“Me, I was a natural in a plane. But in snow? One minute I’m humming along, the next, my fuel line’s gummed and I’m skidding and banging against a frozen creek.”
– Joseph Boyden, Through Black Spruce, 2008, Viking Canada
With the bad rap snow has been getting lately, it’s hard not to long for summer. Now, I know what it’s like, I’m no stranger to shovelling driveways or salting walkways, but just because it’s cold outside doesn’t mean you can’t take advantage of some of the best flying conditions of the year.Â In fact, with a little preparation, winter flying is quite striking and offers some of the most beautiful scenes you’ll ever witness. To top it all off, with the right settings it translates quite well into Flight Simulator. Once you get it set up correctly, winter flying offers sim pilots the best of both worlds; great scenery and some new challenges to tackle. So grab your tuques and throw on your mitts, we’re going flying!
Winter flying is actually quite nice. Some believe it’s actually the best time of the year to fly. Once you understand there are certain precautions to take when flying during the winter months, the benefits of flying at this time of year seem to far outweigh the downfalls. So let’s get that big one out of the way, IT’S COLD! So what does this mean?
First off, cool air has both positive and negative effects. Yes, it’s the reason you’re going to have to go through additional preheating routines but the increased density of cool air make it far easier to develop lift, sometimes significantly decreasing take-off distances. Cool air will also, you guessed it, cool your engine more effectively and allow it to develop more horsepower than it would during the summer months.
Flight Simulator doesn’t to a great job at simulating this aspect of winter flying but look on the bright side, there’s no need to shovel snow, remove ice and go through lengthy preheating procedures. There are some exceptions to this rule, Aerosoft’s Bush Hawk XP comes to mind and PMDG’s JetStream 4100 also has some interesting icing effects. If you’re sitting in your Bush Hawk running through your start-up procedures and it’s cold out, don’t forget to turn on your defrosters or your windshield will completely frost up. There’s also the possibilities of the rudder freezing up in these conditions, however, quickly moving it through its rotations a few times should free it back up.
Besides the performance boosts, winter is also one of the most beautiful times of the year to be flying. The snow-covered trees and landscapes provide a nice change of scenery if you’re used to flying in summer. Even if you’re only using the default scenery in FSX there are sill some beautiful places that take advantage of the season. Give some of the default missions through Sitka and Dutch Harbour a fly if you haven’t; their scenery is great and it’s a perfect introduction to winter flying.
FSAddon’s Tongass Fjords is a great add-on for FSX and is also a perfect place start flying in winter beyond the default scenery. The short landing strips, high elevation quick flights make the scenery not only striking to look at but also a challenge to fly.
To get a real winter experience, simply switching the season in Flight Simulator just won’t cut it. You’re going to have to delve into the weather generator a bit. If you’re using the default weather tools in FSX, I’d suggest trying either the “winter wonderland theme” as a good starting point or the “heavy snows” theme for a bit more of a challenge.
Once you’ve chosen a good spot and have the weather all set up, it’s time to go flying. Although, as we’ve discussed, most of the changes to winter flying in Flight Simulator are ascetic, there are a few things that you should always remember. Because it’s so cold out, minimizing the chances of a failure is even more important. You don’t want to be making an emergency landing in -40 degrees. So basic practices like double checking your pitot heat or anti-ice is on and in working condition is good practice. Each aircraft is different in how it handles anti-ice, so know and understand its procedures before you get going. Cowl flaps can also stay closed during cold weather operations to quicken engine heat up time, but they should be opened on taxi and take-off. And, just as a curtousy to our passengers, if your plane has a heating system, it’s best to turn it on, lest we hear them complaining for the whole flight!
Making sure the runway is clear of snow drifts, is obviously, essential, but even a clear runway can still be very slippery. In Flight Simulator, we’re always lucky to have fairly clean runways but things could get slippery.
Once you’re up in the air, monitoring your instruments and keeping a watchful eye on the OAT (outside air temperature) becomes critical. Ice can quickly begin to form on control surfaces and if you’ve forgot to engage your anti-ice, the results can be devastating. To help keep the ice from building-up quickly keep out of the clouds.
Alright, so FSX’s job of simulating many of the challenges and benefits of flying in the winter is hit and miss, and maybe I just feel the need to defend this wonderful time of the year from more bad snowstorm puns! But, regardless of my intentions, if you’re not already, I highly recommend taking your favourite GA aircraft for a VFR tour in winter and see what the frozen world of Flight Simulator has to offer.
Let me know about your favourite places to fly in winter. I’d love to hear about them.
Until next time,