Winter Ops

I have never made a secret of the fact that I really despise winter here in the “Great White North.” It’s much like forced hibernation for basically 4-5 months of the year. Nearly everything grinds to a halt to wait for the break in the weather that comes with the spring.  Particularly bad months here are November through February. Lots of cloud, lots of wind, lots of snow, lots of cold. And even if we have a nice sunny day or two and even if I want to get out and fly somewhere, often times the weather between here and wherever simply will not permit a decent cross country to warmer climates. So, presented with a view of the snow drifts, the sound of the whistling winds and a never ending coffee pot, I (we) wait it out.

Except for a couple years flying freight in the Sunshine State and four or five years running air tour companies in the Hawaiian Islands, (The story for why and how I ever left Hawaii to return to this Ice Box will have to wait for another time.) I have pretty much just stayed frozen and endured what Mother Nature brings me. Well, there was that stint in the Middle East where I actually wished I could see some nasty cold weather, but that hardly compares to the decades I have spent in the deep freeze waiting for that rat Punxsutawney Phil to decide if winter will end or hang on to add to my misery. What the hell does he know anyway? He’s in Pennsylvania. That’s the “banana belt” in winter compared to Michigan.

A couple years ago I thought I had the answer. A hangar opened up on my field that was insulated and provided forced air heat. At last, I would be able to putter away on airplanes during my hibernation. Well, it almost works. I do get to putter away on airplanes in the cold months. March is annual month for the Mooney and it sure is nice to be able to take the old girl down and work through an inspection at a leisurely pace knowing that when I am finished spring will have officially arrived. The hangar gets me through the “dark part of the year,” so named because it seems we seldom see the sun. And that, I find, is what really bothers me the most; lack of sunshine. This time of year what ain’t cold, is dark.

Spring here means that we look for any sign of impending relief. The sand hill cranes will return to shiver until May, trees begin to bud a bit, people start checking to see if the Robins are passing through on their way to the “Greater, Whiter, North.” I find all of that encouraging but somehow it falls short when after five months the icy wind still blows down the neck of my jacket and my fingers remain too cold to do a proper preflight out in the elements. Besides, over the years history has taught me that it won’t be near sunny enough nor warm enough for the fruit trees to bloom until about May 10th! That means I have been waiting on flyable weather for about six months! The only bright spot in that dismal portion of the year is the fact that we may have enough forgiving weather in April to flap on down to Sun N’ Fun for a few days. For me, Sun N’ Fun has become the annual excitement that smelt dipping used to be. I do love the smelt run, but Florida is a whole lot warmer and sunnier than the Upper Peninsula of Michigan that time of year. Besides, I can get fresh fish almost anywhere these days.

So I tough it out. This winter has not been a particularly harsh one . . .  yet. I still recall the worst blizzard I have ever seen; it was in April and I now find myself waiting for the other shoe to drop! On good days when I would rather be flying to somewhere, anywhere; often I am hobbled by the need to remove the piles of snow from my ramp and doors and allow that one afternoon of sun we may have to melt the snow and ice from the apron; just in case I actually get to go somewhere. Typically, the snow removal takes some time and dampens the desire to push the Screamin’ Eagle out into the cold for more time spent fighting the elements. It’s a pity because most often one really nice, blue, day is followed by some more “seasonal” weather, and I find myself waiting for the storm to blow itself out and the temperatures to rise so that I can begin my “winter ops” ritual yet again. I have heard it said so many times that I could almost believe it; “I would love to move out of the state but I would miss the changing of the seasons.” It’s getting tougher for me to buy into this thought anymore!

Winter ops are portrayed in a brief video here for you. We hope you enjoy it and get a smile out of a look at winter in the “Great White North.” Watch us on YouTube. Don’t forget to hit that “subscribe” button!

All the best, Capt. “T”

Tom Speerstra

Author: Tom Speerstra

Tom Speerstra has had an enduring love affair with aviation for over 40 years. Countless adventures have been enjoyed flying students, people, paper, and parcels in everything from Champs to Citations. He has held positions as both Chief Pilot and Director of Operations for Part 135 carriers and holds an ATP, MEII, SES ratings and a Citation type rating. Tom makes his home in Michigan with his wife Elizabeth and Pappy “the dog” Boyington.