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Winter flying:

TIps and Tricks!

Ski Selection

  Purchasing the correct size skis is an important decision for getting the most fun out of winter flying.

 Answering a few simple questions can make ski selection much easier.

  1. What type of flying do you want to do? Do you fly aggressive aerobatics. Or, do you just like to relax and do some slow touch and go's.
  2. What kind of snow conditions are most likely in your area? Cold and fluffy snow? Or, dense and wet snow? Sparse and grassy snow? Or, will you be standing atop 3 feet of ice on a frozen lake? 
  3. How much power and lift does your plane have? Do you have a big engine with large wing area, and high lift? Or, do you have moderate power and a small wing area? 
  4. Plane weight?
  5. Plane speeds?

In short:

  • Larger, heavier, and slower planes, taking off in deep wet snow will benefit from larger skis and more flotation on the snow.
  • Light planes, which are fast and powerful, flying off of very cold, hard packed snow, will benefit from smaller and more rigid standard sized skis. 
  • Keep in mind: Faster planes flying extreme aerobatic maneuvers are far more affected aerodynamically by larger skis, than slow planes, flying gentle maneuvers are. So, if performance in the air is preferred to performance in the snow. Then, the smaller standard sized skis would be the better choice.

Outside air temperature matters!

A lot!

  Engine performance, flight performance, and personal performance. Are all affected drastically by the outside air temperature!

Engine start-up tips (Especially with Nitromethane fuels):

For whatever unscientific reason, 24 degrees Fahrenheit seems to be the dividing point between "Stubborn", and "VERY Stubborn" starting engines.

  1. Restrain your plane. Pound a screwdriver into the ice, and tie your plane down! Skis are slippery! 'Nuff said!
  2. Use a higher Nitromethane content.
  3. Propane is the best startup fuel assistance. To do this you can carry a propane torch with you. Simply open your carburetor and turn your propeller while letting the propane fumes enter the engine. Thus, priming the engine with propane and fuel. Then, start the engine as you normally would. Often it will run on the propane for a while and quit. But, the engine temperature will start to rise.
  4. Repeat the process. This can take 3-5 cycles to generate enough heat inside the engine before it will run solely on the alcohol fuel. Older cans of WD-40 used Propane as the propellant and therefore could be sprayed into the carburetor to prime the engine as well. Newer cans don't work as well but still seem to help. The benefit of this method, is that it lubricates, and loosens any sticky oil inside the engine as it primes. Making it easier for the starter to turn the engine. Ether, and other starting fluids should be avoided. As they dry the internal engine parts. Ether and starting fluids do not react well with a platinum glow plug either. 
  5. Once started. Your engine will need to be tuned richer from your summer tune. Cold air is more dense and requires more fuel. Opening your needles slightly before you even try step one engine starting is a good idea. Go ahead and open the needle 1/4 or 1/2 a turn before you even try and start it (at least the first time out), and don't forget to enrichen the idle mixture too! 
  6. Once running and tuned. Your engine WILL make more power than usual. However, it can be deceptive, as it will usually produce less RPM, due to the dense air loading the propeller down. This defies you senses, but if you listen to the propeller barking in the cold air, you will realize you are making some serious power!

Equipment and Airplane Performance.

This is some very good, and very important information here! All learned and proven first hand. Often from the school of hard knocks.

  1. Cold destroys battery performance. Cold batteries just don't last as long. Period. Check your battery condition before each flight! 
  2. Most air-frame covering gets brittle in the cold. Ice chunks can do damage, inspect your planes covering frequently. Snow skis can shoot ice chunks through your covering. A roll of tape in your pocket is priceless.
  3. Nylon wing bolts become fragile in the cold. Keep them in your PANTS pocket, it is warm in there. Not in your jacket pocket, it is cold in there. Keep them there until you are ready to install them. Carry spares. They usually break off at the head, during installation if they are frozen. Because the holes in your wing are never drilled exactly square to the head. They will not flex if they are frozen, and will break off! However, once they are in place, they seem to take a set, and are fine for use. Don't twist them to check them later, they do break on removal as well sometimes. 
  4. Use of about 10% less control surface throw in cold dense air is recommended. Cold air is dense, you will have lots of power, lots of lift, and lots of control axis authority. Re-adjust control throws to taste. 
  5. Nylon or plastic control rods and clevises:  ...NEGATIVE! Replace all of them with metal ones! (see " Nylon Wing Bolts" above.) They are unacceptable in winter. They will fail when frozen!
  6. Waxing your aluminum skis is NOT necessary. Ever! 
  7. Always allow aluminum skis to reach the outside air temperature before placing them in the snow. MMP snow skis will NEVER ice up if you allow them to cool down before placing them in the snow. Aluminum cools very fast. Placing a plane with warm skis fresh out of your warm car, or warm house, directly into cold snow, will cause the snow to melt. And, then almost instantly refreeze and cause icing on the bottom of the skis. 
  8. The ski below was intentionally taken from a warm house and placed directly into soft fluffy snow with an outside air temperature of 7 degrees Fahrenheit. When the ski instantly cooled off, this nasty crust formed and completely undermined it's otherwise nearly friction-less surface. And subsequently rendered it almost useless.
  9. In contrast, after taking the other plane shown below from the warm house. The skis were allowed to cool properly in the cold air for about 2 minutes before placing them into the same 7 degrees Fahrenheit snow. Once the skis cool off and reach the temperature of the snow, they will never melt it. And no snow will ever stick to them.
  10. So, by simply allowing the skis to cool off in the cold air, before placing them into the snow. It makes the difference between ice free zero friction skis, which are good to go the whole day long. Versus a mess of ice and snow frozen to the bottoms.

