Night flying is definitely not the same as aviating in daylight, even if some old pro pilots say so. It's also not for everyone. As what most say, the joy of flying disappears as the sun goes down. Even those who claim to enjoy flying during the night testify that there's not much to see since it's already dark and the safety margin they follow is significantly reduced.
Night flying is quite challenging for any pilot. It has its own characteristics and considerations that are different from the daytime. Extra planning, training, practice, precautions, and provisioning make all the difference and are highly needed.
For general aviation pilots, night flying isn't all that bad. If your airplane is used for commercial purposes, flying at night can double its service. The weather at night is often better in the sense that it enables flying without the sun’s heat and glare complicating the flight.
Subsequently, the air may be more tranquil, the temperature may be more agreeable, and strong winds may disappear as the sun sets down and the sky darkens. Visibility is also enhanced because the mist of day settles out, making the city lights and airports stand out, so you can spot them easily. Traffic is usually lighter too; radio chatter is lessened, and there are no harsh flashes of light to deal with, and the instrument scan may be more superficial. However, despite these advantages, it doesn’t mean your safety is always guaranteed. It’s still important to observe and follow proper safety measures to have an enjoyable flying experience.
To ensure a safe fly at night, below are some tricks and tips to consider from the get-go:
Often, some pilots tend to skip some preflight procedures when they have to wrestle with a fuel cap, flashlight, and a ladder. Alternatively, you may consider performing preflight during the day. Make sure that the airplane is ready for the trip when you can complete the inspections in daylight. This makes the task more of a conventional procedure rather than an inconvenient chore. Continue being disciplined and avoid doing shortcuts; always take into account whether you have passengers with you or none.
It's a must to prepare multiple lights that can be quickly accessed in the dark in case of any lighting emergency during a night flight. Pack yourselves several functional flashlights and spare batteries that you can easily reach in the dark.
Hence, if you’re looking for some artificial and accessible flashlights for your night flight, providers like Night Flight Concepts offer a wide variety of options that are fit to use for safe night flight operations and equipment preparation.
Night flying illusions are widespread. These sensory illusions occur primarily at night due to our vestibular system's reaction when challenged with small or dark visibility. If not recognized and compensated quickly, it can be very dangerous and life-threatening.
As a pilot, you must know how to recognize and overcome all the false visions that seem real for you during night flying. The general solution to this is to trust your instruments. Faith in your reliable devices such as the flight instruments, aircraft’s attitude indicator, and many more, will help you avoid or overcome any night flying illusion so you can have a quiet and safe night flight.
Pilots are more prone to experience fatigue at night than during the day. Because of the circadian rhythms happening in the body, you will naturally get exhausted once the sun sets. The sight of darkness can also be sleep-inducing. Make sure to plan your routine and techniques ahead so you will be ready to combat pilot fatigue and stay as alert as possible all throughout your journey. It’s even more important to get a lot of rest before your flight!
There is no such thing as too much fuel. In fact, the more fuel you have prepared, the better. Even if your flight may only be for an hour or two, don't hesitate to load four hours' worth of fuel. This gives you sufficient stock in case you become disoriented and need to backtrack. Bringing extra loads of fuel can also prevent you from needing an additional night landing just to refuel.
Avoid being surrounded by bright lights before flying. Instead, give your eyes ample time to adapt to the darkness, and keep the panel in low illumination and switch the lights to dim mode as you fly at night.
While it’s easy to take cockpit lighting for granted when flying during the day, they’re very essential when you’re preparing your aircraft for a night flight. Settle for the appropriate set of cockpit lights to ensure that you can adequately navigate your instruments. The lower the light from screens inside the cockpit, the better chance you’ll have of seeing outside.
You might want to fly higher on a night flight in order to give you more time to handle any problem that might cause you to need to fly down. If you experience a mechanical emergency and need to land, it will take a lot of time to find a good site in the dark than it would during the day. Alternatively, give yourself ample time to resolve any emergency by flying to a higher altitude.
As time goes by, flying more often at night makes you more competent and confident with your skills. It's necessary for maintaining FAA currency. Logging night time doesn't start and end at sunset and sunrise. For general aviation pilots, they are required to complete at least 3 nighttime takeoffs and 3 full stop nighttime landings within the last 3 months in order to maintain currency and be allowed to carry passengers at night.
For safety reasons, plot a course that keeps you as close as possible to airports and make sure to have easy access to an airport transfer service after your night flight. This gives you an opportunity to make a safer emergency landing given the accessibility and ease when the need arises. Plus, this prevents you from making a forced emergency night landing in an unsafe and unfamiliar location.
Rescue laser lights can be detected up to 20 miles away at night and up to 3 miles away during the day. If you were forced to make an emergency landing, these lights can be used to signal for help. Moreover, by using rescue laser lights, you may also be able to find a reflective gadget even in the dark, thereby saving you from any peril that might happen during a night flight.
Your eyesight is more sensitive to higher altitudes, especially at night. Early hypoxia symptoms can be detected as low as 5,000 feet at night, compared to normal daytime flying. Alternatively, you can use oxygen even below 12,500 feet to avoid and recover from such symptoms.
Ice at night is more threatening than during the day. With no sunlight, it's hard to sublimate ice off of your wings. It's harder to see the ice in the dark when it's beginning to accumulate; hence you could quickly run into trouble. It's best to avoid night time icing conditions at all times.
It can be disorienting to see the mixture of lights below you when you come in for the first time. Before your flight, have a run-through with the aircraft, airport, runway, and approach lights that you will see. You must be knowledgeable about every machinery and landmarks around you to ensure a safe night flight.
Typically, the following are the lighting systems that you should get familiar with to safely fly at night:
Before you engage yourself in flying at night, make sure you learn and train more so you’d become more competent and skillful enough to actually fly safely, especially during the night. For example, you should ensure that you're comfortable and ready enough with flying to avoid potential risks and dangers that might occur if you’re unprepared.
Blinking lights are usually a vital indicator for any unforeseen trouble. It may have multiple meanings, such as a cloud barrier, a terrain, or you may have drifted off course. It's important to remain alert for these indicators in order to avoid any danger well and ahead of time.
Flying at night, whether you’re a new or an old pro pilot, requires full focus and concentration to be safe and successful in doing the task. Therefore, if you want your night flight to be as safe as possible, follow the tips mentioned above and you’ll get the peace of mind you want throughout your journey.