Tuesday, January 18, 2005

 

Cold Day Flying

Weather and a busy holiday schedule have kept Yellowbird and I on the ground since mid December. In fact, her New Year's Day oil change has been the only time she has stirred in four weeks, and that was only for a 10 minute ground run to warm up the engine. Sunday afternoon provided a rare opportunity to get some exercise before another mild winter snowfall rolled in that evening, and we were both eager to get in the air for our first flight of 2005.

A few days of warm weather had been enough to clear her wings of the ice and snow left from an earlier winter storm, but Sunday was chilly, with temperatures in the mid twenties. I plugged in the oil pan heater and put a space heater in the cabin to warm up her vitals, then left for an hour to let electricity do what the weak winter sun was unable to do. After returning, I warmed her engine with a propane-fueled space heater. I should have had no problems pulling her out of the tiedown spot, but moisture in the tiedown ropes had jammed the knots, and the chocks and main tires were frozen solidly to the rubber mud flaps that she sits on. It took a few whacks with a two-by-four to knock the chocks loose, but I needed the help of a friendly neighbor pilot to pull her free, care being taken not to leave any rubber behind.

Preflight required a few extra checks to make sure that there was no ice frozen inside the controls or propeller spinner. Fuel samples were carefully checked, not only for water, but also for ice crystals that could clog the fuel system. The wings and stabilator were also checked for any ice or frost on the flying surfaces that might disrupt the airflow. The space heater in the cabin had cleared the windows of frost, and I was happy to finish the walkaround and take shelter in the relative warmth of the cockpit. After two weeks of inactivity, the battery was still healthy, and Yellowbird stirred to life fairly quickly with six shots of the primer. I let her run for several minutes while I listened to her familiar voice with an ear attentive for any unfamiliar sounds. Finally, with the oil and cylinder head temperature needles moving off the pegs, she was ready to move under her own power.

We departed from the Echo intersection of runway 02, and Yellowbird fairly leapt off the ground in the cold dense air. Heading north past Northampton, we did some maneuvers to ease the stiffness from our limbs. Continuing towards Deerfield, I gave her full throttle, and with 2,500 RPM, I was mildly astonished to see the indicated airspeed pushing to within a few tics of the yellow arc.

Orange Municipal Airport We turned eastward at Greenfield, and headed over to take a look at Orange. From 3,000 feet, the airport looked quiet with the exception of one little Cessna that departed from runway 01 as we flew past. Giving him a wide berth, we circled the field and then headed south.

The not quite frozen Quabbin The Quabbin Reservoir was largely clear of ice, and the crusty snow covered hills were neither scenic nor hospitable. We could have continued for the entire length of the reservoir, but the lowering clouds foretold of the forecast snow to come, so we headed west towards friendlier territory and home.

Familiar grounds We descended over Hadley, past the snow covered fields etched by snowmobile tracks, and contacted the tower with our landing intentions.

Cold Day at the OxbowTurning south to enter a right downwind leg for 02 we saw the Oxbow with a solid cap of ice. (here's a view from a warmer day)

Downwind for 02, full stop Clouds were showing in the east as we entered the pattern, but we were safe on the ground with a smooth landing before the first flakes arrived. Back in her bed, with cabin cover, wing tarps, and tiedown ropes snug and secure, the Yellowbird settled down to wait out the snow, dreaming of a sunny day to come.

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