Human Performance in cold temperatures and snow:

  1. Eliminate guesswork. Check the wind speed, and temperature before you go out. Cold, dense air generates more lift, and more thrust. And, thus, your plane will react to wind, and control inputs more aggressively. Therefore, if your skills, or airplane, are limited to 20 MPH winds in the summer, then your threshold should probably be reduced to about 16-17 MPH when the air is well below freezing temperatures.
  2. You need to be able to feel your hands to fly R/C planes. Frozen fingers don't work. The best tip for gloves is to always bring 2 pairs of gloves. One pair for flying. And another pair of warmer gloves or mittens for all other times. The flight gloves should be a light to medium weight Thinsulate lined cloth, or woven, gloves. I prefer having some rubber sticky stuff on the gloves for holding the transmitter. "Mechanix" gloves are a modern choice that I would like to try myself now. The real secret for success, is to cut slits in the thumbs, so that you can feel your transmitter sticks directly, while keeping all the rest of your hands and fingers protected. Put your second pair of warmer "standing around" mittens on immediately after your flight.
  3. Gloves with the fold back finger tip covers, tend to get caught in propellers. Avoid those.
  4. While necessary to wear warm winter jackets. Be VERY aware. Bulky jackets, and gloves, can be pulled by airflow into spinning propellers. Be careful and aware. If you allow a spinning propeller to become a "scarf sucker". That is a truly dangerous and scary thing!
  5. Boots and snow pants may not be considered high fashion. And, blue jeans and sneakers look cool. But standing in ice cold propeller wash is soon very cold. Kneeling down on snow and ice, is also soon very cold. Wear your winter boots, and snow-pants. Even if temperatures seem mild outside while loading your plane into the vehicle. That warmth will soon change when you get out standing in the snow and wind! Landing a plane while shivering uncontrollably. And, doing the happy feet penguin dance. Just plain sucks. 
  6. Glasses, vision, and fogging: The Sun is low in the sky, and the sky is grey, and contrast is very low. Consider applying brightly colored yellow, or orange stripes at locations of needed visibility such as the leading edge of the wings. Wearing quality UV rated-Polarized sunglasses is a must. However, fogged glasses are NO GOOD! If the wind is blowing in your face, when you are looking up, as your airplane leaves the surly bonds of earth, the steam from your breath will produce instant fogging of your glasses. I have learned, that aside from triple pane prescription goggles, or heated lenses. Nothing is a cure-all for fog. However, a coating of good quality car wax on both sides of your eye-glasses is the best resistance I have ever found to fogging lenses. They will still fog a bit. But, the much lighter fog will clear quickly when they are waxed. You just need to turn your head slightly to the wind. And, let some fresh dry air get behind the lenses. If you forget to polish your eye glasses with wax before you go flying, the ensuing fog will remind you! Then you will quickly hand your transmitter to your buddy, who does not have fogged glasses, to save your airplane. And, when he looks up to fly your airplane, and breathes heavily in the panic, his glasses will then fog too! And, then... (Are you with me here!?) 
  7. Rubber-neckers: A few small, orange, "Sports Cones", (available anywhere sporting goods are sold), placed to mark off a landing zone on a frozen lake is a VERY WISE idea. Because, every single rubber-necking snowmobiler, X-country skier, dog-sledder, ice fisherman, 4-wheeler, and hiker, WILL come to watch. They will ALWAYS stop in the middle of your landing zone to watch. They simply don't understand. Often, when you ask them to move, they will ask you; "Why'? Sometimes, they will even flat out say; "No", for no apparent reason what-so-ever. Trust me on this one! Snowmobilers also like to race the planes. They usually lose the race. But, they never stop trying. And, without orange cones marking off your needed turf. They will not stop going back and forth racing your plane. And will most likely be right where you want to land when you run low on fuel. Give ignorant gawkers some form of a visual clue where they should stay away from. I have seen it all on the frozen lakes.

Do NOT laugh!

OK, you can laugh. But DO NOT do these things!

Yes, some people really do!

  1. DO NOT ...Pour raw fuel on your engine. And, then light it on fire, to warm the engine and make cold weather engine starting easier. Unless you want to roast marshmallows over your burning airplane! (Yes, this really does happen!)
  2. DO NOT ...Stand on the smooth bare ice while flying! Any "Body English" You use during flying can quickly translate into the dreaded "Penguin Flop". Landing with a freshly broken coccyx sure sounds funny! But doesn't sound fun. Instead, seek a spot with at least some form of traction to stand on. And, stay in that spot until the plane lands. (Yes, this really does happen!)
  3. DO NOT be "that guy". And, think that installing snow skis will literally transform your delicate balsa wood airplane into a rugged off-road vehicle. Which can now be brutally punished while on the ground without being damaged. And, can suddenly take off from anywhere. ...If you have ever complained about the difficulty of trying to take off on your flying field's 4" inch long grass that needs mowing. ...Don't think that by installing snow skis, that your airplane can suddenly go off-roading. And, will now miraculously take off in 2 feet of fresh soft snow, with cattails and 3 foot tall swamp grass sticking out of it. Quality skis can help get your airplane off the ground in a hostile winter environment. And, with care and skill, help get you into the air, flying high above the brutal winter snow below. But your plane is just as light weight, and even more brittle and fragile in the cold and snow, than it was in the summer. The goal is to fly over it. Not through it. (Yes, this really does happen! A lot! )

Don't forget to have a blast flying in the snow!

Creativity Counts!

...Yes, we know. ...Spinning donuts on the bare ice is fun too!