Whoever Said Winter Flying Is Fun Was Daft

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The profoundly concerned TV meteorologist warned of dangerously cold temperatures sweeping across the Midwest, conjuring Dr. Zhivago images of Cossacks on horseback and Lara Guishar in her Ice Palace with Omar Sharif to keep her warm and free from reality. A nice try to glam up winter, but it failed. I despise the season. Hate the snow, ice and reporters feigning shock that it gets cold in Iowa in January.  Except for Bing Crosby music a few days in December when single-malt flows freely at any temperature, winter holds no appeal for me. Bah!

Pilots further north pretend to enjoy the cold, strutting about as they do in their EAA lederhosen when it’s 15 below, before climbing into Cubs, Champs and T-crates to skitter across concrete-hard lakes, dodging ice-fishing houses and reporters taping breathless exclusives about winter wonderland whadda-whadda-whadda, back to you, Kimberly.

“Do you put your Aeronca Champ on skis?” I’ve been asked every year for more than 35 since that fateful day I left California, and where I used to reply, “Not yet,” I now answer, “Right after I install the Polar Vortex Generators.” I’ve flown on skis. It’s fun in a FAA-approved way that requires no additional certification or training (kinda) but explores new dimensions to Loss of directional control (LODC), mainly because taxiing on boards without brakes across packed snow instead of wheels on dry pavement means you need to plan turns—and stops—way ahead. Much like seaplane ops. Although usually colder, and it’s that cold factor that fosters defiance and creativity.

Preheating air-cooled engines on stupidly cold days is mandatory, and homespun methods abound for nearly achieving success. Most involve electric heaters that suck more energy for one flight than your house uses in a year1… but you can’t fly your house so don’t feel guilty. Propane heaters are popular alternatives and have torched more than a few airplanes when left unattended, as the pilot steps away for a cup of hot Postum, only to return and find the smoldering outline of the club’s Skyhawk. Acceptable losses if we’re to remain free to fly.

I take advantage of preheating to embrace the winter-aviation experience by chiseling the frozen earth beneath my north-facing hangar door where it’s heaved up, sealing the frame to the ground with an epoxy-like bead meant to keep sane pilots indoors and binge-watching Ice Pilots. But for decades, I’ve shoveled and scraped while muttering oaths with no literal English translations that adequately express my contempt for anything frozen. Including that stupid Disney movie by the same name. I mean, c’mon! Frozen? Why not a movie called, Miserable? The tale of a Midwest flight instructor determined to ignore reality and fly in winter while his smarter neighbors head south until Sun ‘n Fun announces the official opening of Pancake Breakfast Season.

Hand-propping an engine on frozen ground could be a whole article unto itself, but eventually it starts, and once inside the airplane I always fall for the gag of pulling the decorative cabin heat knob. The Champ’s 65-HP engine doesn’t produce enough heat to warm its own oil, let alone transmit excess through serpentine SCAT tubing to the uninsulated cabin. Anyone who’s driven a 1966 VW bus in winter knows the futility of gleaning heat from an underpowered air-cooled engine.

Still, if you fly in the unreasonably cold latitudes, you learn to adapt, rationalize and long for the return of mud and bugs. Yeah, I know the air is super dense at 10 below. Oh, yah, Lena, the Luscombe sure gets offa da ice in a hurry, you betchya. Also, when it’s silly cold, thunderstorms are a low risk, but frankly, this time of year I kinda miss them, even though a microburst once ripped my hangar door to ribbons and shivved the Champ’s skin with fiberglass shrapnel. But at least it wasn’t snowing.

Despite my seasonable gripes, I continue to fly in winter and—this is weird—not because I need to, unless you consider a lifelong compulsion to fly for fun a need and not merely a disorder. On some days, though, I just have to rethink the way of things. It’s 19 below zero (Fahrenheit ... possibly Kelvin) here this morning2 with a wind chill factor that makes it feel like living north of Key West was a huge mistake. Dawn has reluctantly cleared the tree line with accompanying sun dogs shivering in the airborne ice crystals. The snow is smooth and bright, while somewhere my love hibernates amidst the gauzy strands of Lara’s Theme inside her ice hangar, patiently awaiting winter’s slow but inevitable, and welcomed, demise. Indeed, now is the winter of my discontent, made glorious summer by this noble sun … that needs to get on with melting the damn snow ….

Someone toss another elf on the fire.



1Actual unverified scientific fact

 229 Jan 2019

 

Comments (7)

Funny.

I spend summers in a rural area near Oshkosh. On the airport where my toy's freeze all winter, there's an AWOS and I have privileged access to the airport's security cams. The coldest temp seen was -33 deg K and the coldest wind chill was -57 yesterday. On one pic I saw, it looked exactly as you described ... something out of Dr Zhivago with snow plows and snow blowers competing for snow removal on the ramp. The first year I operated from up there, I learned to make multiple sweeps of the hangar prior to heading south to make sure nothing that could freeze and explode was left behind. Year one taught me that a case of coke left will make one helluva mess. At my home, I leave the heat on AND have multiple backup pure electric heaters in case the gas furnace poops out. I have actually seen bars where the only vehicles out back are snowmobiles.

Over the weekend, it's going to warm into the 40's for a couple of days. That's the way Wisconsin is. Don't like the weather ... wait a few days. I have neighbors who think I'm out of my mind for leaving during winter; I believe that THIS winter may change their minds ?

