Three Things Pilots Need When Flying in Cold Weather

Flying in warm and sunny weather is a pleasure. Well, usually — down here in Texas things can get a mite warm, but climbing a little higher and cracking a window is an acceptable solution. Things aren’t quite as simple when the weather turns cold. Over the years I’ve learned that there are three things that every pilot should have when flying in cold weather that could make things easier or even save your life.

Carbon Monoxide Sensor

Carbon monoxide is a serious threat for the average general aviation pilot. Even in the summer months CO poisoning can lead to a potentially deadly situation as I found out when I started experiencing symptoms while flying to Florida one week.

During the winter months CO poisoning is an even bigger threat when we pilots start cracking open the cabin air heater. In most general aviation aircraft the cabin air heater is simply a shroud surrounding the engine exhaust, exchanging the heat from the exhaust into the cabin while (hopefully) keeping the deadly gasses contained. That containment isn’t always perfect, and sometimes the deadly gas can leak into the heated air.

If you’re going to be using the heater you absolutely need a CO sensor of some sort. Even if your airplane is perfectly new it’s worth the $15 you spend on one of these physical sensors. It’s a small price to pay to potentially save your life.

Carbon Monoxide Sensor (~$15)

Thermal Underwear and Gloves

Even if you plan on using the cabin heater it’s not the greatest for keeping the temperature comfortable in the cabin. In fact, I’d suggest that it is an emergency option at best given how difficult it is to get the settings just right. Either you’re freezing or you’re boiling. Personally I just leave it closed the entire flight.

It also only works when the engine is running. No matter what you’re going to have to pre-flight the airplane and that means standing outside in freezing cold weather.

A solid investment if you plan on flying in cold weather is a set of thermal underwear and gloves. Even if you have a heavy coat you still might find yourself a bit cold, and there’s no gas stations in the air for you to pull over and warm up while flying. Again, it’s a small investment considering the avgas expenditure and one that will keep you comfortable the whole flight.

Long / Thermal Underwear

A Broom

Snow and ice. For those of us in the southern states it’s not something we see all that often, but for those pilots flying in the northern states it can be a serious problem. Especially if you keep your plane tied down outside.

Sure you can use your hand to try and get all of that lift spoiling clutter off your control surfaces, but a method that’s both faster and less likely to soak your gloves is to use a soft bristled broom.

Much like how just about everyone in New England who drives a car has an ice scraper, keeping a broom in the back of the airplane to dust off the wings after a winter snowfall is something that will greatly improve your experience and get you in the air faster.

Soft Sweeping Broom (~$30)

Nick Leghorn

Nick Leghorn is an instrument rated private pilot (ASEL), writer, and general techy nerd living in Austin, Texas.

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