Flying in the winter can be spectacular. Visibility is often unlimited! Taking off from my Catamount Airfield, I can see Camels Hump to the northeast, The Adirondacks to the west, the White Mountians to the east, and the spine of the Green Mountains stretching to the south. And, of course, my farm down below. The cold temperatures boost the airplane’s performance, making its propeller get a better bite into the dense air. This change means I can take off in a shorter distance, and climb out at a steeper angle. It is just the opposite in July and August, when I have to keep the plane as light as possible because of degraded performance in the high heat and humidity.
Once I’m in the air the snow covered ground offers an endless supply of beautiful patterns; created by shadows, wind drift, tracks, and machines. Looking down on the farms that are my neighbors I can see the paths of cows, sheep and even turkeys as they have wandered through the snow. Looking at the forest I see stripes of green and white, with the bare hardwoods and green pines beside snow covered spruce and fur. When I first started flying out of Cabot the town that I lived in was unfamiliar to me from above; now I navigate just by recognizing the houses and properties down below.
This enjoyment does come with a price – somewhat different than the $100 hamburger I wrote about back in the fall http://wp.me/p15gcD-29. It takes a lot of work to prepare for a single flight in winter, and quite a bit of planning. The weather is the first factor. The clear, calm days seem few and far between here in Vermont. Some days start off nice, but frigid (I do not fly when it is colder then 15 degrees), and by the time it warms up the wind has picked up, or the clouds have moved in, or it has started snowing…again.
The second factor is the runway. I do seem to spend more time plowing each winter than I do flying. I use an old army truck with a 9 foot plow, and my farm tractor with a bucket and snow blower. During the summer I’ve stacked round haybales along the west side of the runway to act like snow fence. It helps some with the drifting.
The third factor is the aircraft. Anytime the air temperature falls below 30 degrees (It has not been above freezing since Jan 2nd here in Cabot) the engine must be preheated to prevent excess wear. I have two heating methods. One is an engine block heater that requires electricity, which for me means hauling in a generator from the sugarhouse, and about 4 hours of heat time. The other is a camping stove, whose heat is directed, via ducting , into the engine compartment. This method works well, but requires constant monitoring for about an hour.
When all this work is done, and I have clear weather and a clear runway, then I can get my plane ready to fly. It might be a pain, but winter flying can really cure Vermont cabin fever! I hope to go up flying with my brother sometime soon and bring back some aerial pictures to post. And if you want to go for a winter tour from the air, don’t forget that Catamount Aviation offers scenic rides – just get in touch at 802-563-2351 or firstname.lastname@example.org