My plane’s back on the line today. After doing some high-speed taxi checks to make sure nothing was leaking or running too hot or cold, I had to try to push the plane back into its spot through snow and a small ditch, cover it up, and plug it in. Call me slow (seriously — go ahead), but it took me until my fourth winter owning a plane to figure out some very simple tricks for moving, covering, and plugging in a plane in a snowy, slippery, uneven parking spot.
It is hard to move a plane by yourself on a slippery, paved surface; it’s very hard to move a plane onto uneven, snow-covered dirt and grass when standing on the slippery surface; and it’s extremely difficult to do so when there’s a small ditch where both the mains will get stuck.
A long time ago, I learned a trick for moving the plane when all else fails: use the ends of the wings for leverage. If you push near the wing tip (on a spar rivet line, please), you can exert a lot of force on one side and move that wheel back while the nosewheel slides sideways on the ice or dirt, pivoting around the other main. Keep alternating sides, and eventually you can wiggle the plane back into a spot. Unfortunately, with the wheels in a ditch, the plane was pivoting around the wrong wheel and I wasn’t able to make any progress.
Today’s solution: chock the wheel on the opposite side so that it doesn’t slide forward when you want the wheel on your side to slide back, guaranteeing a secure fulcrum for your pivot. Two or three runs back and forth with the chock, and I easily had the plane back in its spot. I’m starting to think about buying a boat winch and using it to pull the plane back by its tail tiedown.
Covering a low wing plane in the winter is tricky, because as the wing gets closer to the fuselage, you actually have to slide down on your back to get the strap from the back of the wing cover and pull it through. This gets old, fast.
Today’s solution: Hook the strap by reaching under the wing with a telescoping snow brush or towbar and pulling it to you (I flew how many winters without figuring out this one?).
As much as possible, I want to keep the extension cord I use to plug in off the ground, because as the snow thaws and refreezes, the cord can end up buried under several inches of solid ice. I’ve tried running it over the stabilator and wing, with a couple of loops around the step for good measure, but it still ends up drooping to the ground.
Today’s solution: run the electrical cord underneath the straps for the canopy cover and wing covers, so that they act as cable ties, holding the cord tight to the fuselage.
On the 1979 Warrior, large doors open on both sides of the cowling, so that you can actually see the whole ending compartment easily during preflight (you can even change the oil, oil filter, or a vacuum pump without uncowling the plane). The receptacle for my engine heater is behind one of those doors, but I have to leave the door unlatched to bring the plug in.
Today’s solution: now that the electrical cord is securely strapped to the fuselage and won’t droop down, run it through the opening at the bottom of the cowling where the exhaust and oil tube are located, then pull it up to the receptacle. Now the door can be securely latched.
I’m starting to think about buying a boat winch and using it to pull the plane back by its tail tiedown.
I’ve seen discussions of this and some claim the tiedown is not designed for this. Consider roping the winch to your main gear.
Something else you could do to plug in the engine heater is run the cord in through the front of the cowling (make sure it doesn’t droop onto the engine if it’s still hot). Or if you don’t really care about possibly bending the sheetmetal door slightly, run it into the door normally and latch one (what I usually do) or both latches.
Concerning winching it back by the tiedown, I know a few people at my airport that do this, and as far as I know they haven’t had any problems, even the ones with Cessnas (which have a wimpy small tiedown ring, as opposed to the tank-like one Piper uses). The mechanics at the FBO I work at also use the tiedown to pull the tail down if they have to work on the nosewheels of our Warriors, which I know is about 90 degrees different than pulling it backwards, but still should say something about the strength of those things. Actually, I think I’ll ask them about this when I’m there next.