Aviation Safety Letter 1/2004

Checklist for Winter Flying

Adapted from Winter Flying Tips, by Andy Rempert, Aviation Safety Inspector, Federal Aviation Administration

Winter is just around the corner and you may want to enjoy the scenery, go ice fishing, visit a friend at a remote cottage, or fly to a lodge. Winter flying has a lot to offer, but brings with it conditions of operations somewhat different than in summer, and these have to be taken seriously. This is where Murphy's Law is at its best and can play-around with your safety. "What can go wrong. will go wrong." Daylight on a winter day is often shorter than anticipated. Weather can change quickly, and if you are not prepared to camp out in the wilderness every time you set out on a trip, you might be in for an unpleasant surprise, if you get caught by weather. Nights can be long and cold without a campfire and shelter. So you must be prepared.

A checklist is a must. I will review the basics that can help you develop your own checklist, the one that will be most appropriate for the type of operations that you are planning. Maintenance of the aircraft should be at its best; the aircraft structure and engine should have been inspected as per the inspection program that you have carefully developed to protect yourself, your investment, and to ensure the continued airworthiness of your aircraft. Here is a maintenance checklist that will confirm the airworthiness status of your aircraft and the readiness of a proposed flight in the wild.

Landing gear

Installation of skis: Inspect the skis and hardware; make sure that the cables and fittings are in good condition. Check the angle of incidence of the skis and the tension on the shock cord and make sure that the rear ski installation meets the requirements.

Replace the shock cords or any cables that are even a little frayed or worn. Check the ski bottoms for wear, and polish any rough surface, as it may contribute to ice or wet-snow build-up under certain conditions that may cause drag on takeoff or landing.

Wheels in a ski-wheel installation: Check the condition of the tires and the mounting hardware. Check the wheel hubs and the landing gear axle for cracks. Lubricate the wheel bearings with grease that will resist the cold winter temperatures and clean the wheel assembly.

Landing gear: Check the condition of landing gear struts, springs, mounting hardware and shock cords. Clean and lubricate the landing gear.

Wing Covers and Heaters

It is good practice to take along a set of wing covers to protect the wings from snow and ice build up. An engine heater will help get your engine to operating temperatures and reduce the wear and tear on engine parts as well as make it easier for your battery to turn your engine over for a good start in cold temperatures.

Wing Covers: Inspect all wing and fuselage covers for wear and tear. Repair as necessary. Replace any elastic shock cords that may be frayed or that show wear.

Space heaters: Check the condition and test the unit for proper functioning and efficiency. When preheating an engine, never leave it unattended.

Fire extinguisher: Check for weight of content, availability of charge under pressure (green indication) and certification. Why not have two available on board for safety!

Aircraft Equipment: Have a good knowledge of the overall condition of your aircraft prior to the first snowfall. Monitor any significant changes to the performance of your aircraft and its systems throughout the winter. Check the condition of the fuel caps and drains. Keep fuel tanks topped, as it reduces condensation in the tanks, which can lead to the formation of ice crystal and water that will clog your fuel lines and gascolator. Check your emergency locator transmitter (ELT) to make sure it is in proper working order, and make sure your batteries have not expired. It is also a good idea to take along a spare set of batteries. Check your oil cooler for leaks and cleanliness. Make sure that engine and cooler intake are restricted with the proper metal plates to prevent over-cooling of the oil and the engine. Start your winter flying with fresh oil and new filter. Check for the proper function of your oil pan heater, if installed.

Winter Survival Equipment: As you are well aware, the Canadian Aviation Regulations (CARs) require that the aircraft be equipped with the necessary emergency equipment whenever a pilot ventures in an area isolated from any dwelling or town. This is to provide the pilot and passengers with the minimum survival gear necessary until rescue arrives on the scene of the forced landing. CAR 602.61(1) states that, "No person shall operate an aircraft over land unless there is carried on board survival equipment, sufficient for the survival on the ground of each person on board, given the geographical area, the season of the year and the anticipated climatic variations, that provide the means for starting a fire, providing shelter, providing or purifying water and visually signaling distress." Subsection (1) does not apply to a balloon, a glider, a hang glider, a gyroplane or an ultralight airplane. It does not apply to an aircraft operated within 25 NM of an aerodrome when radio communications are maintained during the flight. Nevertheless, planning for an emergency is the best investment that you can make and consulting survival books and putting to good use some of the recommendations might change an emergency situation into a mildly uncomfortable, but very interesting outing. Know the enemies: 1) yourself, 2) injuries, 3) temperature, 4) disease. This list is not exhaustive but it is a good start. Your equipment must be able to provide you with the following: shelter, safety, warmth, ability to minimize injuries, food and signal.

Life Support Equipment: Collapsible Swede Saw, hatchet, axe, file, Vise-grip, slip-joint pliers, screwdriver set, light weight shovel (Snow shoes make good shovels). For the far north, a long saw or knife can help carve an igloo out of the hard packed snow. Large plastic sheet, 9 ft x 12 ft heavy gauge, coloured red or yellow. Small tent if possible. Waterproof matches, candle or fire starter, signal mirror, small compass, knife with multiple blades and accessories, insect repellent, mosquito net, whistle, 50 ft of 1/8 in. nylon rope and smoke flares. Camping supply stores are fully stocked with high quality complex carbohydrate and protein vacuum sealed or freeze dried meal packages, that are light weight, will last for years and are very nutritious. Seal items in a small plastic bag and store in a cooking pot.

Personal First Aid Kit: sealable plastic container, compress bandages, triangular bandage, roll of 2 in. tape, gauze pads, Aspirin, Advil, Band-Aids, razor blades, scissors, soap, purse-size Kotex, Kleenex, safety pins, small tube of antiseptic cream. We suggest strongly that you purchase an emergency kit from any one of the recognized national safety organizations. Did you know that you can live without it approximately: Air: 3 minutes. Body shelter: 6 hours in severe weather. Water: 3-6 days. Food: 3 weeks. Will to live: Unknown?

Winter flying has a lot to offer. Be safe and plan your outings well. Be ready to say, "I'm not going today!" Remember, the more time spent preparing for a winter outing, the less time you spend worrying about it.

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