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…

9 Unless you have excellent visibility and there's a bright moon overhead, it's probably best to make a semi-instrument departure, regardless of how you've filed, especially if the departure path crosses unlighted territory (the dreaded black-hole departure). Double-check that your altimeter is set for field elevation before takeoff and note any error. Keep a close eye on the altitude, airspeed and ADI during the initial ascent.

10 After the liftoff and 500 feet of climb at Vy, it's probably best to lower the nose for a cruise climb to improve forward visibility and let you see the strobes of all traffic ahead. If you have any form of traffic alert (TIS or TCAS), have it displayed before takeoff in case someone forgot to turn on his strobes.


11 In some respects, night flight flies in the face of human habits. Our circadian rhythm clues our bodies that night is the time to sleep, and unless the trip is a short one, the (hopefully) monotonous drone of the engine, comfortable warmth of the heater and gentle vibration of the airframe may make us drowsy. For that reason, pilot currency is all the more critical. Pilots familiar with the syndrome are more likely to make a wise decision, but others may need to recognize their own incapacity, land short, get some rest and continue the trip in daylight.

12 Trouble is, everything about night flying inclines us to do the opposite. Fuel exhaustion may be more common at night, because the consequences of an extra stop—lack of available fuel, landing at an unfamiliar airport in the dark, the expense and inconvenience of an extra night on the road—may incline us to go for it rather than take the conservative approach. In daylight, we can see the mountains, highways, rivers and lakes sliding by below in predictable patterns. At night, especially when operating over patches of black earth, there may be almost no perception of speed, and any night cross-countries may seem to take forever. There's a certain get-home-itis that sometimes afflicts pilots at night. If the speed of light is very fast, the speed of dark can seem very slow.

13 Though cities, airports, antennas and other traffic stand out at night, clouds don't. They usually dissolve to invisibility. That's another reason to fly higher. Though the haze of the day tends to settle out at night, clouds may linger stubbornly along your route. Even Xenon landing lights suitable for a Baja 1000 truck won't help you spot clouds ahead.

14 It's a good idea at night to ask for flight following, both to keep you awake and to provide an assist in "seeing" other traffic. A controller may also advise about weather and restricted areas, and direct you toward an airport if things go wrong.

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