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10 Ways Cold, Winter Air Affects Your Airplane

With temperatures in the Midwest falling will below 0 this week, here's what you need to know about how cold air affects your airplane.

1) Tire Pressure Decreases

Cold temperatures will result in a decrease of air pressure within your tires. If you last added air into your tires during the summer, it might be time to check that tire pressure!

Corey Komarec

2) Longer Warmup Times

Before takeoff, you'll need to ensure the engine (more specifically the oil) has heated up within limits. The colder the temperature of the air, the longer the warmup will take.

Swayne Martin

3) Anti/De-Ice Holdover Times

If your aircraft needs anti-ice or de-icing fluid, colder temperatures result in shorter holdover times. When your holdover time expires, you'll need to re-spray the airplane.

USAF

4) Lower Density Altitude

More air mass flowing over your wing allows you to generate more lift, and more oxygen mass in your cylinder allows you to burn more fuel - meaning more power. Increasing air density increases your engine, propeller and wing's performance. Decreasing air density decreases performance.

The colder the air, the denser it becomes. On extremely cold days, you might even find yourself flying with a density altitude well below sea level!

5) Turbocharged Engines Might Over-Boost With Full Power

If you're flying a turbocharged airplane that was calibrated at a warm, summer temperature, be careful when departing from cold airports. Adding the same amount of throttle could over-boost the engine.

6) Preheating Procedures

On just about any piston-engine plane, pre-heating the engine must be thorough and extensive. If only one part of the engine is properly heated, other components could remain cold, resulting in congealed oil clogging other parts of the system.

Boldmethod

7) Propeller Governors

The colder the air, the colder the oil. And if you're flying a constant-speed prop, the cold oil will result in noticeable sluggish propeller control.

8) Standard Shroud Heaters Won't Warm Quickly

If you're flying a piston airplane with a standard muffler and shrouded heating system, cold air will make it tough to get the airplane warmed up. Until the engine significantly heats the muffler, you'll need to keep your gloves on inside the plane!

9) Overloading Aircraft Packs

On larger airplanes with packs, or temperature control units, cold temperatures can result in overloading. The packs will try their best to heat cold air to the desired temperature setting, and if unsuccessful, or the air is too cold, the packs may overload.

Envoy Airlines

10) What About "6 Pack" Instruments?

Flying an airplane with vacuum-powered instruments? You may want to spend extra time heating the inside of your cabin and cockpit. As vacuum powered air spins the gyros at a high rate of speed, they'll be sluggish until the gyro's lubrication is heated. Spinning gyros too quickly at too cold of temperatures could result in instrument damage.

jay-jerry

How else do cold temperatures affect your airplane? Tell us in the comments below!

Swayne Martin

Swayne is an editor at Boldmethod, certified flight instructor, and an Embraer 145 First Officer for a regional airline. He graduated as an aviation major from the University of North Dakota in 2018, holds a PIC Type Rating for Cessna Citation Jets (CE-525), and is a former pilot for Mokulele Airlines. He's the author of articles, quizzes and lists on Boldmethod every week. You can reach Swayne at swayne@boldmethod.com, and follow his flying adventures on his YouTube Channel.

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