There's Snow Time for Flying!
Sometimes you have to break up the normal and do things a bit differently. That philosophy applies to flying as well, and for those of us who live in cold weather climates there is one change any pilot can do to just about any airplane. Swap out those round rubber wheels for a set of slick snow skis.
A former co-worker of mine offered to take me up for a flight in his ski-equipped Challenger II and I couldn't turn down the offer. First of all, I'm a big fan of the Quad City Challengers. They're simple, affordable, versatile, and are a ton of fun. But I've never flown a skiplane before so this made it even more exciting.
I met Tim up at his hangar on a little grass strip a few miles outside of Oshkosh. It was a beautiful sunny day with the temps hovering in the high teens. The plane has a cabin heater, and he assured me that it should bring the cabin temperature up to a tropical 40-ish degrees. Sounds good to me, let's go!
We launched and flew low and slow over the Fox River to a neighboring airstrip where we did a few touch-and-gos. Then we headed up to lake where we spied on some of the hundreds of ice shanties stacked out on the vast white desert. The cockpit was surprisingly comfortable and the heater worked as promised. Even my toes stayed warm. Mostly.
Flying with skis is quite a different experience and it definitely takes some getting use to. You need to plan your stops and turns sooner because you have way less control then with wheels. Landing is difficult because the runway is hard to see in that big bright sheet of white snow. Don't stop too long in one spot because you may freeze the skis to the ground. Did we pack extra blankets in case we get stuck somewhere?
But those points shouldn't be taken negatively. That's what I like about trying new things in aviation. It teaches you different ways at looking at things that you may not have noticed before. Skills and techniques can be carried over to other kinds of flying to make you a more well-rounded aviator.
Thanks, Tim, for the ride. One day when I finally get myself my own big-boy toy it'll have a set of skis in it's hangar.
If you want to read a fantastic article about ski flying and winter operations check out this story on Backcountrypilot.org. There you will find some fantastic photos and a more thorough explaination on various winter tips & tricks and other snow operations.