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Wing FrostThe clocks have changed, geese are on the move and the first windscreen frost has needed attention.

We all know the dangers of leaving frost on lift surfaces or flying into icing conditions in a non-equipped aircraft but there are other considerations we need to be aware of. The colder temperatures and the inclement weather should have our thinking tuned to the various aircraft systems and parts which may be affected.


The poor weather in Winter means aircraft fly less often, even flying school aircraft, can spend some weeks without moving. During these periods aircraft parked outside are subjected to very moist air, which enters every space an aircraft has.

 

ON THE GROUND

Private aircraft owners in particular may periodically ground run an engine to remove any potential moisture. This is an important task however, to ensure water boils off the oil temperature needs to be in excess of 170F / 77C and that isn't normally achieved by ground running. If you can fly the aircraft. 

Ice can affect linkages so the 'full and free movement' checks are particularly important.

Check for water ice in the bottom of the propeller spinner or on the inside of control surfaces.

Water in the fuel tanks is almost certain so ensure you drain them properly. Nothing affects your enjoyment of flying more quickly than a rough running or stopped engine. 

Taught cables can snap. Cables are often tightened in the Summer and may well need to be adjusted for the Winter. 

Check for mud and other debris collecting / building up in the wheel spats 

Check your cabin heater is working as expected. The changing air temperatures in flight may require some quick demisting and it's pretty miserable flying when you are freezing cold. Better to be focused on the flight and not focused on how cold you are.

Be aware of the runway surface conditions on the performance of the aircraft for taking off AND landing.

Fly into improving weather conditions and plan as though you will be diverting, before you leave. It's good to know the wider general forecast for the duration of your flying in the area you will be flying in and not just at the airfield(s) you are visiting.

 

IN THE AIR

Carburettor icing is much more likely even on a lovely Winter's day. Look out when the ground is moist, mist or fog is about, if it is raining and be cautious flying just below the base of clouds.

In flight if you see ice forming on the wings (on the basis you remember to be looking out for it!) fly into warmer air i.e reduce height. If the ice is there or forming because you are in freezing rain then land as soon as possible. Remember ICE on the wings = LESS LIFT so your landing speed will need to be 20% higher to help compensate. 

Take something warm to wear, if you are unlucky enough to require a forced landing you will be grateful for it. 

 

The CAA have a great publication in the SafetySense series - leaflet No3 Winter Flying, you can download it here

 

Remember it is much better to be desperately wishing you were flying, rather than desperately wishing you weren't. 

 

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