A Pilot's Perspective.

By Barry Meek.

December 2012  

Some Random Winter Writing

     In the dead of the Canadian winter, most G.A. pilots have covered or hangared their airplanes for the long term.   Let’s face it, recreational flying for the most part, is a summertime activity.  So what do you do with all that spare time in winter?   Many people become “Snowbirds”.  They head south to warmer climates.  Those that stay home become creative deciding how to pass the time.  I asked a friend how he’d spent last winter at his home here on the west coast of Canada.  “I read a lot of books and burned a lot of wood,” he replied.  

        During the coldest months in Canada, we can get accustomed to our climate and feel the rest of the world comes to a freezing halt too.  But tuning in the Rose Bowl game on television reminds us that perpetual summer is a reality in some places.  Some things just don’t stop.  Aircraft owners have all made a trip to the mail box to find another A.D. which applies to their airplane that’s sitting in a frozen hangar.  Someone, somewhere, probably in a warm climate in the southwest U.S., has had an accident blamed on a faulty part on his plane, the same make and model you happen to own.  Now you need to service, inspect or replace that part too.  Maybe I’ve been lucky, having dodged a lot of those “bullets”, as the A.D.’s that showed up in my mailbox, almost always applied to serial numbers far removed from mine. 

            The service bulletins and A.D.’s also serve to add to our doubts about why we’re aircraft owners in the first place.  As if fuel, hangar and maintenance costs weren’t enough, these mandatory repairs can sometimes make the pilot decide to sell the airplane.  If you check around, there’s no shortage of airplanes to buy, and many are at fire-sale prices these days.  I believe it’s the result of the economy in general, as well as the fact that many of the older pilots are just fed up with the constant barrage of mandatory costs.  And it doesn’t seem to matter that you bought a newer airplane with the hope of minimizing the maintenance.  In fact there is already a Mandatory Service Bulletin out for the new Cessna 162 Skycatcher.  This one is to beef up the wing structure and requires the addition of a rib and other reinforcement at the wing attach points.  The good news about this particular bulletin is that it affects only 228 airplanes.

               One more thing while on the subject.  This might make you feel better.  Consider the maintenance the Commemorative Air Force does on its prized WW11 B-29 Superfortress, FiFi.  To keep it airworthy and flying in the various displays and airshows around the country costs them $10,000 and 100 hours of labor (volunteer) for every hour it flies!


 Danger Lurks in the Circuit.

                A fellow pilot who owns a Cessna 150, invited me along for a ride recently.  Attempting to set up a day when both of us had the time proved easier said than done.  And at this time of year, the west coast weather pretty well shuts down VFR flying until May or June.  But eventually, everything came together, and we managed to do it.   His airplane had just had its annual inspection. We all know that the first flight following a repair or inspection is quite possibly the time when something goes wrong.  Many pilots will take off and stay close to the airport.  They will be listening extra carefully for anything that’s not quite right.  With all that in his mind, my friend lined up for a few circuits.  We did one touch & go without incident, but on the second take-off, there was a slight “cough” in the engine.  Wisely, he cut the circuit short, quickly landed, and taxied back in the hangar. 

                Later when the mechanic had a chance to check it out, he declared it airworthy.  The diagnosis was “possible carb ice,” which made sense given the relatively cool temperature and high humidity the day of our 12-minute flight.  With the O-200 engine, you can’t be too careful when monitoring for carb ice.  It can surprise you even while in cruise power.  But the weather has again closed in and it may be some time before that diagnosis can be certain.    

               It wouldn’t hurt to take a few more precautions to stay ahead of icing, especially with the smaller aircraft engines.  While on approach for landing, keeping all the VASI or PAPI lights white, holding off on the flaps until you’re sure you’ve made the runway, and staying proficient with the forward slip, can minimize the danger of coming up short if the engine were to lose power or quit altogether.   Most airports have more than enough runway for small aircraft, so there’s no need to hit the numbers on every landing.  It’s something you might like to think about if you’re flying during the winter months.


 Plan Ahead for Summer Flying.

                Winter provides us with more time to take the ideas we’ve thought about all summer and act on them.  Often when I’m flying or just working around airplanes, something will come to mind about improvements I could make to equipment or accessories.  It might be a repair to the worn strap on my kneeboard.  Or a cup holder that might fit in a more convenient spot.  The night lights in the cockpit could be a little brighter.  The sun visor keeps slipping into the down position.  But all these things get pushed to a back burner during summer.  One item which I did a couple of years ago was to re-think my flight bag.  In the past, I carried a large brief case with all the gear, charts and books in it.  It went on every flight with me.  While on a week-long trip around Alberta and B.C. one summer, I was caught in bad weather and forced to walk over a mile in pouring rain from an unfamiliar airport to a motel.  The brief case became a boat anchor.  That night, I decided to make some changes to the way I stored and transported the items necessary to have on-board.  So the following winter I invested in an appropriate back pack, which was a huge improvement.  It could be carried hands-free, easily held the airplane-related things a pilot needs, and it was big enough to stuff a clean shirt, a rain poncho and toothbrush in.  I wondered why I hadn’t done the deed sooner!

                    Getting through winter doesn’t mean total disconnection from flying.  Now is the time to be making those improvements and changes you’ve considered for years.  It’s also a time to visit your library and find all the aviation books on the shelves.  Search the internet for flying adventures.   And, if you’ve not already done it, find yourself a flight simulator program.  Load it on the computer, and go flying.                                                                                    



Back to main page