As summer begins to wind down and the temperatures start to drop, aircraft owners have to begin thinking about whether they want to store their plane away until spring. Aircrafts that are left outside or near the coast of lakes, oceans or rivers are at the greatest risk of damage during the cold winter season. Those that are in dry parts of the country are not at as of great of a risk, but they’re not completely safe.
It’s always preferable for aircraft owners to store their planes in hangers for the winter, but understandably, this is not always possible. If you won’t have access to a hangar this winter, make sure you know how to prepare your airplane so it’s ready to fly again in the spring. Follow these tips:
Protecting Your Engine
According to Lycoming, an engine manufacturer, corrosion can begin to build up on the walls of new engines after just a few days of inactivity. However, if you have logged at least 50 hours with your engine, you should have a bit more time before corrosion begins to appear. Either way, your engine needs to be preserved if you do not plan on flying anywhere over the winter.
The exact preservation process may differ depending on the manufacturer of your plane’s engine. However, there is a standard procedure that is typically followed by aircraft owners during the winter. First, drain the lubricating oil and replace it with a preservative oil. Do not shut the engine down until you can get the oil temperature to 180 degrees Fahrenheit. If you don’t plan ahead and you’re prepping your plane after temperatures outside have already dropped, you should aim for at least an oil temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit.
Next, remove the spark plugs and spray in the preservative oil you used in the step above. Replace the spark plugs once you’re done. If you live in an area with high humidity, you may want to use dehydrator plugs instead of putting the spark plugs back in after you’ve sprayed the preservative oil.
Then, install dehydrating agents to protect the intake and exhaust passages throughout the winter. Any hole which leaves the engine exposed to environmental elements should be sealed before you leave your plane.
If you remove the engine from the plane for the winter, be sure to store it in an airtight container that is packed with dehydrating agents.
Polish the Metal Surfaces
When was the last time your plane was polished? If you don’t plan on seeing your plane until spring, it’s best to do a quick polish with Bright Work polishes before you part ways for the winter. This is done so the dirt, debris and corrosion that could be on the metal surfaces already does not worsen over the upcoming months. Plus, there’s no better feeling than being reunited with your shiny and clean plane in the spring. But if you’ve recently polished your plane, you won’t need to do it again before the spring, since the surfaces should still be fairly clean.
Cover the Surfaces
If you are not storing your plane in a hangar for the winter, it will be exposed to sun, moisture, and perhaps ice or snow, depending on where you live. All of these environmental elements can damage your plane when it is unprotected. Reduce the chance that your surfaces will be damaged during the winter by properly covering your windows, canopy, prop blades and tail.
Protect Against Animals
When temperatures drop, animals look for a warm place to crawl into for protection—but you do not want this warm place to be part of your plane. Be sure to thoroughly vacuum the interior of your plane to remove any food crumbs that could attract rodents or bugs while you’re away. Then, walk around your aircraft and make sure all holes are plugged so the animals have nothing to crawl into. Pilot tube and static vent covers will work best when it comes to keeping animals, insects and dirt away from your aircraft.
Keep the Tank Full
It may seem illogical to keep a full tank of gas in your airplane when you don’t plan on using it for a few months, but it actually helps prevent damage if you have a rubber flexible fuel bladder. When your tank is full of gas, moisture cannot condense, so you won’t have to worry about corrosion or other water damage within the fuel tank. A full tank can also help reduce the risk of the tank cracking in the winter.
Finally, be sure to properly tag the propeller so others know your plan has been preserved for the season and the propeller should not be turned on. This is the final step you should take before kissing your aircraft goodbye until temperatures warm up.
Now that you know what you should do to protect your plane, there’s one thing you should also know to avoid while your plane is stored away. After you have preserved your plane, it can be tempting to visit it midway through the winter and take it on a ground run. In fact, many inexperienced aircraft owners may be under the impression that this benefits the plane by keeping it somewhat active in the winter. But, going on a ground run can actually be harmful for your plane. During an actual flight, the engine heats up to a uniform temperature, but it never reaches this state during a ground run and the result is uneven heat through the engine, which can be damaging. Resist temptation and don’t use your plane until you can take it on an actual flight.
Getting your aircraft ready for winter takes a little bit of time and elbow grease, but it will pay off in the long run. When you take the time to closely follow these tips, you will be able to take your first flight without any issues once spring rolls around.