Wing Covers for Icy Weather:
An Interview with Ron Kensey, President of Kennon Aircraft Covers
In the record-breaking severe weather of this winter, airplane owners fortunate enough to have a hangar definitely are getting their rent money’s worth. For the rest of us, AVweb recently talked to aircraft cover guru Ron Kensey of Kennon Aircraft Covers in Sheridan, Wyoming, about using wing covers in icy weather, and the pros and cons of using various types of covers (mesh vs. nylon vs. canvas).
How has your winter been, Ron?
Winter flyers around the world have experience a little bit of everything. An unusual amount of freezing rain and ice that has extend much further north than usual. Ice fog even tornadoes and baseball size hail in the south central U.S. I find myself glued to the Weather Channel.
What kind of covers do you recommend for freezing rain and hail?
A hangar. Freezing rain is no fun, no matter what cover you use. Solid covers freeze solidly to the wing and tail, and our while our mesh covers don't freeze as solidly to the surface and are easier to get off, they leave a residual dot pattern of ice.
That's not good.
No it's not, but there are trade offs between solid and mesh covers. Our Spoiler Mesh Wing/Tail covers are made from a very fine mesh fabric. The mesh is as fine as the mesh that you find on the back of some baseball caps. Frozen precipitation like frost and snow is larger that the mesh opening so the cover catches it before it goes through. Freezing rain on the other hand can fall through the mesh and freeze on the wing. The degree in which this happens depends on the temperature. Still 8 out of 10 of the wing cover sets we sell are made from mesh. They are our most popular winter cover.
How can that be, it seems like it should be the other way around if solid wing covers prevent anything from sticking to the wing?
Solid wing covers are not the perfect solution either. Solid covers freeze solidly to the wing. Both from the standpoint of ice on the top and trapped freezing condensation that builds up between the cover and wing. Besides, you have to baby-sit solid wing covers when you expect high winds.
Are you saying that the covers might be blown off by the wind?
Yes, the wing of the airplane is poised and ready to fly. If the wind is strong enough the plane will fly, whether it is tied down or not, it will fly. Our covers will fly off first because no matter how snugly the covers fit, the wind can work its way between the cover and the wing and blow the cover off. That's why we recommend removing the cover if you expect winds in excess of 35 mph. So you need to really evaluate the normal winter conditions for your area.
So if you routinely get freezing rain without a lot of wind you would recommend solid covers?
Yes, but on the other hand if you are in a part of the world that gets cold and stays cold, the mesh covers are the way to go because the wind blows right through them.
The other thing that is nice is that the soft fabric spoilers sewn on the leading edge of the cover disrupt the airflow over the wing and prevent the plane from developing any lift. Here's a great letter I received recently from a customer up in Alaska:
University of Alaska
I am a glaciologist in Alaska, and I do a fair bit of flying around the mountains of Alaska and Canada in my plane to study different glaciers. I also do quite a bit of flying for personal use - skiing, mountaineering and hiking.
I am sending you photos of my plane (a 160 HP PA-12, on wheel skis for much of the summer) up on a glacier in Alaska from last summer. We were working in the mountains out of Seward, Alaska, studying the Harding Icefield. We needed to stay overnight on the glacier to get some measurements, so I flew a couple of trips in, with a total of three people. We planned on staying over one night, and coming out the next day. The weather forecast was for decent flying - partly cloudy and a few late in the day rain showers. So off we went.
That night an unforecast storm came in, with strong winds, blowing snow and 0-0 visibility. The storm raged on for many days, pinning us down for 8 days. Needless to say, we got a bit hungry - my survival food didn't actually fill three stomachs for such a long time. Our tent was ripped apart by the winds, we dug into a snow cave and built a snow wall for some shelter. All in all, it was a major storm, like one you might expect high on a mountain while climbing, but not one we were expecting, especially with an airplane to worry about.
I had not brought along much to anchor the plane to the glacier with, but I did take the Kennon Spoiler wing covers. The wind was blowing 40+ mph for days, with periods of 50-60 mph - but my plane will fly below 40 ! (we were blown off our feet at times.) We buried the skis in snow to help hold the plane down, but this wouldn't have stopped the plane from.blowing away in the strong winds. I spent a few sleepless nights sitting in the plane at the controls, hoping I could save the plane by flying it into the ground should a gust try to lift it. But, the amazing thing was - the plane didn't fly away!! The wing covers worked - they spoiled the air flow over the wings as advertised.
By the end of the storm, the plane was nearly buried, as in the photos. We were able to dig it out, clean out all the snow-clogged places like the engine, the tail and the flaps, and fly out to the nearest restaurant after our eight day forced "camping trip". I give all the credit to the Kennon wing covers - the plane was still there ! Thanks for making such a useful and effective product. I now recommend these products to any pilot I know who needs new wing covers.
After so much use in the summers in the strong sunlight, my covers are now needing to be replaced. The fabric has become very weak and tears easily. So I am in the process of ordering a new pair. Who is your Alaskan distributor these days? How much are the wing covers only for a PA- 1 8 wing with Hendricks tip extensions?
Please let me know - and thanks for such a good product.
You would be surprised how many letters like this we get from grateful owners whose planes have been saved from destruction by our Spoiler Mesh Wing Covers.
That definitely sounds like the extra protection from the wind is worth it.
I think it is and that is why our Spoiler Mesh Covers outsell solid covers. The insurance factor, some people use them year-round. If you get freezing rain a half dozen times a winter and you don't need to fly, then I always suggest the mesh. In fact I feel so strongly about it that I would like our customers to try the mesh first, and if it doesn't work out for them, return them for the solid nylon. Not many people have had to take me up on my offer.
What about year-round covers?
The only true year-round cover is our Sunblocker Acrylic Canvas cover. It is made from Sunbrella which is excellent in the sun. It also breathes so moisture won't trapped between the cover and the wing. We don't sell our nylon covers for use in the summer because nylon, even with UV inhibitors, does not withstand the sun and it traps moisture.
Any new developments you can tell us about?
A few surprises, but I'm not ready to talk about them yet. Most of our product innovations come from the needs of our customers. We are on a program of continuous improvement with every cover. We feel that that provides us with a competitive advantage. By the time a competitor copies our idea, its already out of date because we have improved upon it.