When Hell Freezes Over

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So this is a winter twist: Being from California – and flying from California – we don’t deal with winter ops on a daily basis. Last night we flew into Bozeman Montana. All of the high risk factors were there: high elevation, mountainous, nighttime, freezing temps, snow, and marginal weather to shoot an approach.


winter airport


For the part 91 flyers, there really aren’t any regs in place to require checks and balances for safety. For part 135 and 121 pilots, there are many factors to consider. In our case, we use a FRAT (Flight Risk Assessment Tool) scoring application to check the risks associated with the flight. Combine that with visibility and ceiling requirements to shoot an approach, braking action (how well an aircraft can brake on the runway), and aircraft performance limitations such as wet versus dry landing data, compacted snow data etc. The weather as we were getting ready to shoot the approach was 2ºF, winds 270@9, 2000 feet overcast, 2 miles visibility with light snow. The ILS 12 approach was the obvious weapon of choice to get into BZN. With anti ice systems on, snow on the runway, unfavorable winds, poor visibility, snow, pilot fatigue of flying late at night, and night operations all play a roll into tasking the crew.


winter flying operations


Since I am typing this, the approach and landing were successful, but it was a challenging instrument approach and landing. We considered the braking action to be fair, as there as tight packed snow covering the runway. Snow equipment was on the runway and as soon as we called the tower and checked in, they had the equipment exit. This was an indication that they were doing all they could to keep the runway and taxiways clear. Where it became difficult, was when it came to ground operations. The taxiways were very hard to make out, as everything was plowed to 2 or 3-foot snow banks around the taxiways, but the actual taxiways had loose snow that was at least a foot. This provided a very difficult taxi to the ramp. The major shock was when we opened the cabin door. Nothing can prepare a California pilot for 1ºF temperatures and wind. Luckily we didn’t spend too much time outside, and we headed for the hotel room.

For an aircraft like the Citation XLS, and it being needed for a trip the next day, a hangar was a must. The temperatures we had, and with a low of -16ºF forecasted, we would severely cold soak the airplane overnight if we didn’t put it in a heated hangar. If the airplane were to be left outside with temperatures of about 18ºF and below we would have to empty the lavatory, remove all aircraft stock such as water, juice and sodas. The aircraft battery would need to be removed, all covers would have to be installed etc. This would also require us to warm the aircraft prior to flight using the APU for an extended period of time. If we would have left the aircraft out overnight with snow, and these incredibly low temps, we would have to most likely de-ice as surprisingly the snow seemed to be sticking.


Citation XLS


So if you are planning on operating in or out of a winter airport there are some things to consider. The cost of a hangar will often outweigh the stress of having to deal with the aircraft the next morning. Frozen brakes, broken hydraulic lines, frozen engine fan, and having to de-ice will take time to deal with, and may be ground the aircraft until temps can warm up. Bring warm clothes! There are no amount of clothes I can bring from my closet that would deal with temps like these, but do what you can. These are temps that if you stay outside for a small period of time without proper winter wear, you could get sick, frostbite or worse, and that is no joke. For the professional pilots out there, plan accordingly! Hopefully you don’t have to twist your managements arms to convince them to hangar the aircraft but it really is worth it.

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