the Pilots Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge, published by the FAA as FAA-H-8083-25A. You might also find Appendix 1 of that publication to be helpful. It’s published separately for those who don’t want to wade through the full PHAK, but Appendix 1 is tremendously important as it is entirely focused on the topic of runway incursion avoidance. In fact, this is the document the FAA draws its knowledge test questions from on the topic.
And if you’re thinking of adding an instrument ticket to your certificate, you might spend some time with the Instrument Flying Handbook (FAA-H-8083-15B), which is also available as a free PDF.
The long and the short of it is, there’s plenty to do even when the weather doesn’t look all that inviting. So get to it, if you will.
Learn something new, or tweak your airplane, or start a flying club, it doesn’t really matter. Just don’t let yourself become convinced that you can’t still be actively participating in general aviation just because the temperature on your ramp is not as inviting as it is today in Marathon, Florida. That will change. And if you play your cards right, you’ll be ready when it does.