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

10 Here in the U.S., there's no requirement that you have an instrument rating to fly at night, though there often are more stringent night flight requirements in foreign countries. If you're not rated for instruments, at least be sure you have enough instrument proficiency to handle black hole departures. If a straight-out departure takes you out over a totally unlighted area, consider turning left or right after reaching a few hundred feet, and climb at least a thousand feet with the airport lights as reference before turning on course.

11 What kind of panel lights and how much intensity you use is a personal choice. In days gone by, manufacturers used to insist on red panel lights because they tend to degrade night vision the least. Today, most airplanes come with standard white panel lights that you can turn up or down as necessary. Keep in mind, however, that if you have a problem and need to make an emergency landing, you'll probably want to turn the panel lights down so that any lights on the ground will become more readily visible.

12 While it's good to route near highways, don't automatically assume you can land on them if you have to, though that may sometimes be the case. Many roads are crisscrossed by power lines that you're not liable to see until just before impact. Highways may still be preferable for route definition because there may be airports close by.

13 Visual perception at night depends upon two photoreceptors in the eye: rods and cones. The cones are concentrated in the center of the eye, and the rods are located around the edges. The rods are far more receptive to dim light. That means if you're looking for an airport at night, you may see it with your peripheral vision first. If you look to the left or right of where you think an airport or beacon should be rather than directly at it, you'll be more likely to spot it. Then, you can gradually home in on the light as you get closer.

14 Altitude management becomes especially critical when you can't see the ground. That means you should become familiar with any high terrain on the en route portion of your flight and know all the appropriate altitudes for pattern and field elevation at your destination. If you need to check a chart in flight, don't do so with a red filtered flashlight, as some of the writing on charts is in red, and that will virtually disappear under a red light.

15 Landing lights are mounted on the airplane specifically for landing the airplane under low-light conditions. How you use them is up to you. Remember, however, that the visible circle of runway during approach will appear higher than the surrounding terrain. That sometimes leads to hard landings because you may initiate flare too soon. For that reason, some experienced night pilots prefer to turn off the landing light during final approach and land with reference to the changing slant angle of the runway lights.

16 Patterns demand more accuracy at night because there are fewer cues as to your real altitude. Use the old formula of having the threshold 45 degrees behind you before turning base from a wide downwind, and plan to turn final at 350-400 feet above field elevation, just as you would in daytime. Regardless of your choice of using the landing light, monitor the slant angle of the runway lights along with altitude to help determine when to initiate the flare. Slight power-on approaches are usually preferable at night. If the runway is long enough, you can sometimes use the glassy-water seaplane landing technique of flying the airplane right down the runway with a 200 fpm descent.


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