Flight School Update: Night Flying

I’m starting my night rating. Everyone says night flying is very peaceful – and it is. It’s very different – quiet, not so many people in the circuit, and then there’s the dark. I’ve always liked the dark.

It’s tricky though, the things the dark does. The instructor (a different one since my main instructor isn’t available for night flying lately) said it would make things lit up on the ground look closer than they are, but once you get up there in the dark, it’s strange, looking at the altimeter and seeing that yeah, I’m at circuit height, but it looks like I’m at half that altitude.

I did find I’ve developed some good habits that made it easier though. Mainly, using my instruments to guide me in a climb, and more recently, since I’ve been doing more cross country flying and landing at unfamiliar aerodromes, in a descent. Good habits like checking the vertical speed indicator to confirm climb speed before retracting the flaps, because acceleration can trick the human brain into thinking the plane is climbing, when there’s fewer visual references. And when it gets really dark, and there’s no horizon, people can often get tricked into thinking the plane is level when it’s not. I never got in a habit of using the horizon as a reference though – half the time in the summer there’s too much haze to see the horizon around here anyway. The attitude indicator and turn co-ordinator are where I look first.

The first flight yesterday evening went well. I’m always trying to figure out if I’m doing well, or if the instructor is just saying I’m doing well to bolster my confidence, but he did say that possibly the second flight, if everything went well, he’d start doing fun things like turning my landing light off, doing runway changes, simulating an electrical failure, etc. He also said they often wait for a calmer day for a first time night flight, but with the wind eleven gusting sixteen wasn’t troubling me at all, and toward the end, he had me try a couple of landings with the landing light off, so I must have been doing decently well.

The part I found the hardest was gauging flare height. Once I’m over the runway it’s hard to see how far above the runway I am. The first one I flared a bit high, and then I was flaring low because I was trying to compensate. With the landing light off it’s worse, since then all you have is the runway lights to guess how high you are.

On the subject of distant things looking closer: At one point, we had another plane join us in the circuit. After their first touch and go, when I turned downwind behind them, I saw them way ahead of us and commented that they were doing rather wide circuits. The instructor agreed with a laugh. A minute later when I made my downwind call, I realized the laugh was for me, because the tower advised me of my traffic on final, and I realized the lights I saw ahead of me were a plane off, likely over Winnipeg, and not in the circuit with us at all.

And then there was the rabbit. We almost smoked a rabbit that ran across the runway in front of us. I pulled up a bit when I saw it, but it was too close for it to have made a difference. Granted, at least I didn’t do anything stupid like try and swerve. All in all though, it went well.


18 responses to “Flight School Update: Night Flying

  1. As a person who has zero hours flying experience (in the sense of me flying anything) I find myself lasping in to amused irony at some of your comments. For exampe you say:

    “It’s tricky though, the things the dark does.”

    and I think: “yeah, you’re flying this piece of kit around and you can’t ***** see where you’re going, that’s pretty ticky!”

    I’m also thinking if I ever had to fly anything in the dark the altimeter would suddenly be my best friend in the world,ever…

    As for the rabbit – there will be an Animal behaviouralist academic out there who could line up a nice PhD on the learned behaviours of rabbits near a runway, and how an airport rabbit is different from a highway rabbit.

    Anyway, enjoy!

    • Well, once you’re in the air, there’s not much between you and the ground to see, and what there is, is always lit up. Other planes have nav lights. Towns are always lit up, and they’re easy to see. My dual cross country is tonight, so I guess I’ll find out how hard it is to navigate.

      Last night was an eerie experience, mind you. The ARCAL lights – once the tower closes at 10pm, the runway lights don’t stay on. You can turn them on by clicking the radio transmitter five times, then they stay on for about ten to fifteen minutes – long enough to land, but if you’re doing circuits, you’ll have to turn them back on every once in a while. They turned off at one point last night while I was turning base, and I looked over my shoulder to check my heading, since my heading indicator was taking a break, and the airport was just…gone. There were other lights, at the buildings nearby, but the runways have a lot of lights, and it’s this huge area that suddenly has 1/4 of the lights there were a second ago.

