Minnesota Flyer - Serving Midwest Aviation Since 1960

By Dan McDowell
MnDOT Aeronautics 

Your Winter Checklist


December 1, 2018

C.M. Swanson

One winter safety measure is the use of a cowl cover as seen on this Aviat.

Most pilots who have flown for a year or more have likely experienced flying in cold weather. Some may actually prefer to fly in the winter months because there are few threats of thunderstorms (at least in the more northern regions of the US), and nearly unrestricted visibility on clear days. Also there are no bugs to clean off windscreens, struts and leading edges! In addition, the beauty of the winter landscape can be awe-inspiring in itself which can make flying in winter an amazing experience.

Flying in winter conditions however, does bring about a need for a different set of skills and checklist items to consider. There are unique things required to protect the pilot, passengers, and the aircraft including special precautions that should be used when flying in winter conditions. Once the aircraft is fully prepared, there is one very important (and often under considered) part of safe winter flying that needs to be thoroughly reviewed. That is the pilot's personal preparation.

When doing a winter walk-around, if you get cold, then it is very likely that you are not properly dressed for that flight and the conditions you will encounter. If you are cold during your walk-around, imagine an unscheduled landing somewhere away from roads and people in those very same conditions. When flying in winter conditions dress to survive the conditions you are likely to encounter.

Don't dress for an airport-to-airport flight even if that IS your intended mission. Ask yourself 'what if...' Then ask yourself if you are honestly prepared to survive that 'what-if', especially in the frigid conditions that can exist in winter. Make sure your passengers are also properly dressed and prepared to survive. If they get too cold just waiting outside a few minutes for you to finish the walk-around, then they are not properly prepared for an unscheduled landing in winter weather.

The next very important consideration is your survival kit. When flying in winter especially (and driving too), everyone should carry a survival kit. For the sake of discussion here, assume you have had an engine issue and you had to put the plane down in a remote area along your flight planned flight route. The plane is not flyable and you and your passengers are basically uninjured. Now you and they are faced with a survival situation that should have been prepared for long before takeoff.

As their 'pilot in command' your passengers will look to you for support, guidance, and strength. In any survival situation one of the worst enemies of survival itself is the human mind. Thus it is critically important for you to be calm and help ease the fears of your passengers so that you can all work together effectively and efficiently toward surviving the current and changing conditions, until rescued.

Again for the purpose of discussion here, assume there was no fire on landing and there is no danger of fire. You now have to decide whether or not to seek alternative shelter or stay with the plane. Though you have a survival kit, keep in mind that there are things in and on the aircraft that could be very useful in your survival situation. There is for instance, fuel that could be used for fire and warmth. Oil could be used to make thick smoke that could be more easily seen by rescuers. Aircraft upholstery can be used to wrap hands and feet to ward off the cold. The battery could be used to ignite fuel for fire. Wiring could be used to tie things as needed.

The most important initial factors for winter survival are to stay dry, stay warm, and stay calm. Your survival kit should contain items to help you do those critically important things. There are numerous books, pamphlets and articles with detailed information about survival and survival kits. Some are free and some are commercially available. Just type in aviation survival kits for example in your web browser and a great deal of information will be at your fingertips. You will see that fully stocked kits can be purchased from a number of vendors and they come in a great variety of prices and of sizes, weight, and included items. There is also information available to help you design and pack your own custom kit.

A complete kit is vitally important to your survival. It should contain the obvious; food, water, shelter, and first aid, but should also contain a life support kit to include things like a hacksaw with metal and wood blades, pliers, multiple head screwdriver set, waterproof matches, a whistle, electronic portable strobe and much more.

Please make it a priority to seek out information that will guide you to be sure you have a proper survival kit. If you already have a kit make sure everything is there that you think is there. Also take time to be particularly sure that food and first aid items have not expired or leaked.

Bear in mind that this article is meant to make the reader think about their personal preparations for winter flying. The longest mile you may ever walk will be the one you walk after a survivable crash, through a couple feet of snow in the dead of winter after you have had an in-flight emergency and landed off the airport, a mile from the nearest possible help. If there is no fire it would be better to stay with the aircraft so rescuers can find you.

So be sure to add a line to your winter checklist to verify by thorough checking, not only your survival gear, but also your survival plans and survival information. Keep in mind that your passengers are looking to you to lead and advise them if a flight anomaly occurs. You must know what you have to do, as well as what you have with you to help mitigate the situation. Make sure your winter checklist is completed well before you fly.


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