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12 Things to Know About Cold Weather Start Procedures in GA Aircraft


It’s cold out there. Winter days are often the best flying days, but it can be a pain to get your airplane started when it’s freezing outside. In addition, starting a cold-soaked engine can cause excessive engine damage in just the first minutes after engine start - damage that may not be evident initially but will significantly decrease your engine life. Preheating your aircraft engine will save you a lot of money on engine maintenance, as well as battery and starter wear and tear. Here are a few facts about cold weather operations in small general aviation aircraft:

  1. It’s not (just) about cold oil. According to this avweb.com article, cold oil isn’t really the main problem at all, at least not until the temperature gets below -18 degrees Celsius. While cold oil is more viscous than warm oil, the more important problem is the expansion and contraction of the engine’s different types of metal. Aircraft engines include many different types of metals - aluminum, steel, etc. - with different expansion coefficients. When heated or cooled, aluminum expands or contracts quicker than steel, so when the aluminum crankcase contracts more easily than the steel crankshaft (like in cold temperatures), you have little or no clearance between the two, causing metal-on-metal grinding, which isn't good.

  2. When not fully charged to begin with, a cold battery can mean a weak start, causing a pilot to crank on the starter more than he should in an attempt to start the engine. In a less-than-fully-charged battery, the chemical reaction is slowed when the temperature is cold which causes it to perform as if it has a lesser charge. This makes it more difficult to start an airplane that has a cold battery, and the continued cranking will be tough on the starter. Warming up the battery can reduce the demand on the battery and on the starter.

  3. Starting a cold engine can give it the equivalent of 500 hours of cruise wear and tear, according to this article on planeandpilot.com.

  4. Lycoming states that preheating your aircraft engine is required when the engine temperature is below +10°F/-12°C.

  5. Continental advises that preheating be done whenever the engine has been exposed to temperatures at or below 20° Fahrenheit for two hours or more.

  6. Lycoming also advises opening the cowl flaps, if necessary, during the preheating process, in order to reduce damage to nonmetal parts like hoses and wires.

  7. Preheating in increments of 5-10 minutes is best, in order to heat slowly and prevent overheating of nonmetal parts.

  8. When it comes times to start the engine, if it’s a carbureted engine, prime only when you’re ready to engage the starter. Allowing too much time to pass between priming and engaging the starter, or over-priming, can cause fuel from the primer to pool at the bottom of the carb heat box, presenting a fire hazard.

  9. After start, keep the engine at idle while the oil temperature and pressure increase to their normal operating ranges. Surges or fluctuations in engine RPM are an indication that the engine is still too cold and takeoff should not be attempted.

  10. Engines can be preheated with installed electrical heaters or forced air heaters, or by leaving the aircraft inside of a heated hangar for hours before the flight.

  11. When using a forced air preheating system, Continental suggests that you should direct preheated air directly to the oil sump, oil filter, external oil lines, oil cooler, coolant radiator and cylinder assemblies for a minimum of 30 minutes

  12. According to Continental, “Attempting to start your engine with a partially discharged aircraft battery may result in damage to the starter relay, possible engine kick-back resulting in a broken starter adapter clutch spring.”

It’s Not You, It’s Your Instructor: Are You a Victim of Bad Flight Instruction?


Did you start flight training and not finish? Or maybe you started, took a long hiatus, and then returned to it in a better place at a better time.

There are many reasons people quit flight training. They get busy, start families, run out of money. Life happens. These are acceptable setbacks. But there are many other setbacks and challenges during flight training that, in my opinion, are unacceptable, and the most frustrating of these is poor instruction.

I recently had a conversation with a medical professional about flying. The conversation started out like many of them often do - we discussed our respective professions, and he mentioned that he began flight training when he was younger but never finished. When I asked him why, he described a myriad of flight training problems and challenges not uncommon to new students, but that he accepted as his own problems. He just wasn’t a good pilot, he said.

At first, it would seem that this particular person might have given up too quickly or too easily, but further into our discussion, I began to see a bigger story - a relatively common story that as a flight instructor, I really despise hearing.

