The Thrifty Pilot
A smart way to quick starts
Flying in winter can be fun, from increased aircraft performance to wonderful winter scenery. However, getting in the air during these cold times can be a bit challenging due to engines being difficult to start. To combat the cold start, many owners have installed engine block heaters. These heaters increase the temperature of the engine case, cylinders and oil sump.
Not only does the cold make starting an engine difficult, "the failure to properly preheat a cold-soaked engine may result in oil congealing within the engine, oil hoses, and oil cooler with subsequent loss of oil flow, possible internal damage to the engine, and subsequent engine failure." -reiffpreheat
On my airplane, I have an engine heater which draws approximately 400w as per its user manual. The system is the "standard" cylinder ring configuration with oil sump element. It works well and provides temperatures that my plane likes to start up normally. The only issue with the setup is that it take a long time for the temperature to increase. This is due to the system safely raising the temperature of the engine and avoiding any type of sharp increases that might damage the itself or the engine components.
One of the ways to help not having to stand around for your engine to heat up is to use a remote switching system. These systems operate either by using cellular or WiFi communications. These systems allow the operator to turn on their preheating system remotely a few hours before their flight.
Commercial switching systems that I have found can be pretty pricey. As an alternate to these more expensive $300+ devices, a pilot can choose to use a wifi enabled switch (see below) and a wireless hotspot.
Remote switches have exploded in popularity and control many items around the house such as coffee machines, lights and water heaters. These switches connect to Wifi and are controlled by an app on your phone or tablet.
As a safety measure, the hardware of the switch runs a current test to verify the power status. The internals of the switch are simple and most commonly contain a Wi-Fi unit (that includes current sensor) and relay (in this case 120v at 10amp).
To calculate the Power rating of the switch, a simple formula:
P (watts) = V (volts) x I (amps)
When calculating my switch's power tolerance, it can handle 1200w. This can easily handle the power consumption of my heater system quite easily.
I chose this particular switch as the application that accompanies it is easy to use and gives me a clear indication that the switch is either turned on or off.
For the hotspot, I chose the Verizon Wireless - Novatel 5510L Mobile Jetpack. I did so, because the hotspot was inexpensive, worked in my area and was prepaid. I could use it during the winter months and then discontinue service when the weather got warmer. If you have WiFi already as part of your hangar agreement, a mobile hotspot is not needed! A suitable plan for this device is $15 per month. This gives me enough data to use my device frequently during the month, as the switch does not require much data to operate.
Of course, make sure that your setup does not exceed any electrical ratings and refer to the manufactures instructions and specifications of the items used. There are many setups like this out there, however for the price and simplicity this works best for me.