Our Top Five Tips for Night Flying
Our Top Five Tips for Night Flying
Night can be one of the most delightful and spectacular times to fly. At night, the skies aren’t as congested, turbulence kicked up by daytime heating is diminished, and winds can be calmer, making for smooth flight conditions. Night flying has always had its unique charms. It seems to bring out new sights and sounds that aren’t around in the daytime, and while the stars and moon create a dazzling display on clear nights, flying over cities can be just as breathtaking. However, when the sun goes down, a new set of adaptations, challenges, and rules kicks in.
We adore night flying and wanted to share our best tips for maximizing your night flying adventures:
Be Weather Wise
Checking the weather should be the very first thing you do before taking flight at night. It’s simple enough to see bad weather during the daytime. At night, however, clouds, rain showers, and thunderstorms are more difficult to see visually.
Before you take off, you’ll want to be a bit more careful about checking the weather, including current METARs, TAFs, and the area forecast. Pay special attention to the temperature and dew point spread. Nighttime is a common time for the fog to form, and it can form quickly.
Unless you’re instrument-rated, equipped, and current, you might consider canceling a long cross-country night flight unless the forecast calls for clear weather, and you can look outside and see the stars.
Let There Be Light
Per FAR 91.209 (a), you cannot operate an aircraft without operating lighted position lights from sunset to sunrise. Lights are obviously extremely essential for the preflight through postflight processes. Preflight the aircraft before dark or pull it into a well-lit hangar, if possible. Save a step and remotely turn on the lights with the HangarBot Hub and be ready to do your preflight and postflight checks.
One item essential to your night preflight is to check all aircraft lights: taxi and landing lights, rotating beacon and anti-collision lights, position lights, cockpit lights, and flashlights. They should all work.
If, like most of us, you fly under FAR Part 91 flight rules, you are not required to carry a flashlight at night. However, if you don’t have a hangar, how will you conduct your preflight in the dark? What will you use as a light source if your airplane’s panel goes dark? We strongly encourage you to carry at least two flashlights at all times. Two we really like are the Mini Maglight and the Surefire Aviator.
Keep in mind that that extra fuel is required when flying at night. The FAA requires a 45-minute reserve for night VFR flights in fixed-wing airplanes, while the daytime minimum is 30 minutes. It is also important to understand that not all airports offer fuel services at night. Therefore, you should always have extra fuel on hand in case things don’t go as planned. Lastly, apply common sense. Every airplane and situation is different, but pilots flying for personal reasons must determine a conservative reserve and not go below that amount of Fuel in the tanks for any reason.
One of the most important pilot education tips for night flying is to be cautious of visual illusions. Because our human senses are adapted for ground use, sensory input during a night flight may not accurately reflect the movement of the aircraft. This inaccurate reflection can cause something known as a sensory illusion.
Many pilots fly either too high or too low at night because of these false visuals. Falling for these visual illusions can result in bumpy landings, unwanted turns, disorientation, and other dangerous situations. Then there are the landings. Landing is tough, and landing at night is even tougher. Poor lighting and precipitation around the airport can leave you low, and brightly lit airports can leave you high.
A good way to avoid night illusions is to fly to and from airports with visual approach slope indicators (VASIs) or approach lighting systems. You may want to also consider investing in night-vision goggles (NVGs). These goggles provide an extradentary capability for you to perform safe takeoffs and landings because they are sensitive to infra-red (IR) light, which comes from the stars and the moon.
Ensure you are fully rested before flying during a normal sleep pattern. If you don’t get adequate sleep before your flight, you can easily fall asleep in this peaceful atmosphere, which can be dangerous for not only yourself but also other aircraft and passengers. Before your night flight, make sure you’re well-rested and bring something to help keep yourself awake (e.g., caffeine or a copilot). Also, avoid heavy meals, which may affect your alertness.
Let’s face it, even after taking these steps, a long flight at night can be mentally and physically exhausting. We highly recommend having the hangar door open before you get there, so you don’t have to power down, open the door, and then put on the tow bar. Utilizing HangarBot’s easy-to-navigate app and it’s door controller, you can easily execute instant actions such as streaming live video from hangarbot’s built in camera, verify the area is clear and, then use it to open the hangar door.
While night flying can be a little more challenging, the rewards are truly amazing. Before you embrace night flying solo, be sure you have complied with the requirements set out in FAR 61.109 (three hours of night flight training, including a cross-country flight of more than 100 nautical miles in total distance and ten takeoffs and landings to a full stop).
Enjoy the magnificent night skies!