With the coming of winter and reverting back to standard time, days are much shorter now. With the inevitable delays, a planned day trip might end up extending past sunset, and you may find yourself unexpectedly returning after dark. On top of that, winter brings weather related challenges that are unique. Preparation is the key to a safe trip---below are some tips to make sure your flight is safe and comfortable.
Gear:This time of year having working flashlights---and not just one---is a good start. In this department, the BNR P flip light is an excellent in cabin red light. It hangs around your neck so you do not have to go looking for it when it gets dark. And it easily flips on and off.
A back up light or two is always a good thing to keep in your jacket pocket or close in the cabin so you do not have to reach around to your bag when its needed. The extra flashlight also works well for pre-flight---looking inside the cowling, up the cowl flaps. While in flight, you should make a habit of using the light to check outside on the wing leading edges, gear and struts for signs of icing if its dark and you find yourself in the clouds.
Next item to pack would be a couple of hand warmers. These small packets are readily found wherever camping or hunting gear is sold, last for about 5 hours, and could be a real lifesaver if your ever stuck on the ground with a airplane that wont start.
Preheat & Frost:
In addition to keeping yourself toasty, preheating the aircraft is a must. It's a good idea to familiarize yourself with the operation of preheaters (in our case, the Red Dragon preheater at LDJ) or any preheating services the FBO might offer. In the case of an FBO, find out what sort of lead time they need to have your plane preheated for your intended departure time. (For our members, all this information can be found on the club wiki.)
Even if the temperature is not yet at freezing some frost can accumulate on various surfaces. You should have available with you something soft (beach towel or such) to safely clean off all the frost from the airplane surfaces before you start-up, this will ensure a clean airfoil and no damage to the surface.
Most of these pre-flight items take just a few additional minutes. You may not have had to do this before (especially if you are just coming out of a rental/flight-school environment), but doing these things properly are absolutely necessary to ensure safe flight and the longevity of our airplanes. So make sure you allow sufficient time before departure.
Challenges of winter weather---the "Dirty Half Dozen"
When we think about cold-weather flying, in-flight airframe icing occupies a disproportionate share of our worries. In reality, for the small planes we fly, icing is but one of many threats winter flying poses. J. Mac MacClellan had a great article on winter weather flying this past February, which is worth rereading now, as we prepare for some serious winter weather:
Flying Magazine: WinterWeather's Dirty Half Dozen