  2. Hi Lindsey,

    I really enjoyed the read, it brought me back to my night rating. I had all the same thoughts at the time. One tip, that you probably already have, is to look out slightly to the side when flaring, it’s much easier to judge your height.

    I’m not that far ahead of you in my training and I’ve just started my own blog. I did some of my hour building down in Phoenix and it was a great experience. I’ve typed up a pretty detailed account of my trip, after reading your post I thought it might be of interest to you.

    It’s simply reyboldschristy.wordpress.com There probably won’t be any major updates between now and the end of September, but once into October I begin the CPL/ME/IR and I plan to start blogging that experience, once again.

    I’m doing a European EASA license, and the training will take place in Sweden. So, it might be a refreshing read, as it should highlight how much red tape and bureaucracy, us guys and gals in Europe have to put up with compared with North America. 🙂

    Anyway, have fun with the rest of your night flying and if you decide to read my blog, I hope you enjoy.

    All the best,

    • Glad you enjoyed it, and welcome to my blog 🙂 Lately it’s been mostly flying stuff, but it was originally created as my writing blog, so I hope you don’t mind if I occasionally get back to that as well 😛

      I’ve never heard anything comparing the red tape in europe compared to north america – I know there’s a fair bit here. I had to jump through some hoops to get my class 1 medical.

      Oh, and yeah, my instructor beat into my head early on to look around the cowling while flaring. I have a good instructor 🙂

      • Don’t worry, it’s nice to know, that sometimes, there’s a world outside aviation. 🙂

        Flying certainly isn’t made impossible over here, but it does tend to suffer a lot more illogical reasoning. Usually, if the U.S., and I guess Canada, has 2 or 3 hoops to jump through, Europe will have 10. They’ll say it’s making everything safer. But, in reality it usually just makes things more expensive and time consuming.
        A good example is the much lower percentage of PPLs in Europe who go on to do their IR. Simply, because it’s too expensive and time consuming here. So, the average EASA general aviation pilots is under-trained, in comparison to FAA GA pilots.

        It’s great to see that you didn’t give up at the first hurdle with regards to your medical. I’ve come across so many people, who clearly would love to fly, but just seem to lack belief in themselves. You are clearly, not one of these people. 🙂

        I’m not sure if you do the same night rating syllabus as we do over here, but if you have do, the hour of cross country is something to look forward to. It’s a bit of a surreal experience. A lot more peaceful I think, I can’t quite nail it down, I hadn’t really expected it anyway, but really enjoyed it.

        • You might be right about the US, but I’m not sure about Canada. We’re still part of the commonwealth, and there’s a lot of things we share with the UK. As far as I know, an FAA PPL doesn’t have any restrictions on night flying, but no night flying requirements in training, whereas Canada has a separate PPL rating for night flying, same as the UK, with similar (though with significantly more solo time required – 5 hrs aside from the cross country time) requirements.

          In Canada, for a CPL, you have to have 200 hours PIC time, compared to the 100 you need in the UK, unless I’ve got wrong numbers.

          I’m having trouble finding hours requirements for an instrument rating in the UK, but in Canada, it’s 40 hours, though instrument time accumulated in the process of getting your CPL can be counted toward that 40 – though, obviously not relevant to someone only intending to hold a PPL.

          • 200 hours sounds tough to get alright, how do you plan to build the hours?

            I believe you’re correct that’s it’s 100 PIC in the UK for the CPL. It’s certainly the requirement for me to start my course.

            The instrument rating here generally consists of 55 hours, which is lowered to 45 if you have valid CPL and then you can also do 30 of those in an FNPT II simulator. So, you can effectively get away with just 15 hours in the aircraft.