Here’s a perfectly capable person- a medical professional and a seemingly well-respected business owner in the community - who is led to believe he can’t fly. “Some people just have the natural ability to fly, I guess, and I’m not one of them,” he said. In discussing the topic further, though, it was clear that whatever instruction he had accomplished with his instructors in the first few hours wasn’t productive, wasn’t positive, and gave him a bad perception of flying.

Throughout our conversation, I discovered that he had been physically uncomfortable in the airplane (an airplane not really ideal for flight training, to begin with). I learned that he was unable to reach the rudder pedals, that he was all but reprimanded when he lost sight of the airport and was unable to navigate back to it on the first lesson. He said he wasn’t offered ground training and didn’t feel like he progressed.

Have you heard similar complaints before? Me, too. Is it possible that he was a student who showed up unprepared or didn’t make his instructor aware of his inability to reach the rudder pedals? Sure. But a bad pilot after only a few hours? Nah. There are outliers, to be sure, but the majority of flight students who walk into a flight school are eager to learn and capable of learning. We need to do better.

In a short conversation, I couldn’t convince him that he’s wrong, that he was likely (and unfortunately) the product of terrible instruction, and that it’s not like that everywhere. But I tried. I tried to reassure him that there are more professional instructors out there, more comfortable aircraft, simpler aircraft, and something called ground school, all of which would help alleviate many of his challenges, misconceptions and insecurities.

It might be too late for this person - I hope not - but if we’re serious about saving general aviation, if we want flight training to be a robust and successful industry within general aviation, we have to do better. Flight training is a serious venture, and one we need to approach cautiously, with safety in mind. But after ensuring safety - rather, along with the assurance of safety - flying should be fun. As instructors, we should be teaching students, encouraging students, and making aviation safe and enjoyable for students.

When it’s not fun, students quit. When they’re belittled, students quit. When they don’t feel safe, students quit.

I wonder how many other prospective pilots are out there with similar stories about initial flight training? How many of you started flight training and were faced with similar challenges and problems? How many of you quit and maybe found your way back somehow, eventually, after moving to a new flight school or befriending a new instructor? How many of you haven’t yet found your way back?

If you’ve had a bad experience with initial flight training, I urge you to find a new place to fly, or a new instructor to fly with. It’s not like that everywhere.

YOU Should Finish Your Flight Training

Perhaps you are one of the thousands of people who have always looked to the sky when an airplane passes over, pausing in awe. You have been determined to fly your entire life, but just never completed your training. Your dreams may have been temporarily grounded due to money, children, work obligations, or simply not feeling qualified. There is no reason that your dreams have to be put on hold anymore, and I am here to give you some inspiration for why you should finish learning how to fly.

Earning your pilots license is a huge accomplishment, but it is not as unobtainable as some seem to believe. The majority of people I interact with outside of my flight university see flying as this magical, dangerous pursuit. Some ask if it is scary, but the most common question by far is, “just how difficult is it to fly an airplane?” I’m here to tell you that flying is difficult. Earning a college degree is difficult. Flourishing in a career is difficult, raising a family is difficult, and anything that is worth doing is going to be difficult.

The one thing that separates those who can’t with those who can is determination. If you determine that you will finish training, you will put in the hours it takes and you will learn the material and succeed. If you continually make excuses for why you can’t finish training, then you never will finish.

There is a possibility that you are on this website right now looking at the huge selection of aircraft for sale and wondering what it would be like to own your own and fly it whenever you wanted. There are affordable options, and earning your license is the first step to becoming an aircraft owner and successful aviator. You might not even need more inspiration for why you should earn your license, but I have compiled some great reasons that I like to remind hopeful future pilots of.

Flying Increases Your Intelligence

Like most hobbies, flying requires you to learn something new every day. However, unlike most hobbies, almost everything you learn in training is transferable to another skill set. A pilot has to be proficient in time management, communication, resource management, and decision making, to name a few. You will constantly be sharpening different skills that apply to situations outside of the airport.

You Have Options

Not everyone wants to become a licensed Private pilot, but many do want to fly. There are several options out there for that as well, such as a Sport Pilot license and flying gliders. These have limitations on taking passengers and can be less free as far as regulations that must be followed, but for a fair weather flyer they are perfectly viable options. The great thing about aviation is that it is incredibly diverse. Find something that fits your lifestyle and dreams and run with it!

