Shop Talk with Trent Wallman
Are you ready for winter?
November 1, 2020
Winter is almost here, and it’s time again to start shifting to winter operations. I love winter and the advantages and challenges it brings. Being from Minnesota, we know that proper gear is the difference between surviving and thriving through the winter.
Your winter flight ops are no different. With the proper gear, you can comfortably take advantage of the dense calm air we often see throughout the winter.
The first challenge is equipping yourself with the proper winter gear to comfortably fly in and shed layers as required. Having emergency winter gear in case of an unscheduled landing is a good thing to consider keeping in the airplane. Next is getting a nice blanket for your airplane. Engine blankets really do make a difference in heat retention. You can buy a lot of time in the cold with a quality engine blanket. I have plugged in cold airplanes on the ramp with and without blankets, and the blankets have proven themselves to provide better heat retention and engine starting.
As most folks probably already know, engine heaters are a must for getting that first start of the day. No matter the type you choose to go with, having an engine heater will greatly aid in starting your engine. Even with a hanger that is kept above freezing, your engine can still be quite cold and difficult to start. Starting an ice cold engine is hard on just about everything. The battery has to work harder, the starter works harder, and oil takes longer to actually lubricate your engine after it starts. Getting that lighter weight oil for winter helps, but ice cold oil, no matter the viscosity, takes longer to get to where it needs to be.
Some folks keep their engines plugged in all winter, and there is nothing wrong with that actually. I’ve worked with a company that produces engine heaters and accessories and with their tech support. They say there is no risk to keeping your plane plugged in for long periods of time. I don’t believe it’s necessary, but it’s not the end of the world if you leave it plugged in. Usually 24 hours before a flight is plenty of time to warm the engine. I do advise that you avoid the heating and cooling of your engine. This allows the build up of moisture which leads to corrosion. I have seen some incredibly rusty engine components due to condensation from heating and cooling.
Bottom line, if you warm your engine, run it at operating temperature for at least 20 minutes to cook out any built up moisture. Don’t allow yourself to be plugging in and unplugging your airplane throughout the winter without running it.
The cold is also hard on batteries. There are battery tenders and warmers and all sorts of things out there to keep your battery alive, but the most helpful thing I have found is buying a high capacity sealed lead acid battery. Sealed batteries hold up much better in the cold. A sealed battery under three years old won’t need any special treatment to survive the winter. Pro tip, don’t bother with cheap extension cords. Get cold weather cords that stay flexible. Nothing is more miserable than trying to untangle a ball of frozen cords out on a windswept ramp. Don’t forget to take that nice cord with you to plug in at your destination.
These are just a few tips that I have learned over the years that have greatly improved my winter operation experience. Talk to your friends and see how they prepare for winter flying, and do a little research into what would work best for your airplane and your desired operations.
Keep your eyes open for new things as well. Not too long ago, I discovered a new cabin heater that is integrated into the engine heating system. One extension cord heats both the engine and cabin. That sounds like a luxury experience to me!
I hope everyone out there gets what they need to have a successful and enjoyable winter flying experience. Here’s to blue skies and smooth engines!