CHAPTER 7—Skiplane Operations


Taxiing a skiplane on snow and ice presents some unusual challenges. With little or no brakes for stopping or turning, and the ability to skid sideways, a skiplane normally requires more maneuvering room and space to turn than an airplane with wheels.

The tailwheel ski provides marginal directional control on ice and hard packed snow. In such conditions, directional control comes from airflow over the rudder. Adding power and forward elevator control pressure can often help turn the skiplane. The goal is to lighten the tail to help the turn without putting the skiplane on its nose.

Taxiing in strong crosswinds can be difficult. Skiplanes tend to weathervane into the wind. Drifting sideways in the direction of the wind is also commonplace. Taxi in a skid or let the skiplane weathervane partly into the wind during crosswind operations to compensate. [Figure 7-5] A short blast of power may be required to turn the skiplane from upwind to downwind. It is normal to drift sideways in turns. Preplan the taxi track so as to remain clear of drifts, ridges, or other obstructions.

When taxiing in crosswinds on glare ice, get a helper at each wingtip to help with turns and aligning the skiplane for takeoff.

As a general rule, power settings and taxi speeds should be kept as low as possible on ice or crusted snow. On loose or powder snow, add enough power to maintain forward motion and keep the skis on top of the snow. The skiplane may even be step-taxied in a manner similar to a floatplane, staying below takeoff speed. If the skiplane is allowed to sink into soft snow, it may stop moving and become stuck. When the snow is wet and sticky, work the rudder and elevator to get the skiplane moving and maintain forward motion to prevent the skis from sticking again. If the skis are freed during

preflight, but stick again before starting the engine and beginning to taxi, free the skis again and pull the skiplane onto tree branches, leaves, or anything that will prevent the skis from sticking. Burlap bags can be used by tying a line to the bags and pulling them into the cockpit after the skiplane has taxied forward. Keep all ropes, bags, etc., clear of the propeller. Rapid rudder movement will usually break the skis free if they begin to stick during a slow taxi. Use a short blast of power to create more airflow over the tail. A thin coat of engine oil or non-stick cooking spray also prevents sticking if the bottoms of the skis are easily accessed.

At some snow-covered airports, airport managers or fixed base operators spray red or purple dye onto taxi routes and snow banks as visual aids. They may even imbed pine boughs in the snow at regular intervals to help define taxiways and runways or mark hazardous areas. These helpful aids simplify ground operations and improve safety.


Since skiplanes operate from a variety of surfaces, it is important to remember that many takeoff areas can contain unforeseen hazards; therefore, it is important to always plan for the unexpected.

If the condition of the takeoff path is unknown, walk or taxi the full length of the takeoff area and back to check the surface for hazards and help pack the snow. It is better to discover any irregularities before attempting a takeoff than to encounter them at high speeds during takeoff.

Most takeoff distances are greater on snow than for wheel-equipped airplanes on cleared runways and other hard surfaces. On wet or powder snow, two or three times the normal distance may be required. Be sure to remove any frost or crusted snow from the skis before takeoff. Such accumulations increase drag and weight, resulting in a greater takeoff distance.

Select a takeoff direction that provides an adequate distance to lift off and clear any obstructions. Use headwinds or a downhill slope for takeoff when possible to ensure best performance. When turning into the wind, keep moving and turn in a wide arc. Trying to turn too sharply can cause a ski to dig in, resulting in a groundloop or noseover.

Plan and configure for a soft-field takeoff. Soft-field procedures are recommended because the lack of contrast and surface detail or glare off snow or ice may hide possible hazards. Undetected drifts or soft sticky spots can cause sudden deceleration and even a possible noseover.

When lining up to depart, have the skiplane configured properly and keep moving. Do not stop before adding takeoff power because the skiplane may settle into soft snow and limit acceleration. If this happens, it may be necessary to taxi the takeoff path again to pack the snow.

Crosswind takeoffs require the standard procedures and techniques. Be aware that the skiplane may be sliding in a crab during takeoff acceleration. On glaze ice an increase in lateral drift may be seen on takeoff.

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