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Flying Warm in the Winter

For all of my questioners the issue is not performance but warmth. After all, it’s freezing here on terra firma, so it’s got to be even colder up stairs – right? Well the “colder up stairs” is not always the case. I live near the Blue Ridge Mountains, so we usually have an inversion during in the morning. It is often noticeably warmer 800-1000 feet above the ground. But “warmer” is relative. During the winter “warmer” is still cold.

So, how do I stay warm during the winter in an open cockpit aircraft? Here are some ideas, many of which I gathered come from people trying to stay warm while riding motorcycles, skiing, snowmobiling, etc.

The first rule of thumb is layering.  Layering is the practice of using multiple layers to adjust to the conditions rather than one bulky layer.

The first layer I will discuss is the outer layer. This should be windproof and cover the torso and the legs. I prefer a one piece suit because it eliminates drafts that can find their way into the seams of two piece solutions. I use an Ozee flight suit because it is made for open cockpit flyers like me. It has lots of convenient pockets and is made to flex in the ways flyers flex. I also like the way the suit is designed to allow me to put it on without having to take my shoes off. I recommend you buy it one size larger so that you can layer below it. It is available in insulated and uninsulated models. Mine is uninsulated which allows me to use it year-round. However, for flyers who live in really cold country I recommend the insulated model.

Now that we have the outer layer worked out I am going to go to the inner layer and work my way out. During the winter my inner layer is a good pair of long underwear. I use the same materials I use for skiing because they are warm and wick moisture away from the skin (vital to staying warm). The material I use for my legs is slightly thicker than the shirt because my legs are more exposed to the environment. I use Hot Chillys for my bottoms a thin Patagonia shirt for my top.

Next, and for me this is the key, I wear Gerbing’s heated clothing. Gerbing has been making heated gear for motorcycle riders for years. I had heard of it but didn’t really believe their claims until a student showed up with his heated clothing. I was freezing even though I looked like the Pillsbury Doughboy, but he was nice and warm. I immediately ordered Gerbing’s Heated Jacket Liner with thermostat and 12v wiring so I could connect to my aircraft’s 12v system. Man, what a difference. Satisfied that this stuff worked and the quality was excellent, I ordered the Heated Pant Liner too. Both of these liners have electric heat and are insulated with Thinsulate. The pants connect to the jacket which connects to the thermostat which connects to the aircraft power. You can also get heated socks and gloves but I haven’t tried those. The reason the electric system works so well for open cockpit applications is because it supplies the heat that our bodies can’t in that environment. Remember, while flying we are sitting still and consequently our bodies are not generating much heat. If we were on the ground we could exercise to get warm but not in the air. The electric clothing bathes you in heat so it is actually putting heat back into your body. It is so effective that when properly layered I usually have to turn the thermostat down to keep from getting too hot.

Finally, I put a medium pile layer between the Gerbing heated clothing and my Ozee shell. This layer is probably unnecessary if you have the insulated Ozee suit. The pile insulation prevents the cold exterior Ozee from stealing any of the heat away from my Gerbing suit.

With this setup I can comfortably fly for 2-3 hours in temperatures into the mid 20s, which in Virginia is about as cold as it gets. But the beauty of the layering method is that if it gets colder I can add more layers, provided my outer shell is large enough to accommodate it. If I were routinely flying in temps colder than the mid-20s I would add the heated gloves, heated socks, and the insulated Ozee suit to the layers above and I would be good down to 0.

Winter is a great time to fly provided you can keep warm. Layering and heated clothing are the way to go. Try it, you’ll like it.

About the Author

Terri Sipantzi is the Owner/Operator of Precision Windsports, Inc. based in Lynchburg, VA. Precision Windsports is a full service (sales, training, and maintenance) weight-shift light sport aircraft dealer specializing in AirBorne Trikes. Terri’s qualifications include Commercial/Instrument SEL, Sport Pilot CFI WSC, FAA Designated Pilot and Instructor Examiner WSC, Light Sport Repairman with Maintenance rating (airplane, WSC, and PPC), and FAA Designated Airworthiness Representative (WSC). He is a frequent contributor to magazines such as “EAA Light Sport” and “Ultraflight Magazine.” You can reach Terri at


Light Aviation Edition November 2009

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