Thursday, December 23, 2010

Night Flying

My wife twisted my arm to get night current again. She wanted to try looking at Xmas lights from the air. So it was time to go out night flying in our airplane, our Cessna 182.

A couple years ago I had fun getting more night time for my commercial certificate. It happened during the Christmas time, and it was fun looking at Xmas lights. Night flying is pretty cool with air being calm (usually), less crowded airspace, and things being very pretty with lights.

So this night currency made me think that I should make a list of things to think about when getting night current again. Or maybe it can be things people think about when they are new to it. This is not a full list, but are things that came to mind that I like while I was flying last night.

Day(s) before: Night Flying
  • Check all lights before the flight if possible; so they could be fixed: interior panel lights and exterior lights.
  • Find good flashlights to bring for inside cockpit. More than one.
  • Bring approach plates if IFR rated. Review IFR refresher notes.
  • Have inside organized and thought out. It will be harder to find all the controls in the dark and better to know where everything is with using the flashlight minimally. Maybe take a picture of the inside of your airplane and think it through; here is a picture of my inside panel, but every plane is a bit different.
  • Know where heat and other controls are for passenger comfort. It will be colder.
  • Think ahead where you will be flying; know altitudes; know obstructions/towers; know freqs. It is way easier on the ground in the daylight to think about this.
  • Remember FAA regulations for nighttime currency. (Night is 1 hour after sunset, 1 hour before sunrise; Need 3 full stop landing and takeoffs within 90 days; Nav lights need to be on from sunset to sunrise).
  • Know how to turn lights on at airports you will be going to. Usually 3,5,or 7 clicks on mike.
  • Have a handheld radio if possible at least to turn on runway lights in an electrical emergency.

Taxi: Night Flying
  • Do IFR taxi checks even if not IFR rated (airspeed correct, AI flat and zeroed out, Altimeter correct, Turn Coordinator turning, DG adjusted and not precessing, VSI at or near zero)
  • Turn on your navigation lights; check and remember where the switches are.
  • Click on the airport runway/taxi lights.
  • Taxi light use only now.
  • Use the taxi center lines. It is hard to tell correct spacing to parked planes. Be real cautious of wingtips and any other planes/buildings.
  • Notice color of airport lights and where to go. Blue is taxi, white is runway edges.
  • Exit the runway onto the taxiway watching for path between two parallel rows of blue lights
  • Practice taxi backs instead of just stop&goes. That needs practice and you will feel better with the practice. Also, it gives you the entire runway for takeoff.

Takeoff: Night Flying
  • Normal Takeoff stuff
  • Landing light on
  • Look outside but also use AI, DG, airspeed when departing upwind. (As you take off you are pointing high, the runway lights are behind you and likely will not have much horizon to see. My wife commented last night about this. It is disorienting if you are not prepared.)
  • Climb near Vy, but not below.

Cruise: Night Flying
  • Beautiful and smooth flying usually. Lots to look at, but always be the pilot and not just site seeing.
  • Normal Cruise stuff: LCGUMPS and other mnemonics
  • Landing light off? Maybe keep Taxi light for extra visibility. Definitely all other lights.
  • Watch for planes. Edges of eye is best.
  • Watch engine gauges. It will feel better to know your plane is operating well. (It is strange, but psychologically the engine will sound different at night. You hear every change in tone in the engine sounds. )
  • Remember to check Voltage or Amp gauge. Very important at night since you need lights.
  • GPS helps tremendously but be prepared if it goes out.
  • Know where you are on a map and relation to roads/cities.
  • Always guess where you think the airport is.
  • Turn on the runway lights and see if you are right.

Landing: Night Flying
  • Normal landing stuff including LCGUMPS
  • Turn on appropriate lights including landing light.
  • Be prepared to turn the airport lights back on if it has been a while since you first activated them or click them again just to be safe they will stay on.
  • Remember the runway edge lights are a little above the ground and remember not to flare to early or late.
  • Use glide slope (right on preferably, never on low side.) It is harder to judge the right angle at night, so a VASI glide slope indication helps a lot.
  • Make your approach perfect. I like turning final about 400' above the field.
  • Flaring at night can be challenging, so I like to use an approach similar to a float plane glassy water landing. I have read about it, but not actually done a real float plane landing yet. I dream of getting a seaplane rating. But the glassy water landing sounds good and I read somebody else did it too. They do it when it is difficult to see where water level is
  • Land with some power
  • Land with appropriate airspeed, not to fast or slow. Too fast or too slow will make flare harder.
  • Land with flaps so you are slow and pointing down more on approach
  • Level out parallel with the ground when getting close to landing.
  • Nose higher as you get close to landing but leave some power until main wheels touch
  • Pull power when the main wheels are on the ground
  • Basically a soft field landing too. Don't bother with the short field unless you are a confident night flier. Longer runways are your friend at night.

General Nighttime Flying tips
Know where your hills and antennas are. Avoid them. Leave the mountains for the daytime. Bright moon can help make things easier and more comfortable; it will light up the ground a bit. Also, stay near roads, cities, and lit up areas. Night time flying in dark areas counts as actual IFR, so stay away from that unless IFR rated.

Get some IFR training if you don't have it. It will help in general and be good for unexpected entry into clouds or dark areas

I found these other websites with some other good tips:


So I went up two nights ago to get current again and had fun with both the practice and the site seeing. Then again last night. I found an awesome house from the air and then went and found it on the ground. I never would have found it otherwise. Go check out your area for houses; it is fun!

Xmas House Lights Aerial

We got lots of other pictures too..

Denver Xmas Lights Aerial
Downtown Denver with the baseball field at the bottom. It is surprising how the skyscrapers blend in with everything. It is very pretty and hard to capture in pictures.

Denver City Building Xmas Lights Aerial Our Denver City and County building is lit up at Christmas time. Very pretty as well.


Go out and have fun, but be careful. If you are nervous at all or are learning, take an instructor. Most instructors love night flights.