You are Joining a Great Community

Some of the best people I have had the pleasure of meeting are pilots. Not only are they wise from years of continual learning, but they are also adventurous and supportive. The aviation community is very welcoming, and you can feel at home at almost any airport you visit. I suggest joining a local chapter of EAA or the Ninety-Nines if those interest you. If not, simply sitting around in an FBO often leads to great conversations.

It Will Look Great on Your Resume

No matter what field you’re in, adding that you have your pilot license is a great addition to your resume. It shows your potential employer that you have dedicated yourself to working hard on a single task for a long period of time and earned it. Employers are looking for well-rounded individuals and having this qualification makes you stand out in a sea of other candidates.

So Many New Adventures

My fiancé and I flew to over 25 different airports in our first year of dating. I can think of something memorable or exciting about every single one of them. Whether it be the people we met, the hangars we explored, or simply how beautiful the sunset was while we sat on the porch of the FBO, none of those amazing memories would have happened if we didn’t decide to go on an adventure and fly to a new airport. Taking to the skies opens up so much possibility for adventure and lifelong memories.

Life is meant to be lived to the fullest. Why not chase after your dreams?

In the Dark About Aircraft Lights? Here's When to Turn Them On


Do you have any idea when your aircraft lights should be on? If not, you’re not alone. Often, I’ll get myself strapped into the right seat of a Cessna with another pilot who prefers to turn on every available light switch, leaving all of the lights on all the time, day or night. And then other times, I’ll get into a Cessna with a pilot who doesn’t turn on a single light the entire flight.

When with a new student, perhaps during a checkout flight, I’ll ask why they use all of the lights all of the time, and the answer is usually something like, “That’s what I was taught.” The follow up question I ask is, “Which lights are required?” and at this point, the student often admits that they don’t know, which is really why they just light up the whole airplane all of the time.

What gives? Why are general aviation pilots so confused about aircraft lights? The confusion comes because while there are some rules, regulations and suggestions for using the lights on airplanes, they’re often pretty ambiguous. And, as it turns out, when rules are ambiguous, nobody pays much attention to them at all.

Deciding when to turn aircraft lights on and off seems like a common sense issue, but time and time again, I fly with pilots who turn lights on or off because that’s what their instructor once told them, and that’s rarely a good enough reason to do anything. So here’s the real scoop behind aircraft lights.

Most general aviation aircraft are equipped with the following lights:

  • Position/navigation lights
  • Anticollision lights
  • Landing and/or taxi lights

Position lights, also known as navigation lights, include a green light on the right wing, a red light on the left wing and a white light on the tail of the airplane. These lights work together to illuminate an airplane during nighttime operations, indicating to pilots in the vicinity not only the location of the lighted airplane but its relative direction of flight. Pilots can identify whether an airplane is flying toward or away from them at night based on these lights.

Per CFR Part 91.209, position lights are required during night operations - from sunset to sunrise.

Anti-collision light systems include the aircraft’s beacon and/or strobe lights. Some aircraft have both a beacon and a strobe light system, and other airplanes just have one or the other.

Per CFR Part 91.209, an aircraft that has an anti-collision light system installed must not operate without the anti-collision lights on, unless the pilots deems it necessary to turn off the anti-collision lights in the interest of safety (while taxiing on the ramp, for example, a pilot might wish to taxi with the aircraft’s strobe lights off so as not to impair the vision of other pilots or ground personnel).

And this is where the issue of aircraft lights often becomes unclear. Many pilots operate with the strobe lights and the beacon on all the time because they interpret the FAR to mean that they must. Other pilots interpret the regulation to mean that as long as at least one of the anti-collision lights - either the beacon or the strobe lights - is on, then they’re operating within the guidelines of the regulation. Who is right? Either one, or both. A pilot should operate with the anti-collision light system on unless he deems that, in the interest of safety, a portion of the anti-collision light system should be turned off to prevent vertigo or spatial disorientation, or as a courtesy to other pilots in the vicinity. This means that while it is not necessarily illegal to operate with just the beacon on, it is prudent to use the entire system when able. For this reason, you’ll see that the common practice is to turn on the beacon before startup and to turn on the strobes right before takeoff, as a courtesy to others in the ramp area.

