- The winter months are traditionally seen as a quieter period for General Aviation as the weather is usually worse and the light disappears much earlier in the day. It’s not so much of an issue if you have an instrument or night rating, but can still be a little restrictive.
With that in mind, here are some tips on how to fly more in the winter months and stay safe when the elements come out to play.
Plan to Fly Early
Make the most of any good weather spells and flying weather by planning to start early in the day. (Just watch out for that early frost which we have some tips for below. ) That way you can get in trips to other airfields or longer periods in the air before the sun starts setting again in the late afternoon.
Key points! :-
The only amount of ice acceptable anywhere on the aircraft before take off is NONE ! The main ‘de-icer’ is the sun – which there is usually plenty of after a frosty night. Liquids can be used to assist in de-icing such as Kilfrost. However, and the clue is in the name, it will only assist in the removal of frost, NOT ice. Scrapers of any description should NOT be used on any part of the aircraft or screens. Use a soft nylon bristled brush may with care if a suitable one is available. De-icing can take anywhere between 15 and 90 minutes – allow for this when planning your flight. If the temperature is at, or below freezing it could be a struggle trying to de-ice !!! A similar situation applies when the sun is low in the sky – this may be worth looking at a later booking if a frost is anticipated. Use the sun to your advantage, position the aircraft into the sun as you start your preflight.
Raise a hot brew to the Solent airfield ops team for putting up with us Yesterday! ❄️ We had such high hopes of getting the T67 airborne! I hear Tuesday's are better aviation day's anyway 😁T67 – Ultimate HighPilot – Royal Air Force Flying Clubs' AssociationP.S. You should like those pages ✈️
Posted by Aaron Garcha on Tuesday, March 20, 2018
Look out for Jack Frost
Airframe icing is a potential winter hazard. ‘The most likely temperature range for airframe icing is from 0 to -10°C,’ says the CAA. ‘It rarely occurs at –20°C or colder… Pay attention to any icing warnings. Note the freezing level, it can be surprisingly low even in spring and autumn. You may need to descend below it to melt an ice build-up, but beware of high ground. Remember that altimeters over-read in very low air temperatures, by as much as several hundred feet. You can be lower than you think.’
As it does rain more heavily and aeroplanes are generally left sitting around, often out in the open, for longer periods, winter is when risk of water contamination in fuel tanks is high. Before moving the aircraft do make a point of draining fluid from all the water drains.
Pick Destinations That Aren’t So Weather Dependent
This may seem obvious, but. If you fly more often from grass and unlicensed airfields it can be restrictive when runways are wet and muddy, or when light is an issue. So with this in mind, grab your favourite airfield reference book and plan to fly to larger airports. Larger airports that have good runways and all the facilities that you need. There are plenty which are welcoming to GA and not too expensive to fly to, such as Carlisle, Dundee, Durham Tees Valley, Gloucester, Blackpool and Kemble Cotswold.
Plan Well Ahead
Use accurate weather forecasts a few days ahead to plan which day will be best for flying and make a plan to use the chosen day wisely. We all have our favourite met provider, but this winter try cross checking with multiple sources. If you know in advance that high pressure and clear skies are going to be with you, you know that VFR flying will be good and you can make the most of the day.
Do Some Training, add a rating.
The quieter, darker winter period is a good time to get some extra training with an instructor. The extra darkness is a good opportunity to gain a night rating, which can subsequently be used to extend those winter flying hours. Additionally pilots can do their instrument training, or get a Flight Instructor qualification.
Fly in Sunnier Places
If you just can’t stomach the bad weather and limitations on your flying, you could always head abroad to a place where the sun is still shining and the hours or darkness aren’t as much of a problem. Southern Europe, Florida and places in the Southern Hemisphere like Australia and New Zealand are great places to fly, and often cheaper than in the UK. RAFFCA Pilots have been having great experiences with …….
A fluid spray – the quick way to de-ice your aircraft
The presence of even a very thin layer of frost, ice or snow on an aeroplane can have a far greater effect on lift than you might imagine. The CAA cites tests that have shown that a coating with the thickness and surface roughness of medium or coarse sandpaper reduces lift by as much as thirty per cent and increases drag by forty. ‘Even a small area can significantly affect the airflow, particularly on a laminar flow wing.’
The need to clear all frost, ice or snow before flying is obvious, and this can be done with de-icing fluid or brushes – or simply by positioning the aircraft in the sun and waiting for the stuff to melt. Beware of water collecting in spinners or inside control surfaces and then freezing. This can produce serious out-of-balance forces or even flutter.
After a period of winter operation wheel spats can end up packed full of mud or slush. Be cautious over this as examples of Cessna’s nose spat’s splitting by the mud that had built up while operating from a very wet farm strip is not unheard of.
Increased takeoff and longer landing runs
Wet snow, slush or mud can seriously lengthen the takeoff run or prevent takeoff altogether. In winter, it makes sense to walk the runway at any private airstrip or unfamiliar airfield. And it’s not just a case of whether you can taxy and takeoff, but whether it is wise to be doing so. Even if you have suitable balloon tyres, your tailwheel may be cutting deep grooves in the turf. This can spoil the pitch for other users. If it is especially muddy, great clumps of the stuff can be thrown up onto the wings and even through the propeller.
You need to check there’s no ice restricting movement or putting control surfaces out of balance
In the air, carburettor icing is one of the worst enemies. CAA SafetySense Leaflet 14 Piston Engine Icing spells out the hazard in full. I the absence of dewpoint information, you can assume high humidity and a raised likelihood of carb icing when:
• the ground is wet (even with dew);
• you are flying in precipitation or fog; or
• just below cloud base.
If you encounter airframe icing or, worse still, freezing rain you must descend into warmer air. ‘If you see ice forming anywhere on the aircraft, act promptly to get out of the conditions,’ warns the CAA. ‘Don’t wait until the aircraft is loaded with ice. If freezing rain is encountered in flight near the ground it is best to land as soon as possible.
‘Even a thin coat of ice on the aircraft justifies a twenty per cent increase in approach speed. Remember that ground temperatures fall quickly during the late afternoon on an exposed airfield and by dusk ice may be forming on any wet runways.’
If in doubt call for help
When you do get flying, in winter conditions or not. If doubt exists about the aircraft or your safety do not hesitate to contact our highly experienced military controllers at the Distress and Diversion Cell over at RAF Swanwick. A direct feed to them anywhere in the UK using frequency 121.5 allows you to communicate without interruption. This service should not be underestimated. Our controllers can pinpoint your location on there screens when you start transmitting to them and the D&D team have direct lines to many services that can help you when your primary focus will be on flying. More information on the Distress and Diversion cell, including phraseology and squaks can be found here : https://www.raf.mod.uk/raf-beta/assets/File/95E50AF2_D570_FF5F_478C01766B2F43C8(1).pdf