Winter flying means it’s cold outside and that means our airplanes WANT to perform better for us! Yet, sometimes people struggle to see the forest through the trees… Similarly, pilots (student and certificated) sometimes miss the obvious! Today is the first day of winter and here in the Northeast it’s been chilly and cool, no big snow yet in New Bedford, which is okay with me, but chilly none-the-less…
When I walk out to the airplane during the winter I look like the Michelin man (see picture below) and that isn’t a comment on my size… When it’s cold out, we’ll say less that forty degrees you can lose feeling in your fingers very quickly. Many pilots will walk out to the airplane, and freeze during their preflight inspection, constantly rubbing their bare hands together and blowing into their clenched fists to stay warm. With just a pair of gloves a pilot will prevent a lot of abuse by the cold with very little effort.
It’s common knowledge that you lose body heat quickly from your head… Thus, wearing a hat will help you maintain your body temperature, which if it fluctuates too much, can have grave consequences, especially if you’re doing something that requires a high level of mental ability and skill…. Like flying for example! Plus, why risk missing something during a rushed preflight inspection? It’s possible that with a good jacket, hat and pair of gloves you will be able to spend a little more time inspecting the airplane, potentially uncovering a hazard that you might have missed during a rushed inspection.
What if something happens and we end up in a farmer’s field? When it’s forty, thirty, twenty degrees outside without a hat, gloves and jacket you can find yourself in big trouble, very quickly! During the winter I always fly in a long sleeve pull over, sweatshirt, etc… The idea is that I have multiple layers beyond a shirt and undershirt. Additionally, I have a big warm jacket in the back seat!
So many people that fly miss the simple things, like always wearing shoes that lace up! Why, you ask is this important? Well, I;m glad you asked! Have you ever walked around your house/apartment in your bare feet and stepped on a pebble or Lego block or something small that wasn’t supposed to be there? It was a pain and literally caused you to stop and say, “Ouch.” Albeit maybe in a little more animated manner depending on the type of Lego block… Either way your in your comfortable, warm, protected home and this very small instance caused you to come out of the moment and alter your actions to react to the discomfort.
Now picture yourself having just made an emergency landing and quickly exiting an aircraft. You lose your slip on shoe (or shoes if you’re really unlucky) in the process of escaping the danger of the airframe… Yes, you’ll be running on adrenalin, but do you realize how useless you’ll be if you don’t have anything beyond a sock/pair of socks to protect your foot/feet? Event basic movements in an overgrown forest, field, etc… will become difficult and painful, slowing you down and causing you to focus on this more-than-an-inconvenience rather than the larger situation at hand and your safety.
Often times I try to wear hiking boots whenever I can while flying. Usually they aren’t as comfortable as my running shoes or boat shoes but, if called upon I know they will perform. Being water proof and capable of handling, literally whatever terrain I encounter, I know that this is one basic necessity I won’t have to worry about. That and hiking boots are usually waterproof, which especially when it’s cold outside, can go a long way in protecting your body and keeping your core temperature where it belongs!
Now let’s add on to that the fact that it is freezing outside. You had a big puffy warm jacket, but you took it off and stuffed it in the backseat because the plane has (somewhat workable) heat and you’d be fine especially with the sun beating down on the cockpit windshield, so you’re short sleeve t-shirt would suffice… This is exactly why I always wear layers and always wear long sleeves, even when it’s somewhat warm during the day but the nighttime low temperature would be uncomfortable, because who knows how long you’ll be out there…
We strive to be as pro-aviation as we can here at ReviewBeforeFlight, but that doesn’t mean that the reality of what we do- flying, should escape up… Remember, it’s better to need it and not have it, than need it and not have it. Similarly, the layering approach allows you to moderate your temperature based on the situation…
With all the fancy gadgets you’ve probably purchased during your flight training and flying, likely some of the ones that will be the least expensive around a good hat, pair of gloves and pull over long sleeve shirt/hoodie to wear while you fly. Typically during the winter I will bring the following:
- Baseball cap with a brim to protect my face from the sun
- Wool cap to cover my ears
- Sweatshirt with hood which provides protection for the head/neck, plus you’ll always have long sleeves
- Sunglasses, remember if there is a snow pack the light is coming down and reflecting up at you too!
- Winter jacket that is weather resistant/proof (rain, snow, etc…), preferably with a removal inner layer which can be used as a pillow if rolled up for an unplanned overnight
- Weather proof gloves that extend beyond the wrist to provide optimal protection and not leave a gap between the cuff of your jacket and the end of your glove
- Water-proof hiking boots, these will keep your feet warm and prevent the issues that can accompany wet feet for an extended period of time
The point of this post is not to scare anyone from going flying with talk of off-airport forced landings. However, it is vitally important to realize that even though the odds are very low, this is a real possibility… Likely, you’ll never have needed to think about the concepts I present here beyond staying warm (wearing a jacket, hat and gloves) during a preflight inspection, but you never know… Remember the simple saying, it is better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it… Moreover, it is highly likely that you already own all of these items I have just highlighted, which means the only thing you have to do is bring them along when you go flying!
-Fly Safe, @MTElia1B9