Getting 2014 Off to a Flying Start

January 8th, 2014 by Amy Laboda
Sometimes a pilot just needs to be airborne to realign his / her perspective.

Sometimes a pilot just needs to be airborne to realign his / her perspective.

It’s breezy, bright, and marvelously chilly outside. It’s my favorite time of year, and the air makes me want to go fly. Sometimes the pilot in me just needs reminding that the world, when seen from above, is an amazing place. Days like today, especially when they arrive at the first of a new year, can really adjust one’s attitude in a meaningful and lasting way.

I know my airplanes love this weather as much as I do, too. The dry, cool, dense air is better for engines to gulp and burn, and even provides more lift (that stiff breeze on my nose for takeoff doesn’t hurt, either).

But where to, and why? On a perfect VFR winter day in Florida the destination possibilities are many. A 20-minute jaunt north and I can be walking distance from a Venice beach. A 30-minute skip south puts me on the lip of the Everglades National Park and in range of some of the best stone crab in the country. If I need something more exotic or action-packed I can be in Key West or Miami in an hour (less with today’s north wind). As for why – it’s because I need to fly. After all, proficiency is perishable.

For that reason I try and pick venues for my little winter cross countries that can test my skills in a variety of ways. One flight might be to a well-maintained turf runway, or could include a little crosswind practice or short field work. On another I’ll take a safety pilot so I can practice a bit of IFR navigation, steer through some holding patterns and perform an approach or two at the airport before landing there for a tasty lunch at the on field restaurant.

To keep the costs of my winter excursions from cutting into my summer long cross-country funds I often pull the throttle back and lean wisely. That’s especially true when strong winds are concerned. With careful power / mixture management I can easily fly these short routes at 50 % power. It costs me just a little time. I think of it this way: if I’m practicing a holding pattern and an approach as part of the flight I clearly have some time to spare. I also pick my destinations carefully, looking for airports where landing and parking fees are low, or are waived with a small fuel purchase, or if you have a meal at the airport restaurant.

As I write this I hear the throaty rumble of a big Continental engine roaring through a takeoff from the runway that sits not one-half mile away from my office. Hmmm…the day is still young…time to get 2014 off to a flying start. See you out there!

Amy Laboda

Amy Laboda has been writing, editing and publishing print materials for more than 28 years on an international scale. From conception to design to production, Laboda helps businesses and associations communicate through various media with their clients, valued donors, or struggling students who aspire to earn scholarships and one day lead. An ATP-rated pilot with multiple flight instructor ratings, Laboda enjoys flying her two experimental aircraft and being active in the airpark community in which she lives.

The opinions expressed by the bloggers do not reflect AOPA’s position on any topic.

  • Mike Friedman

    That was a lovely article, but someone living in Florida should not be writing about winter flying. What you’ve described is a typical summer or spring day for most of us. In the rest of the country the temperatures have been oscillating between zero and sixty degrees, and the winds have been howling 30-40 knots on a regular basis. I managed to get my plane airborne a few weeks ago for a quick $100 hamburger, and attained only 40 knots ground speed in one direction, and wind sheer turbulence on the way back which I was certain would break the wings off my poor old Tomahawk. (It didn’t! She’s a tough old bird.) I don’t think anyone needs incentive to fly in the winter, we all want to, but rather a physical way to get it done. Preheating, cabin prep, safety materials, engine management, are all different in winter – at least everywhere except Florida…

    • Ron Rapp

      Actually, flying in California is pretty much hassle-free. I actually like winter flying better than summer flying here in SoCal. The flying’s good in Arizona, too. And New Mexico, southern Nevada, and many other places.

      Winter flying isn’t just for Floridians!

  • Cary Alburn

    Mike hit the nail on the head. What you describe is not winter, Amy–it’s balmy Spring weather.

    It’s 46F where my hangar is, which means it’s 46F in the hangar. Warm! But the wind is blustering from the northwest at 18G26. I remotely shut off the preheater today, because not only will I not be going flying today, but if I wanted to, my airplane would start this afternoon.

    But without the preheater, it wouldn’t have started if I’d gone over there this morning, with the temp at 23F, and it won’t start tomorrow at 23F and snow flurries.

    Winter today is balmy compared to what it has been, though. Only a few days ago, it was hovering in the “no” temperature zone, + or – 0F.

    None of this is to say that none of us should not fly for the very reasons that you expressed, but if I were to throttle back to 50% power, I don’t think I’d be going much of anywhere on the “bright and marvelously chilly” winter days here, if I were to head into the wind. And I’m glad that my airplane’s heater is pretty good, too!

  • Chris I

    I personally was happy to read Amy’s article. Weather I am shoveling snow and burning Kw’s running my block heater siping a strong hot cup of joe or in Surf trunks and flip flops squirting my dog with the hose laughing while I wash the bugs from the leading edges. This article stirred my imagination and painted pictures of soaring in my head. Flying and the ability to fly is a gift that few have many places around the world have the fortune to fly year round some only a fraction of that. Still we that do have the gift of flight are the lucky ones. Let’s keep a positive spirit community wide and cheer for those with unsimilar conditions and live through their stories. We can look at those to be lucky in the frigid attic climates they have a perfect time to have an Annual or engine OH without looking up anxiously at the sky’s missing days that are perfect to fly. You lucky dogs.

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