            They’re not cheap though I guess, we pay on average 450 EUR/hr for a twin here, about 615 CAD according to XE.com. Are you paying much less for the twin? I guess even if you are, it cancels out pretty fast if you have to try build 200 hours PIC.

            You must be well up on 300 hours by the time you’re fully rated and licensed?

          • For instrument, we’re only allowed 20 hours in a sim, but we can count all of the 20 hours required for the CPL towards the 40 hours for an IFR rating. You don’t get away with less than 20 hours in the aircraft.

            The twin engine at my school is a seminole, and it’s 319$ (233 euro) an hour before paying for the instructor, so that’s a fair bit less. It’s not a really big plane though – not sure how big the twin you’re working with is. A seminole is only 4 seats.

            Granted there’s no minimum number of hours here to do a multi engine rating – you just have to be able to pass the test.

            But yeah, the 200 hours for the CPL is gonna take a lot of money, even if I can do most of it in a Cessna 152 for 130$ an hour. I hope to be able to take friends to visit friends in the US at some point to garner gas contributions.

          • That’s for a Seminole alright. 🙂 You can usually get a Seneca for a little bit more, closer to 500EUR.

            There’s is some cheaper options out there like the Tecnam Twin and I believe the DA42 is cheaper to operated, but I’m not sure how many of the schools pass on the savings to their students.

            That’s the trick, even just any local flights you’re doing. People are generally delighted to pay a contribution.

            Make the best of it anyway, when you’re spending all that cash, you might as well do something interesting. 🙂 As you say, a couple of US trips would be great.

            You must have some amazing places to see in Canada too. Would you venture up North?

          • My school has a Navajo, but that’s mainly for air taxi service. The other multi is at their other location in Steinbach, and it’s a beechcraft, and it’s pretty close to the same rates as the seminole.

            I haven’t gone far north thus far – they discourage us from going into areas too sparsely populated too early. Though, that’s another thing american and european pilots are often not used to – if I go more than 50nm any direction, I eventually get a message from ATC that “Radar Services are terminated”. Most of Canada is so sparsely populated, we don’t have radar coverage all over like the US does.

          • While flying in Utah I certainly hit a few blind spots, but we’re talk for 10 to 15 minutes. I guess if you decided to go North, you can expect to lose it for the majority of the flight.

            Will you get VHF coverage up there, I guess radar is a luxury to a VFR pilot, but I certainly wouldn’t want to fly on, into millions of square miles of wilderness, without talking to somebody.

          • There are definitely places where there is no VHF coverage. Commercial flights don’t much go outside of the designated airways where they have worked out that both VHF coverage and other navaids are in range. Not sure about the laws elsewhere, but in Canada, you can’t do a commercial flight carrying passengers in a single engine plane at night, anywhere.

          • So, I guess the trick is to use the same airways and fly as high as possible?

            I know in Ireland there’s no VFR at night outside controlled airspace, which effectively means you can’t leave the area of the airports as most of Irish airspace Class G, rules change from country to country within Europe and are generally less restrictive.

            As for single engine ops, your not allowed commercial ops in europe in single engine aircraft at all. The only place you will see single engine aircraft being used is either privately or in instruction, paradrop and glider towing etc.

          • Wow, Class G airspace in Canada is cowboy country – you kinda do whatever you want as long as you’re at least 500ft AGL. Well – 2000ft AGL if you’re doing aerobatics.

            There’s one particular type of engine that if the plane has that engine, it’s allowed to fly commercially at night, due to it being uber reliable. Apparently they’re looking at certifying another engine for night commercial passenger flights as well, but that’s still in the works.

          • You’re probably talking about the PT6, apparently it’s bullet proof alright.

            That’s pretty much the case with our Class G alright, but it seems to work. The controllers do have radar coverage I presume, because they’re able to see you if you ask them for an information service.
            I guess it seems to work, plenty of ways to skin a cat as they say.

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