Night flying

Discussion in 'Pilot Training' started by PilotMedic865, Jun 24, 2019.

  1. PilotMedic865

    PilotMedic865 Filing Flight Plan

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    So I’ve come to the end of my private pilot training where I’m doing my night time and last bit of cross country time. Up until now all of my training has been in day light hours. How different is night flying and what challenges do I face? What tips do you guys have?
    Thanks!


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  2. jordane93

    jordane93 Final Approach

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  3. Steven Untet

    Steven Untet Pre-Flight

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    It’s easy. No problem.


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  4. Lowflynjack

    Lowflynjack Pattern Altitude

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    The biggest challenge people seem to have is landing. Your instructor will tell you to look at the far end of the runway. Do that! It will be tempting to look right where the landing light hits the runway.

    When I haven't flown at night in awhile, I like to do some touch-n-goes, starting right as the sun goes down and then it will get darker and darker on each landing. Let's you gradually get used to it.

    You'll be fine, just practice, practice, practice!
     
  5. Timbeck2

    Timbeck2 Final Approach

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    I do the same. Night flying here is Aridzona is much nicer than the day as its cooler and smoother. However, there are certain sounds that can only be heard at night. Fair warning. ;)
     
  6. PaulMKE

    PaulMKE Pre-takeoff checklist

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    The main difference is that it’s dark.

    Seriously though, unless you’re somewhere remote, in good VFR to ground lights provide a good horizon reference.

    Biggest difficulty is judging height on landing and particularly the flare. For fun, when you’re comfortable, try a few landings without the landing light.
     
  7. Ryanb

    Ryanb Touchdown! Greaser! PoA Supporter

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    This sums it up.
     
  8. sourdough44

    sourdough44 Pattern Altitude

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    It’s nice to incorporate some ‘soft’ instrument protocols into night flying. That may be as simple as altitude control/reference & crosschecking the attitude gyro. Some have hit trees at night, usually when landing.
     
  9. FORANE

    FORANE Pattern Altitude

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    Night flying out of a remote strip without surrounding ground lights from cities, houses, roads, etc has been every bit as disorienting as the darkest of clouds I have flown through in IMC. On takeoff I have found myself going on instruments immediately after rotation.

    A night sky and an unlit mountain may appear exactly the same pitch black at night.

    It is possible to fly into a cloud without seeing it before penetrating it.

    If you are flying and the lights you see go out, consider the possibility that a mountain may have blocked the light. If the light you saw starts to twinkle, consider that trees or clouds may be between you and the light.

    A large and wide runway may appear very different at night leading to misjudging when to flare.

    You will want to follow the VASI to touchdown to decrease the possibility of impacting obstacles in the approach path.

    Have a flashlight or 2.
     
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  10. Salty

    Salty En-Route PoA Supporter

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    Here in Florida, I like to take a comfortable passenger 90 degrees to the coastline heading out. I always warn them, and they always say no big deal. Until you hit that point where you see nothing. They quickly decide heading back towards the lights is a good idea.
     
  11. luvflyin

    luvflyin Final Approach

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    I can verify that both this and that Cessnas have very strong landing gear from experience. 5000 X 400 foot Runway. Unless you really need to for some reason, full stall landings may not be the best technique at night
     
  12. Caramon13

    Caramon13 Pattern Altitude

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    When I was working on my PPL I could only fly after work or on weekends, which meant getting into the plane around 6 PM at night. The DPE was wondering if there was an error when he saw how much night time I had in relation to my day flying when I sat for my checkride heh.

    I love flying at night. Winds are often calmer, temperature lower, not as much air traffic cluttering up the airwaves and it's just overall a much more peaceful situation. For the OP, some challenges will be flying where there is no visible horizon (black hole effect). Your fuel requirements change. Getting the hang of toggling the runway lights on and off at pilot controlled fields was fun. I'm sure people thought a disco was going on when I was enroute and trying to figure out how the hell to turn them on, brighten, etc.

    Learn to land without your landing light. Noise abatement procedures change at night, so learn those.

    Also, emergency procedures may need to be altered a bit at night, especially when you can't see things. Learn to figure out how to get back to your airport using the compass, especially when you are flying in a black hole. Learn to trust your instruments.

    And..as an instructor once told me "If you have to make an emergency landing at night and you don't like what you see with the landing light on, turn it off."
     
  13. luvflyin

    luvflyin Final Approach

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    And do it even if they are already on to reset the timer. Ya don’t want them going off on you because they were on for the guy who turned them on however minutes ago.
     
  14. Caramon13

    Caramon13 Pattern Altitude

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    Yep, that happened to me on final actually, that was super fun to be flying in and then the whole field just turns off on you. I remember thinking that didn't want me there that night..
     
  15. Fallsrider

    Fallsrider Pre-takeoff checklist PoA Supporter

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    There's a YT video of a guy who lost his electrical at night and was having his flying buddy hold a flashlight for him to see the panel. Right before he got to the runway, the runway lights timed out and shut off. He landed safely anyway. That would be a pretty good pucker factor, I would think.
     
