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5 Tips for Winter Airplane Storage

It’s December and we know it’s almost winter season. Not all of us are able to fly year-round. Do you know how best to prepare and store your aircraft for the winter? Don’t fret, there’s still time to prepare your aircraft to ensure that it’s ready to go when spring flying season starts. As always, the best guidance comes from your A&P, but here are some tasks to consider with the goal of keeping corrosion and other damage to a minimum.

Download the quick tips handout here.

Tip 1 – Change the oil. It may seem counter-intuitive to change the oil now rather than spring but remember that the oil in your engine is old – containing dirt and contaminants that can cause rust and corrosion. Don’t just change the oil, but also replace it with a preservative oil mixture. Then take a quick flight with your new oil to make sure the oil is distributed throughout your engine.

Tip 2 – Prepare your spark plugs. Remove the spark plugs and spray the holes with a preservative oil mixture. Then replace the original spark plugs and they’ll be set for winter. You probably should consider the airplane battery as well. It probably won’t hold enough of a charge to start the engine in the spring after sitting for a few months. Bringing the battery home and storing it out of a super-cold location is good. Or a trickle charger can be used every few weeks while it’s in the airplane to maintain the charge and enhance battery life.

Tip 3 – Guard against critters. Mice and other animals will seek refuge from the cold both in your hangar and in your airplane. Be sure no food of any kind is left there that could entice pests. Plug all the holes. Use pitot tube covers and static vent covers, which will keep insects and dirt out that could later form a blockage. Plugging all holes will also prevent moisture that could get into your engine and cause corrosion.

Tip 4 – Cover what you can. Your airplane’s windows, canopy, prop blades, and tail should be covered. This reduces damage to those surfaces, and also helps reduce damage to the panel and upholstery caused by exposure to the sun, and moisture from rain, ice, and snow.

Tip 5 – Keep the fuel tanks full. By storing your airplane with full fuel tanks, you can reduce the amount of moisture that can condense in a partially full tank. If your airplane has a flexible, rubber fuel bladder, a full tank will also minimize cracking. And don’t worry about the age of fuel. Most avgas is good up to a year.

So, we’ve provided five items you should do. But what shouldn’t you do during the winter storage period? One thing: Don’t “ground run” your airplane. It may seem like a good idea to visit your airplane every few weeks and start it up, thinking it’s good for your airplane. It’s a bad idea. Ground running your airplane is no substitute for an actual flight, where the engine heats to a uniform appropriate temperature. In fact, the uneven heating as a result of ground running is worse for your airplane than doing nothing at all. Leave it alone.

Preparing your aircraft for its winter hibernation takes time and effort that will pay off when that first perfect spring flying day comes around again. We’ve provided our 5 tips. But, be sure to consult your pilot’s operating handbook, maintenance manuals, and your A&P for the best winter storage solutions for your specific make and model.

As AOPA’s partner for aviation insurance, AssuredPartners Aerospace is happy to provide these tips and information. If we may be of additional service, please contact us at 800-622-2672. Or check out the information on our website – Don’t forget: You may qualify for a 5-percent discount just for being an AOPA member.

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