Mike Whitescaver's RV-8A

Ski Plane Flying

Wednesday, February 18, 2015 2:56 PM | DeAnne Wiese

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We interrupt this series of “What Our Members are Flying” for this week’s special addition. Are you sitting by the fire looking out the back door at the Arctic weather that just seems to hang around? Are your local airport runways identified by the mounds of snow that are piled up alongside?  Have the green grass strips become a white blending blanket of snow matching adjacent fields? Well, your options for flying have just become an adventure. The season for many has just begun. That is if you’re flying passion may include flying off skis! My goal this year was to put my Chief on skis and be able to shoot right out of our 2400’ “Snow” strip. ..And if I can get the Chief’s annual finished up I think it just might be possible! My thoughts about ski flying are with a safe attitude. It may just be some of the safest flying one could do in Ohio… since landing strips would nearly become endless, providing your finding clear areas. Most aviators are, by necessity, restricted to runways of some sort during the summer months, but winter offers a whole new range of possible "airports", with literally thousands of level landing sites within reach in northwest Ohio and Michigan. These landing sites are often lakes and rivers, but with sufficient snow cover, ski-equipped aircraft can land virtually anywhere that’s relatively level, and even some places that are very definitely not level.

For me it would be just another adventure a great way to keep up flying skills in what most would consider the “Idol” season. But for many ski flying is a way of life and in other areas, many become dependent on planes with skis to bring supplies, medical needs as well as an only means of transportation to travel any major distance.  Thanks to social media and the vast websites and interest groups I have found, I have become friends with others who share a common interest as well as those who are dependent on the type of aircraft and flying I would like to do. “Back Country” Although I am very green in this type of flying, nothing says I can’t learn research and discover new territory even in my Lil’ Chief.  I have a web friend I correspond and chat with who is very fluent in Backcountry flying, he says this to me, ….. For those aviators who haven’t experienced ski flying, you don’t know what you’re missing. Many of those scenic destinations that you couldn’t quite find time to visit in the summer are even more spectacular when covered with a blanket of snow.” Of course he lives in Denali and flies a 170 on every configuration, Tundra tires, Floats and Skis.  He joked with me that we in Ohio, have “seasons” , in Denali he calls it “Swapping Time”. I don’t know if “Chief –n-I” will ever make it to Denali but I would sure love to visit their way of life someday. If you want to come out of winter hibernation to see what winter flying is all about, there are many local and national Ski plane events including Oshkosh’s annual EAA Ski Plane Fly in, Local Chapters also host Ski Plane fly ins such as Chapter 50 recently hosted theirs at hind Field (88D) in Huron Ohio as well as several lakes throughout the country host regular gatherings.  If Ski plane flying is something you’re interested in, there are also training services throughout such as Northwood Aviation in Cadillac Michigan who also do tail-wheel  as well as seaplane ratings.

 

As soon as the airplane became a successful controlled flight… people were already finding ways to adapt them to various accessories to fly them off sand, water, ice and snow simply because Airports obviously came as a successor after the airplane. Snow skis were actually invented prior to paved runways.  The ski types in common use today are straight skis, penetration skis, semi-retractable skis, and fully retractable wheel skis. To make things more interesting, there are skis made from metal, fiberglass, thermoplastics, some high tech carbon fibre composites, and the original composite material, wood. Originally, most skis were made from wood.

Skis although are common place to adapt to conventional gear airplanes and well as high wing airplanes, many tricycle gear and low wing airplanes have been adapted with skis as well. I feel a high wing design is more flexible than a low wing for ski operations, but there are successful low wing ski planes out there. I’m thinking tasks such as draining the wing sumps can be somewhat more “interesting” on a low wing plane in snow and deep snow may make the low wing design a liability due to snow berms and other obstacles.

So, start thinking about those ice fishing/cross country skiing/snowshoeing/winter camping adventures. A set of skis on your airplane may just open a lot of doors to winter adventure that you never dreamed of. Stay tuned for the coming years when EAA 582 may just start our annual Ski Plane Fly in… I hear there may be left over chili !!..........Now I need to go finish the  annual!

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