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  16. Caramon13

    Caramon13 Pattern Altitude

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    It was indeed heh..but I think it was lessened by the fact that my instructor made me do lights off landings (no landing light either) as a part of the ppl training.

    Hope they were using a red light flashlight or something, using a bright white light in the cockpit and doing a lights off landing is no bueno...

    Still when you lost that sight picture it does take a second or two to adjust. Thankfully I was far enough out where it wasn't a problem. Fully agree with @luvflyin that you should hit up CTAF to refresh things. Maybe even on downwind as well to be sure you don't lose anything on final.
     
  17. kaiser

    kaiser Filing Flight Plan

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    For me, my best landings are at night. I really enjoy the peace and how calm the air is at night. I live near Chicago, so all of my PPL night XC time was up and down the shore. For challenges, I'd say keep an extra eye out for bail out options in case you lose electrical or engine.
     
  18. cowman

    cowman En-Route PoA Supporter

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    Depends on where, here in the rural midwest it's nothing. I almost prefer it to day flying if it's a clear night. Get up to 4,000' or more and you normally have at least a couple of airport beacons in sight, no real terrain to worry about around here. Night air tends to be calm and smooth so you get a nice ride, the view is absolutely wonderful. Most of us run GPS these days so navigation shouldn't be an issue, just make sure you have a plan B if it the GPS fails but that really goes for any time.

    The big dangers... at least in the flat semi-populated parts of the country are of course if your electrical system goes you lose your lights and the ability to turn on pilot activated lights at uncontrolled fields. It would also be more dangerous in the event of an engine failure as you wouldn't really be able to see the ground well to pick a landing spot. You wouldn't be able to see clouds/weather before potentially flying into them so I'd double your minimums for cloud clearance. Over water or in unpopulated areas with no lights on the ground spacial orientation can be an issue but I've flown all around farm country at night and out here you can always see several towns so it's a non-issue here. Some people have trouble adjusting to the perceived distance to the runway when landing at night- which is the main reason why night currency is a thing. That's pretty much it. Some people like it, some people absolutely refuse to do night VFR in a single engine piston. Personally, I think it's fine as long as you're aware of the dangers and up your minimums.
     
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  19. IK04

    IK04 Cleared for Takeoff

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    Yeah, when I went for my commercial airplane cert, I had around 400 hours and 250 of it was at night. That raised an eyebrow...

    When I was helping some coworkers with their ATP prep, I was shocked to hear most of them did not have the required 25 hours of night PIC time and had to substitute landings for the hours! Crazy!
     
  20. texasclouds

    texasclouds Cleared for Takeoff

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    Night are alot of fun and in central TX easy to see destination with familiar town lights. We don’t have mtns but we do have antennas. My club wont let me fly past 9pm XC until i finish my instrument training, but I have been night flying with another pilot who has IR. We only do it on clear nights and have yet to experience disorientation.
     
  21. PilotMedic865

    PilotMedic865 Filing Flight Plan

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    Yeah, I’m from East TN which has a ton of mountains but am doing my flying in Oklahoma. With it being so flat it’s easy to pick a major highway and follow it. Plus the winds make for some crazy flying.


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  22. bflynn

    bflynn Final Approach

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    Might be a little more complicated than daytime flying because if it gets truly dark, disorientation is a real possibility. If that happens, alternate your instrument scan with looking outside. If you become disoriented, focus on instruments and remember that your body lies to you. Probably won't happen, but I think it might be the big danger.

    My rules for flying at night right now require clouds under 10,000 ft. That's very conservative, but the last thing I want to do is blunder into a low cloud layer at night. I also prefer flying with fuller moons without a full overcast, it can be almost like daytime.

    Overall, not really an issue. Your landmarks change a bit because a lot of landmarks you'd normally think of using won't be visible. Clusters of towers, power lines, and towns are great choices. Airport, lakes and rivers, not so much. Roads are ok, but use them conservatively, one busy straight road looks like every other busy straight road.

    If you have some kind of emergency, do what you'd normally do. When you get close to the ground, turn the landing light on. If you don't like what you see, turn it off again...that's a joke.

    Seriously - relax and enjoy it. It's a fun time to fly, it tends to be calmer air.
     
