Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Top 20 Tips For Night Flying

No matter what some allegedly old pros may tell you, flying at night definitely isn’t the same as aviating in daylight

Night flying isn't for everyone. Much of the joy and wonder of flying disappears when the sun goes down. Even those who claim to enjoy aviating after dark acknowledge that there's usually not much to see, and the safety margin is significantly reduced.

It's more than coincidental that many pilots begin their professional careers flying in the dark. If you fly for a package service or on some commuter operations, night flight may be required to graduate from apprentice (copilot) to journeyman (captain). It's the least choice of assignments.

For general aviation pilots, the news isn't all bad. If you use your airplane for business, flying at night can double its utility. The weather is often better without the lifting forces of the sun complicating things. Accordingly, the air may be smoother, the temperature may be more agreeable, and winds sometimes die off when the sun hides behind the Earth. Traffic is usually lighter, radio chatter is reduced, there's no glare to contend with, and the instrument scan may be simpler. Visibility often improves because the haze of day settles out, and the lights of cities and airports sometimes stand out, so you can spot them easier. Whatever your motivation, here are a few ideas that might make your night flying more enjoyable.

1 Preflight has often been touted as the most important aspect of a flight, and that function obviously becomes more difficult at night. Pilots too often tend to skip some parts of the preflight when they may have to wrestle with a flashlight, a fuel cup and a ladder. For that reason, you might consider performing the preflight in the daytime. Make certain the airplane is ready for the trip when you can perform the checks in daylight. This makes the job more of a standard procedure rather than an uncomfortable and inconvenient chore.

2 When natural light isn't available, you'll need plenty of artificial light sources to operate in the dark. Many pilots carry a variety of flashlights, preferably those that have a beam adjustable between wide angle and spot. The LED variety is great. I always carry at least three standard flashlights plus two camp lights on any night flight. I can strap a camp light on my forehead under my headset, and it will light up anything I choose to look at. If the instrument lights fail, a wide-beam camp light can save your life. It has mine.

3 Despite the lack of available light inside the airplane, remember that you still need to guard against the midair threat at night. Keep your TIS system or TCAS primed to read local traffic. Another popular hedge is one of the new high-intensity LED landing lights. Unlike the old-style tungsten lights, these will probably outlive your airplane with an estimated 5,000-hour service life. They're ridiculously bright as well, often on the order of 40,000 candela, what used to be called candlepower. Some LoPresti BoomBeams ( put out as much as 560,000 candela. That means you can turn them on before every takeoff, and they'll make your airplane incredibly visible, day, night, VFR or IFR.


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