Frozen Fords

According to the National Climactic Data Center, the average temperature in Florida in 2013 (the latest year with stats) was 71.6 degrees F.

According to the National Climactic Data Center, the average temperature in Florida in 2013 (the latest year with stats) was 71.6 degrees F.

So it makes all the sense in the world that when Ford wants to do some extreme cold-weather testing during the summer months, it goes to northwest Florida, where August is characterized by the sort of humidity that makes you want to take serial showers.

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Well, it turns out that the McKinley Climatic Laboratory at Eglin Air Force Base, which is in the Florida panhandle, can have one of those signs that used to adorn movie theaters: “It’s Cool Inside.”

Because the lab, which the U.S. Air Force uses to test aircraft under all manner of conditions, allows seriously cold temperatures to be achieved in comparatively short order.

And Ford engineers take advantage of that for product development.

Given that the lab is sized for aircraft—an entire C-5 M Super Galaxy was accommodated for temperature testing--, cars and trucks are readily accommodated within the McKinley Climatic Laboratory, which is said to be the world’s largest climatic test facility.

Ford takes down 75 prototype vehicles and a crew of 54 engineers and technicians when the temperatures at places like Prudhoe Bay and Yellowknife are simply too warm, places where within a few months it will get very, very cold.

The temperature within the lab can go down to minus 40-degrees F within just 10 hours. One of the tests they run is to cycle the temperature from plus 40 to minus 40 for weeks on end while an engine is operating.

The engineers look at multiple aspects of the effects of the temperature on vehicles, from the fuel to the components.

One recent consequence was to swap out the metallic spark plugs used in the 6.7-liter F-Series Super Duty engines with ceramic gold plugs. The ceramic plugs facilitate a faster start, which is certainly helpful when 71.6 degrees is but a dream.