Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, May 22, 2012

20 Things You May Not Know About Night Flying

Darkness comprises roughly half of every day, but that’s no reason to avoid flying at night, if…

3 Just as you'll want to consider flight planning for alternate airports and climbing higher to prolong glide, you should allow more generous fuel reserves at night. It's easier to become disoriented in the dark, so there's a slightly higher risk of "temporary disorientation," as the military calls it. We call it lost. Also, pilots flying at night have a greater sense of get-there-itis, and that may mean decisions they wouldn't make in daylight when things are actually visible. Even if the problem is only one of being a little short on fuel and needing to stop for a few gallons, not every airport offers fuel sales in the wee small hours. That can encourage dumb decisions.

4 If you haven't looked at a chart in years (raise your hands), a night flight might be a good time to actually mark a course line on a WAC or Sectional. Consider using a wide-point pencil or pen, perhaps even a Sharpie, for your flight track line and flight log. Don't use a highlighter, as the color may appear as a solid-black line under red light.

5 You'll obviously need a flashlight or two for the preflight. I use a hands-free miner's or camp light that straps to my forehead and shines wherever I'm looking, plus two or three Maglites of various sizes for other tasks. To keep flashlights and other important stuff where I can find it, I use industrial-strength Velcro.

6 Checking for fuel contamination can be a challenge at night, so I hold the sample against a white surface and shine a light through the cup from the side. That allows me to see any crud at the bottom of the cup.
There's no question night has its attractions. There's less traffic and more visibility, no glare from the sun, and instrument scanning is easier with well-illuminated dials.
7 Keep in mind that your eyes demand more oxygen than the rest of your body as you climb away from Earth into thinner air. For that reason, you might consider using supplemental O2 on any flight above 5,000 feet. If you live in Denver or Albuquerque, your body has probably adapted to the reduced atmospheric pressure, and you have a natural advantage over the rest of us. Also, remember the story of the two families that live in your eyes, the Rods and the Cones. The Rods live in the center of your eyes and need plenty of light to see. The Cones are more sensitive souls who live in the suburbs, so they can see things the insensitive Rods can't. In other words, if you're looking for a beacon at night, use your peripheral vision.


8 When it comes time to actually commit aviation, use aircraft lighting to warn others that you're coming—up to a point. Years ago, a not-so-grizzled but well-experienced instructor suggested leaving the rotating beacon switch on all the time, so it would come on with the master. Prior to start, this suggests to any and all that you're about to do something serious, or just did. Be a little more judicious with the landing/taxi light and strobe. If you're using position lights and rotating beacon, that may be plenty on the ground. It might be best to save the landing light for the lights/camera/action check as you take the runway.


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