When things close down in Wisconsin ... you KNOW it's cold out.

Posted by: Larry Stencel | January 31, 2019 5:22 PM    Report this comment

Cleveland, Ohio: Last Saturday morning my wife and I scrambled about as fast as we reasonably could for two old people to get to the airport, pull the plane out of the hangar onto a fully ice and snow covered ramp, tried to fuel up without getting frostbite, get in the airplane out of Cleveland heading South (the Key's) as fast as humanly possible given the conditions. Instructed to taxi to runway 24
I slowly added power and got the plane to move in the right direction without much difficulty. Doing a brake check I quickly found out I had almost none. Great. I mumbled to my wife "how am I going to do a run up." Luckily, by the time I got to the end of the taxiway I did find a nice piece of bare concrete that grabbed my tires and allowed me to do a standard run up. Cleared for takeoff, I slowly rolled onto the runway without stopping and added full power. Airborne in about two feet (air density) we were out outta there.

As I write this, I am sitting outside, the sky is blue with a slight warm breeze. The temperature is 68 degrees with a projected high of 78 and I'm sipping on some really nice strong black coffee. Life is good. Given what the Midwest has experienced over the last couple of days (severe global cooling,)
I do not relish going back home anytime soon and hopefully some inclement weather back home will delay our return another day or two. It will definitely not break my heart even though my wife is anxious to get home to the dogs. Not me.

All of that being said, the older I get, the smarter I get. I pray for more global warming everyday. All of you global warming wacko's can load up your flower powered VW's with bags of ice and drive up North as far as your little brains I mean bugs will take you, dump your bags of ice into the Arctic (save the polar bears) and return back home to do it again.

I love the Key's this time of year. You can't beat it. :)

Posted by: Tom Cooke | February 1, 2019 7:02 AM    Report this comment

Applause!

Posted by: Jonathan Hoffman | February 1, 2019 7:06 AM    Report this comment

"The coldest temp seen was -33 deg K"

33 degrees below absolute zero is most definitely cold! :-)


"All of that being said, the older I get, the smarter I get. I pray for more global warming everyday."

It's counter-intuitive to those who don't study climate effects, but global warming actually contributes to the polar vortex moving farther south in the winter, causing locally-colder temperatures. It all has to do with how the jet stream is affected. Obviously it's a complex process and not fully understood, but locally cold weather is not proof that global warming is benign.

Posted by: Gary Baluha | February 1, 2019 8:25 AM    Report this comment

I am sitting here on my couch with double wide French doors wide open eating my breakfast which is composed of two eggs easy over, eight strips of bacon, toast and hash browns all while watching palm trees sway in the breeze with sail boats anchored in the Gulf in the back ground.

Posted by: Tom Cooke | February 1, 2019 8:31 AM    Report this comment

"Pilots further north pretend to enjoy the cold, strutting about as they do in their EAA lederhosen when it's 15 below, before climbing into Cubs, Champs and T-crates to skitter across concrete-hard lakes, dodging ice-fishing houses and reporters taping breathless exclusives about winter wonderland whadda-whadda-whadda, back to you, Kimberly."

Great description...so true too!

I left the frozen confines of northern Illinois 3 years ago for Mena, AR. where no more home brew pre-heater assembly required. No more pushing and pulling the airplane looking for traction hoping you will not do the tail-bone wallop...getting up like nothing happened...the standard response we do when in massive pain.

All my kids live in Wisconsin and northern Illinois where it was -34 yesterday morning with no windchill. Brutal cold is cold. I find no difference between -34 with a minus 60 windchill vs a minus 85 windchill factor. My face falls off in either extreme.

I love the maniacal, swirling dervish, weather language...the new trigger words expressed by the skinny jeans, under-sized dressed, bulked up males or short-skirted, high heeled, big hair females both shouting with alarmingly shrill voices on the Weather Channel is..polar vortex. I guess an Arctic cold front being guided by the jet stream just is not malevolent enough.

I am now officially a winter whiner. I whine like a baby when it is under 50 degrees ( that is 50 degrees above zero).

I think I found the best spot for the global warming debate...not too hot, not too cold, not big mountains but not super small either, not near the ocean, but close enough that I can get my feet wet in an hour or so in the Bonanza.

All my whining about northern Illinois weather and taxes produced zilch results. As a result any carping, debating, or arguing about global warming will have the same net result. Like Tom, I am basking in the 50+ weather, ignoring the dire warnings of the next polar vortex, not missing the crunch of frozen precipitation under my feet, and musing over who decided the name for the next winter storm.

Posted by: Jim Holdeman | February 1, 2019 9:54 AM    Report this comment

' All of you global warming wacko's can load up your flower powered VW's with bags of ice and drive up North as far as your little brains I mean bugs will take you, dump your bags of ice into the Arctic (save the polar bears) and return back home to do it again. '

Road trip!

My restored 66 rag beetle doesn't hold much, but since it doesn't have a heater (phoenix doncha know) the ice would probably stay cold! I'll do it for you, Cooke, as the Fourth National Climate Assessment on South Florida states so you can keep sipping your coffee from on high(er) ground. It's what I do. :-)

Despite your revealing state of consciousness, I got to hand it to you. You have a real, successful prayer connection that few can claim. I would imagine the climate scientists haven't spent much time studying that angle...

Posted by: Dave Miller | February 1, 2019 3:15 PM    Report this comment

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