Night Flying

Copyright 2010, Bill Thornton, posted on 2010-09-28

The Safety Sage - Night Flying

by Bill Thornton (The Sage) - Former Managing Editor USAF Flying Safety Magazine

Most of you spend a good deal of your time flying in nighttime conditions. Night flying is such a common experience that you may tend to forget just how hazardous it is. That is, until you are reminded by the Sage.

About ninety-five percent or more of flight time logged by private pilots takes place in daylight. That leaves only 5 percent of the time for flying after the sun goes down. Since we seem to fly at night so infrequently, I believe night flying warrants a close review. And, more from a physiological point of view, homo sapiens are better-suited for daytime activities. But fly at night, we must.

Night, for aviators, is defined in the American Air Almanac as "the hours between the end of evening civil twilight and the beginning of morning civil twilight converted to local time." Note that "civil twilight ends in the evening when the center of the sun's disk is 6 degrees below the horizon and begins in the morning when the center of the sun's disk is 6 degrees below the horizon."

Now that you think that I think that I’m Mr. Wizard, or at least an under-paid science journalist, you know exactly when you should log night time. To act as pilot in command while carrying passengers, the FARs state that you “…must have made at least three takeoffs and landings to a full stop in the preceding 90 days in the same aircraft category, class, and type, during the period beginning one hour after sunset and ending one hour before sunrise.”

I have several major concerns about flying at night: optical illusions, spatial disorientation, the lack of visual cues-even when you are near a metropolitan areas or in the airport environment where ground lighting better defines the actual horizon; approaching and landing at an airport with featureless terrain and few ground lights (A.K.A.  "the black hole approach").

Another night caution involves obstacles. These come in a variety of forms, including buildings, houses, radio antenna towers, and electrical utility towers. If the obstruction happens to be a TV/radio tower, there are probably guy wires attached from the ground to the top of the tower. These are not lit and are impossible to see at night. Most obstacles are clearly marked on VFR sectional charts, but always check the NOTAM board before flying because the engineers of the information age are putting up an ever-increasing number of new Cell Phone Towers in and around cities and towns everywhere, including Balad.

Flying fundamentals rarely change. The basic flying techniques and procedures for day or night flying are essentially the same. But be extra cautious at night.

Fly safe.

Frequency change approved. Contact Departure on two-eight-one point four-five. Monitor Guard. The Sage – OUT.

Contact author Bill Thornton    All Articles    Home