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Is Your Aircraft Winterized?

by H. Dean Chamberlain
Reprinted with permission from FAA Aviation News

This article provides a quick overview of some tips on how to prepare your aircraft for winter flight operations. Although not all-inclusive, this article is designed to remind everyone flying in winter conditions or planning on flying to areas of the country with winter conditions of the need to properly winterize your aircraft. Conversely, if you fly from cold winter conditions to milder conditions, you may need to service your aircraft for the warmer conditions. Finally, if you don't plan on operating your aircraft as frequently as you did during the summer months, you may want to review your aircraft's storage or flyable storage servicing recommendations as appropriate.

The first step in winterizing your aircraft is to review your aircraft's flight manual or pilot operating handbook. If your aircraft is very old, its documentation may not contain as much information as newer aircraft, but it is a starting point. How you winterize your aircraft depends upon its construction. For example, since most general aviation aircraft engines are air cooled, basic engine care may be limited to using the appropriate grade of oil based upon the expected temperature range. Some aircraft may require installation of an air-inlet restrictor plate to reduce the amount of cold air flowing through the engine and/or oil cooler. If your aircraft has control cables rather than push-pull control tubes, you may need to adjust your cables to compensate for contraction due to the cold temperatures.

In reviewing a selection of aircraft operating manuals, the use of aircraft preheat was recommended based upon outside air temperature. Although most people think about preheating the engine compartment, preheating the cockpit reduces the wear on gyros and other temperature sensitive components.

As in any type of aircraft operation, the aircraft manufacturer's guidance outlines the procedures to be followed. In case the published guidance does not answer a particular question you might have, your trusted aircraft maintenance technician should be able to provide the correct answer. Aircraft manufacturer's service bulletins and FAA advisory circulars are also good sources of general winter service information.

The following is a list of some of the more common items to check depending upon type and complexity of aircraft involved.

  • Air filter checked
  • Aircraft heater (furnace) inspected
  • Aircraft washed and wax as appropriate
  • Alternator and drive belt checked
  • Anti-icing system checked
  • Battery system checked
  • Belts and hoses checked
  • Brakes checked
  • Carbon Monoxide detector checked/new installed
  • Control cable tension adjusted
  • Correct grade of engine oil installed
  • Correct grade of lubricants and grease
  • Deicing system checked
  • Flashlight and batteries checked
  • Fuel additives as required
  • Fuel strainer checked
  • Heater shroud/exhaust inspection for no leaks
  • No water in the fuel system
  • Oil dilution system checked
  • Oil filter checked
  • Oxygen cylinder checked for correct pressure
  • Pitot system checked
  • Propeller checked
  • Propeller deicing system checked
  • Shimmy damper checked
  • Shock struts checked
  • Survival gear as appropriate checked
  • Tire pressure checked
  • Windows cleaned and checked for cracks
  • Windshield anti-ice system checked
  • Winterization kit installed as appropriate