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Three Ways To Preheat Your Airplane This Winter

ExpressJet sponsored this story. Check out the full series here. And, if you're ready for an airline career, check out ExpressJet.
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According to maintenance expert Mike Busch, starting a cold aircraft engine without preheating can cause as much piston wear as 500 hours of normal operation.

Airplane parts are expensive, so it's a good idea to preheat your plane before you head out for a flight on the next cold winter day. But how should you preheat your plane? And when should you do it? Here are three of the most popular methods.

1) Forced-Air Preheater

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If you ask for a preheat at your FBO, chances are they'll use a forced-air cart. These carts are usually powered by diesel, gas, or propane, and they can kick out quite a bit of heat. Almost all of them vent the engine exhaust separately from the air going through the heating tube, so it's safe to use them to preheat your engine and your cabin. After all, while the goal is to have a warm engine, having toasty seats (and avionics) is a good thing as well.

There are a few problems with forced-air carts, however. First, they don't evenly heat your engine, and you'll typically find that the front of the engine ends up being warmer than the back. When you have engine parts at different temperatures, it also means that they have expanded (or contracted) at different rates as well. This can lead to more wear-and-tear on startup.

The second problem is that if you need a preheat, chances are somebody else does too. That means that unless your FBO has several forced-air heaters, you'll could be waiting in line to use it, and your time to use it may be limited.

When is my engine warm?
You can usually tell by feeling different parts of the engine with your hand. If the cylinders and crank case feel warm to the touch, you're probably good to go.

Pros: Available at almost any cold-weather FBO.
Cons: Doesn't heat evenly.
Cost: $15-30 per preheat. Sometimes free if you purchase fuel at the FBO.

2) Electric Heater

Tanis Aircraft Systems

An even better way to preheat your plane is with an electric heating system. There's only one catch: your plane needs to have one installed.

Tanis Aircraft Products makes the most well known electric preheaters, but there are several others on the market as well.

The preheaters work by attaching electrical heating elements to the cylinders, oil pan, and crank case of your engine. When you plug the system into an outlet (they make them for 115V and 230V), your whole engine starts the slowly warm up. It's not an instantaneous solution, but if you leave it plugged in for an hour or two, you'll have a fairly warm and happy engine. For maximum warmness, Tanis recommends that you leave the system plugged in for at least 6 hours to reach 'thermal equilibrium'.

Pros: Easy to use. Heats evenly if you give it enough time.
Cons: Not installed on many airplanes.
Cost: Starting at $700 per system.

3) Heated Hangar

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We've saved the best preheating option for last. So why is putting your airplane in a heated hangar the best? Because everything is the same temperature. Your engine, oil, avionics, seats - everything is the same temp.

Pulling your plane into a heated hanger starts the warmup process immediately, but it also takes the most time. How long is that? Depending on how cold your plane is, it can take up to 8-12 hours for everything to reach hangar temperature. But even if you only have a few hours, you'll get the warmup process started, which is better than nothing.

Another problem with heated hangar space is that it can be hard to find. And if you do find it, you may need line personnel to move other planes out of the way to make room for yours.

Pros: The most even heating you can get.
Cons: Not always available. Takes the most time.
Cost: Many FBOs will rent overnight heated hangar space for $25-$75 per night.

When Should You Preheat?

Now that you're ready to preheat your plane, the last question is, when should you do it? Most pilots and mechanics agree that when the temp drops below 32F, it's a good idea to start preheating your plane. And when the temp drops below 15F, you should preheat if at all possible, to keep everything running smoothly.

Just remember, if you need a winter coat to preflight your plane, it could probably use a preheat before you launch yourself into the air.

Whether you're starting your airline career or looking to make the move from another job, check out what ExpressJet has to offer here.

And when you're within 6 months of earning your flight time, apply to ExpressJet and get ready for the right seat of a jet.

Colin Cutler

Colin is a Boldmethod co-founder, pilot and graphic artist. He's been a flight instructor at the University of North Dakota, an airline pilot on the CRJ-200, and has directed development of numerous commercial and military training systems. You can reach him at colin@boldmethod.com.

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