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5 Fall Preflight Items To Watch Out For

Fall brings crisp, clear flying to pilots across the country. But before you go, watch out for these critical preflight items.

1) Frost

As nights get cooler and the temperature drops below 0 Celcius/32 Fahrenheit, frost will start to condense onto surfaces. Why is frost dangerous for you?

Frost on your wings or control surfaces can adversely affect your plane's flight characteristics. Frost buildup on the smooth surface of a wing will disrupt its' airflow, significantly reducing the lift your plane can generate.

How do you get rid of frost? Don't use a broom! The FAA recommends that you do one of the following:

  • Use wing covers to stop the build-up of frost
  • Wait for the frost to melt
  • Store your plane in a heated hangar
  • De-ice your plane. A squirt bottle of TKS fluid does a great job removing small amounts of frost.
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2) Exhaust Pipe

In the fall you are likely to turn on your aircraft's heater at some point. When your heater works as it's designed, it's a safe way to keep you comfortable. But if there is any sort of damage to the heater shroud or exhaust manifold, it's possible for exhaust fumes to leak into the heating vent, and then into your cabin.

One of the simplest ways to detect damage is to give your (cool) exhaust pipe a light knock. If you hear a ringing sound (like a bell) then there are likely no cracks in the pipe or manifold, but if you hear a dull thud then there could be damage.

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3) Oil levels

The cold temperatures of fall and winter cause your plane's oil to become thicker. Thicker oil breaks down at a faster rate than normal, so monitor your plane's oil levels closely and consider bringing an extra quart in your baggage compartment for your next cross country flight.

4) Gloves

During your preflight, it's easy to get distracted by numb fingers, rush, and miss something. Invest in some quality gloves to keep your hands warm while preflighting your plane. It's simple, but often overlooked.

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5) Battery voltage checks

In a cold environment, aircraft batteries have diminished performance - a result of the chemistry make up of lead acid used in general aviation. Chilly temperatures slow the reactions inside your plane's batteries, causing excess discharge while it sits on the ramp. This means you could be walking out to a dead battery, or a battery lacking the charge to start the engine.

To lower your chances of being stuck out in the cold with a dead battery, check your battery's charge in your preflight, and if possible, keep your plane in a heated hanger the night before your flight.

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Nicolas Shelton

Nicolas is a private pilot from Southern California. He is currently studying at Purdue University, where he is working on advanced pilot ratings. You can reach him at nicolas@boldmethod.com.

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