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How Cold Is Too Cold?
I know winter is officially here when I start getting asked this question. With the recent cold snap, I have been addressing this topic a lot lately. The quick answer is that the flight school generally stops training if the temperature drops below 0 degrees Fahrenheit for airplanes and a little colder for helicopters. However, there are some exceptions and variables to consider when deciding what temperature to stop flying.
One consideration depends on the type of training that is taking place. The problem with flying in very low temperatures is that the equipment becomes brittle and more likely to damage. Therefore, if I am going to be staying in the traffic pattern or working on maneuvers requiring large adjustments in power settings, I want the temperature a little warmer. If I am going on a cross country or other training flights where the power settings are higher and constant, then flying with temperatures near 0 degrees is acceptable.
Another factor to consider is engine and cabin temperatures. At
Hummingbird the aircraft are either in a heated hangar or the engines are preheated with a Tanis or Reiff preheat system prior to starting. If I am in good graces with the line staff a space heater gets placed in the cabin prior my lessons. The aircraft have cabin heaters installed that will make the cabin comfortable during the flight with proper attire. Somewhere around 0 degrees the heaters can’t keep up and it can get brisk.
A more important concern that I have relates to the chance of an off field landing. When the temperatures drop below 0 degrees, it doesn’t take much wind to make it extremely dangerous to be waiting for help exposed to the elements. Due to this worst case scenario, I also find it necessary to look at wind chill when making a go no go decision.
Don’t let this season and the cold weather fool you! Winter provides some of the best weather of the year for flying. In a few minutes I will be on a lesson at 3000 feet. From this vantage point I will be able to see over 50 miles because there is almost no moisture in the air. The winds are calm and it will be completely smooth for the entire flight. The sun will be shining bright helping to warm the cockpit. I can’t think of a more enjoyable place to be.
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