Prep for Cold Weather Flying
December 1, 2020
With the unseasonably warm weather, many of you likely took advantage to get in some flying. With cold weather on the forecast, we now have to prep for flying in cold. That might include making sure we have adequate cold weather gear in the aircraft in the event of mechanical problems. That can include an off airport landing or an issue on the ground during taxi. Murphys law states it will happen on the furthest taxiway from the nice warm FBO. Do you have enough warm clothing to safely walk to where you can get assistance?
In addition to having warm gear for yourself and your passengers, the aircraft needs its own cold weather equipment. Think cozy cowling blankets, cowl plugs, extension cord. There is one other thing that often gets overlooked when prepping for the temperature changes. With colder temperatures, pilots engage the aircraft heater. Cracks in the exhaust can create a situation where we vent carbon monoxide into the cabin. Its colorless, odorless, tasteless, and it will kill you if given the opportunity.
What are the signs we are looking for? Well, they can vary a little from person to person but look for
• Shortness of breath
• Passing out
• Impaired judgement
Reading this list you can see that it may be difficult to diagnose these symptoms in yourself, as your judgement will likely be impaired already. Its kind of like how drunk people don’t realize if they do stupid stuff because they have impaired judgement. This leads me to my first risk mitigation; talk to ATC. ATC will potentially be able to recognize your symptoms and assist you. I can remember a situation a number of years ago where a pilot said his passenger was airsick and he had a headache. The symptoms for carbon monoxide poisoning can appear like airsickness, so it is easy to see how he could mistake the two. The pilot was instructed to shut off the heater and vent the cabin. Just talking to ATC may have mitigated what could have been a bad day.
It is important to have a detector in the aircraft. I used to buy those plastic cards with the circle in the middle and stick them to the panel. That was the illusion of protection. Firstly, those only work if I a) look at it and b) am coherent enough to understand what it means. When you fly at night did you include that card in your scan? Probably not. Get something that beeps. Loudly and annoyingly. It might save your life!