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.

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