  23. chemgeek

    chemgeek Cleared for Takeoff

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    It's frequently smoother flying at night without daytime thermals. When I was a freshly minted pilot, I flew quite a a bit of VFR XC at night. Nowadays, I always file IFR at night for more layers of safety. Some things to think about flying at night:
    • Choose your night XC flights carefully. On cloudy or moonless nights, it is easier to get disoriented, or accidentally fly into weather. On the other hand, isolated CBs are easy to spot at night as they light up with lightning.
    • Carry emergency cockpit lighting. I recommend an LED headlamp or and LED visor clip-light. Just leave it on to see the panel more clearly, especially if you have steam gauges. My visor light has both red and white lighting. I use the red at night. My Traveler's panel lights are not the best. The headlamp really helps and it's always on and ready. The lithium battery versions will last a loooong time.
    • Be extra wary of terrain clearance. Especially in less populous areas, you may not be able to see terrain at night.
    • Plan your XC routing carefully. Sometimes the shortest route is not the safest. For example, I usually avoid flying over the Catskills at night, and take an extra 15 minutes to fly around them in better lighted valleys with more airports and other potential emergency landing options.
    • If flying to a strange airport, use the VASI/PAPI lights or fly along an ILS glideslope if available to maintain adequate terrain clearance from stuff you may not be able to see. If the PAPIs disappear on final approach, beware!
    • Do brush up on your instrument flying skills, even if you are not IFR rated. You may find certain night flying situations less disorienting with some good instrument skills.
    OK, having said all that, night XC is really fun and can be practical. Go out and practice and gain confidence. Some don't like the added risk of flying at night, but in a well-maintained plane and good piloting skills, the extra risk is minimal. (There are daytime flights over challenging terrain that might be just as "risky" as night flight.)
     
  24. Huckster79

    Huckster79 Line Up and Wait

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    I see nothing wrong with it but choose not to any longer, though I enjoyed it for all the reasons folks have said.

    I think maybe my decision is based on my machine too, my new to me old Cessna 140 doesn’t have an attitude indicator, and that was a great comfort of flying at night. I know it can be accomplished by using a few other instruments but the quick check was nice to make sure you weren’t getting skeehawed in the air.

    I’ve also chosen due to not takin on the additional risks at night.. I do not frown on it, in fact I miss it, I just chose not to...
     
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  25. steingar

    steingar Taxi to Parking

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    On my night cross country instructional flight someone crashed and died near where I was flying. Something that would have been benign in the daylight but lethal at night. I didn't get back until really late, and the crash had been reported on the news. Everyone thought it was me. Mrs. Steingar thought she was seeing a ghost. So did all my colleagues.

    My last night flight sucked hard. First into my new drome, the only landing I ever did worse caused $25K in damage. Thankfully it takes light here until about 10:00 these days, though I'll have to wrestle with night flight again one of these days.
     
  26. texasclouds

    texasclouds Cleared for Takeoff

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    My King Cessna IFR training kit says for VFR night you should consult the airport Departure Procedures to ensure safe climb. I don’t remember that from primary training.
     
  27. CharlieD3

    CharlieD3 Pre-takeoff checklist

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    As a low time PP just after a BFR, I took my gal for a $100 hamburger. Landed in the dark, on a nice field, with VASI. We went back during daylight about 6 months later... There was a hill at the landing end of the runway, I never knew it was there when we flew in before... I had to go around, because the hill scared me! Didn't even trust the VASI!

    I loved flying at night... It's smooth, it's purty.
     
  28. chemgeek

    chemgeek Cleared for Takeoff

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    That is VERY good advice. Just another reminder that night flying has significant IFR-like qualities. I'm pretty sure that most VFR pilots have probably never looked at an ODP in training, or even know what it is. If you always file IFR at night for XC, this is already in your routine flight planning routine.
     
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  29. danhagan

    danhagan Pattern Altitude

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    Be aware of auto-kinesis ... I had it happen on a flight into Van Horn, TX with no moon and absolute black - no horizon. Appearance (the stars) looked IDENTICAL to when cars are coming down Transmountain drive in El Paso (ground vehicles and stars appear to move). I was well above terrain at 9500, but still asked ABQ Center to confirm altitude.
     
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  30. DoubleD

    DoubleD Pre-takeoff checklist

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    Be very careful at night flying into runways without VASI/PAPI. My rule is to be at 400' AGL rolling out on final in a standard traffic pattern and to make a steeper than normal descent from there.
     
  31. chemgeek

    chemgeek Cleared for Takeoff

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    This will be highly dependent on the particular airport. If you fly 400 AGL at my home airport on base you will be dangerously close to terrain. At an unfamiliar airport instrument approach guidance at night will assure clearance from terrain. If flying in hilly terrain to an unfamiliar airport, pattern altitude until rolling out on long final with VASI/PAPI in sight might be safer. But the ihstrument approach will be safer.
     
  32. Steegie

    Steegie Filing Flight Plan

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    Night flying is very close to flying solely by reference to instruments. Truth known, most inexperienced pilots ground themselves at sunset unless they are flying around the patch. Don't assume you know what you're doing at night just because you've completed the bare-bones basics. It's a whole different ball game!
     
  33. Matthew Rogers

    Matthew Rogers Pre-takeoff checklist

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    Luckily I am flying on older C150 with 40 degree flaps and since I learned at short fields with tall trees, I usually turn final at 600-700agl or more. Drop in the 40 degrees of flaps and I can point the nose down all I want and never get faster than 70 mph. So yes, at night, coming in high is a great idea. It is much easier to go around if too high than to smash into a powerline or dark hill in final.
     
  34. Steegie

    Steegie Filing Flight Plan

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    Agreed. Also a good look at the AFD is strongly advised if going into a strange field at night (as in Peapatch Peoria).