The use of landing and/or taxi lights, installed on most airplanes, is optional. If operating an aircraft for hire at night, a landing light is required to be installed on the airplane, but there is no regulation that states that the landing light must be on or illuminated in order to operate an aircraft at night. If a pilot thinks that a landing light is necessary, either to illuminate the runway environment or for collision avoidance, he should use it. If not, he can leave it off.

AIM Guidance and Operation Lights On
In addition to the existing regulations, the FAA has implemented a program called “Operation Lights On,” which encourages pilots to use lights for collision avoidance and offers the following guidance (AIM, 4-3-23).

“Prior to commencing taxi, it is recommended to turn on navigation, position, anti-collision, and logo lights (if equipped). To signal intent to other pilots, consider turning on the taxi light when the aircraft is moving or intending to move on the ground, and turning it off when stopped or yielding to other ground traffic. Strobe lights should not be illuminated during taxi if they will adversely affect the vision of other pilots or ground personnel.”

This guidance also encourages pilots to turn on their landing light for takeoff and landing, and anytime they are operating below 10,000 feet MSL and within 10 miles of an airport, and that all lights should be turned on when crossing an active runway.

The Flying Club Advantage


Until last year, I’d never been part of a flying club. I had always received training at established flight schools throughout the years and rented aircraft at local FBOs. I’d always heard that flying clubs, while less expensive, could be troublesome. Rumors of old airplanes, casual maintenance practices, scheduling problems and bad management always seemed to accompany discussions about flying clubs.

But as it turns out, it’s possible that I was actually just a victim of shady marketing tactics and misguided beliefs that implied that flying clubs were somehow not as good as traditional aircraft rental businesses and flight schools. The aviation business is a tough world, and the flight student often goes to the flight school with the newest airplanes and the best website. After years of flying, I’ve learned that sometimes the old airplanes are the best, and as much as I hate to admit it (I’m a marketing snob), marketing doesn’t mean anything if you can’t follow through. While I love a good marketing plan, the product is what really counts, and the same - or better - product found in traditional businesses can, in fact, be found in a flying club.

What is a flying club?
A flying club differs from a traditional flight school because it’s not-for-profit, whereas a flight school operates as a profitable entity. Flying clubs are completely run by the membership, with a board of directors leading the way. AOPA says there are about 600 flying clubs active today, and on average, each club has about 50 members and operates four aircraft.

Operating a flying club
Operating a flying club, like any flight school, is a lot of work for not much reward, and it’s often hard for clubs to stay in business. It takes a special group of people to manage a flying club and another special group of members to invest their own personal time and money into its success. Flying clubs will charge membership dues to offset operating costs, but otherwise don’t take in any revenue. And club members in a flying club operate club airplanes as owners instead of renters, which means they often have to pay a deposit upfront, but pay less in rental charges.

Advantages of flying clubs
The most obvious advantage of flying with a flying club is the cost. Aircraft rental rates are often high enough to just cover the operating costs, meaning you don’t pay the steep markup that a for-profit business charges.

But there are a lot of other advantages, as well, including the availability of different types of airplanes, the ability to take an airplane overnight or on a weekend trip (many businesses don’t allow this), the availability and presence of flight instructors who are also members, and the camaraderie. One of the most beneficial parts of joining a flying club is the camaraderie and the educational value of having other pilots and instructors around to answer questions or offer advice.

Joining a flying club has been the best aviation decision I’ve ever made. In the short time I’ve been there, I’ve learned more than I ever would have at another flight school or FBO. I’m always being challenged, and my flying skills are always being improved. The rates are less expensive than the other FBOs in the area, there is always another pilot around to bounce an idea off of, and there’s always a fly-out or an event to attend. And it’s family-friendly, too. I can bring my kids to the club building for a Saturday cookout, and they have just as much fun as I do socializing with other club members.

For me, the advantages of the flying club are clear. Not every club is perfect, but if you have a flying club nearby, it might be worth checking out!