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

17 Though some things stand out at night, clouds don't. They tend to merge with the dark. You may never see one until driving straight into the side of it. Again, an instrument rating is the best protection, but if you should happen to punch a puffie, hold your heading and a level attitude, chances are you'll drive through it in a minute or two. If the weather is so bad that there are clouds everywhere, take the airlines.
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.
18 If you're moseying along minding your own business, and the lights ahead suddenly blink, that may be a warning that there's now something between you and the lights. It could just be a cloud, or it could be a large pile of rocks. If you've flight-planned properly and you KNOW you're clear of all terrain, it's probably a cloud. Climbing or initiating an immediate left or right turn may be necessary if you have any doubts about your position.

19 Airplanes don't know when it's dark, so engine failures are no more likely at midnight than they are at noon. If you should wind up having to dead-stick in the dark, there are two schools of thought. One is to head for a darkened area because you may assume there are no buildings there. Another is to take your chances with a landing site that has at least some lighting. Most pilots agree that you should probably fly toward the brightest area you can find, so you can at least see what you're about to hit.

20 If you're flying into a reasonably large airport with good lighting, and visibility is limited because of haze, ask the controller to switch to high intensity. This will dial up every light on the airport, from the rabbit to the runway and taxi lights. At uncontrolled strips, try clicking the mic five, seven or nine times to increase the brightness of runway lights.

20a Finally, if conditions at your destination are at IFR minimums, resist the temptation to duck under. When it's dark and you're tired, it's too easy to drop 100 feet below minimums to avoid having to divert to your alternate. Trouble is, IFR at night is probably the worst possible time to violate approach minimums. Visibility may be marginal, and you'll probably have less control than in daytime. The runway may be slick with rain. IFR at night adds several additional layers of uncertainty that you can do without.


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