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

4 Everything becomes more difficult when you're flying at night, especially if you're piloting an older airplane with a weak bulb or two in the instrument lights. Add that consideration to your preflight check, and consider whether you really need to fly if some noncritical instrument lights are sporadic or inoperative. You'd be surprised what can become critical during an emergency.

5 Don't neglect the human factor. Flying at night can be automatically sleep inducing, and ironically, the situation only gets worse when the weather is good, and the sky is smooth. A gentle ride in a velvet sky with the smooth, even drone of an aircraft engine or two can make you want to doze off. I know. Coming home from a long day of flying from Long Beach, Calif., to Ruidoso, N.M., to Farmington, N.M., and finally heading home to Long Beach in my Mooney at 11 p.m., I fell asleep after crossing the Colorado River and finally woke up 80 miles out to sea on my way to Hawaii after overflying the entire L.A. Basin at 12,500 feet. Fortunately, fuel wasn't a problem. I turned around and landed at Long Beach with about 40 minutes remaining. For that reason, consider flying shorter legs at night and filing IFR on every flight, so you'll have someone to talk to and the possibility of being psychologically awakened when a controller says your N-number.
If you use your airplane for business, flying at night can double its utility.
6 Similarly, plan your route a little more conservatively at night. Consider routing above major highways if possible and planning en route legs between airports whenever possible. Avoid flight planning your trips by inputting your destination and simply pressing the direct-to button on your GPS.

7 A more conservative route usually means a slightly longer one. That obviously demands more fuel; the more the better. Even if the flight only demands two hours, don't be reluctant to load four hours' worth aboard your airplane. The cooler temperatures will allow better performance anyway, so you'll probably never notice the extra weight. In the words of an old fighter pilot, the only time you can have too much fuel is if you're on fire.

8 You also might want to fly higher on a night flight to give you more time to handle any problem that might bring you down. Incumbent with the higher altitude is the need to bring along a portable oxygen bottle, especially if you're over the age of 50. Your mental function won't be as sharp in the dark, and everyone's eyesight degrades from blood-oxygen deprivation when you pass about 7,000 feet. Even young pilots will begin to lose peripheral vision above 7,000 feet. The effect is insidious, however, and you're not liable to notice it. If you're older than 50, even if your vision is still 20/20, an oxygen bottle should be mandatory for night flights.

9 Think at least three times before contemplating a night flight in icing conditions, regardless of whether you have boots, TKS or even hot wings. Icing at night always seems twice as dangerous, and it's not easy to recognize when a buildup starts or stops. Additionally, even if you do fly out into the clear, you stand little chance of sublimating an icing accumulation when there's no sun available.


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