Owning an Airplane During the Winter

Pippa before her new paint!

Pippa before her new paint!

One of the decisions every plane owner has to make is whether to tie down the plane outside or rent a hanger. The most compelling factor is typically the price difference. I know when I first got Pippa, back in 2003, the money saved by tying down outside allowed improvements and additional flight time. And back then Pippa’s paint was not in the best of shape, making the choice a bit easier.

covered up

Pippa covered up…

But, tying down Pippa outside requires some additional cost beyond renting the tie down space. Firstly, Pippa leaks when it rains. So to prevent or at least delay corrosion, a good cover is a must.   A good cover is one that covers from the cowl joint, in the front, over all windows, the main door opening – a great source of leaks – and finally the baggage compartment door. To leave the cover on in high winds requires a tight fit and multiple straps. Pippa’s cover has four straps holding it in position with each strap having a bungee cord attached, providing a good, tight fit.

Secondly, birds love Pippa. To protect Pippa from this threat requires cowl plugs, to keep the birds from nesting in the engine compartment and tail cover to keep them from nesting in the tail. While you might think this is extreme, I have actually had birds build a nest in the tail in less than one night and have that nest become entangled in the stabilizer trim drum. Fixing this problem required removal of the tailcone, disposal to the nest and then repeated full up to full down trim, removing some nest on each travel until the plane was flyable.

Pic 3Thirdly, like all planes Pippa needs a good pitot static cover. And since mud daubers like to build nests in the under wing drains a couple of tennis balls, slit to fit over the drain will minimize the problem.

Lastly, to fly in the late fall and early spring, a good set of wing covers is necessary. With no covers a day of flight would typically start with an hour or so of wing and tail defrosting.

All this protection wouldn’t be that bad if the covers didn’t require replacement every 3-4 years. So while tying down is still less expensive than a hangar, it has its own expense.

That brings me to this year, the worse winter on record with over 100 inches of snow. The only good part of this snow was that it was primarily delivered in the month of February. So for 5 weeks, there was no flying. In fact, I understand that our local FBO didn’t sell a single gallon of fuel during the month of February.

Pic 4After a 6 week hiatus (I didn’t fly the week before the stormy weather because of a bad night’s sleep), I needed to fly. In fact anyone that spends time around me, needed me to fly.

Now, cleaning out 100 inches of snow around Pippa would have been impossible, but luckily snow settles so there wasn’t much more than 36 inches around the plane. Additionally, I had been paying the FBO to shovel out in front of Pippa but given the amount of snow, they were unable to keep up with it, at least not when their primary focus was to keep the airport open.

Pic 5Armed with a metal roofing shovel, designed to cut roofing nails and 2 snow shovels – one for pushing show around and the other from throwing snow – I drove to the airport with hopes for a short flight. A mere three hours later, Pippa was able to power out of her tomb of snow. Then it was time for a complete, thorough preflight inspection and update of the GPS database.Pic 5

I was then off for a short flight to Martha’s Vineyard for a very late breakfast. With calm winds, I was able to depart 14, opposite of landing traffics saving a back taxi the length of the runway that would have been necessitated by the narrow taxiways and high snow banks made by the plows. Neither of which is well suited for a low wing plane, like Pippa.

On return it only required another couple of hours of cleaning, to put Pippa back and help from friends to push her back and tie her down.

Pic 7Now you’d think that those with hangers would be out flying, but they’ve been plowed into their hangers. Unless shoveled out immediately after the snow, these hangers have a pile of cement like snow in front of them. In fact even if maintained shoveled out, the snow falling from the roof presents another obstacle.

So do I want a hanger – you bet I do! I’ve been on the waiting list now since last year’s bad winter and I really hope I have to deal with snowplow and roof leavings next year. But for right now, spring appears to be on the way with temperatures in the 40s. I’m looking forward to spring flying and Oshkosh in July.

-Fly Safe, TNery1B9


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