Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Night Flying

As it turned out, soon after my night flight back from Santa Ynez, we went through the rest of my required night hours with a combination of a cross country trip and pattern practice.

I planned my first true night cross country to Salinas, a little over an hour away. The route hopped across VORs as we made out way north so I could have more hood time. My instructor hesitated a little bit before accepting my planned route north. My route home was simply following the 101 south in the same fashion as I had coming back from Santa Ynez.

Soon after takeoff, I went under the hood, and followed the needle on the VOR indicator. The panel was barely lit by a flickering red light from the ceiling of the plane. After twenty minutes of flying my instructor had me look up. "What's the first thing you notice?" he asked.

"It's black, there are no light." Then the common question quickly popped into my head. What's my plan of action if my engine were to fail at this very moment. I couldn't see any towns, no roads, no ground. I had led the plane over rugged territory, without a clear place to put the airplane if the engine where to fail. My instructor made his point very clearly. At night it is wiser to follow the roads of civilization then an invisible beacon out in the middle of nowhere.

Light less Landings
Having done a few night landings before on my cross country trips, I thought that the night practice would be just to reinforce what I had already learned and satisfy the night requirement for my PPL. The technique to landing at night was to slow the rate of decent as much as possible using peripheral vision as a guide and let the ground meet the plane. A few stop and goes later I was feeling very comfortable. My instructor had other plans. He reached over and turned off my landing lights. An electrical failure, he said. Not only can't I use my lights, I can't communicate with the airport to turn up the lights, so he turned them down. I would have to say this is the one thing that I had some fear for. I could see the airport, but the definitions were not clear, and I had no idea of where the ground was other then the ability to judge my altitude with my peripheral vision. I think on that landing I used up most of the runway easing the airplane onto the ground, afraid of where it was. A few of those I and I had my fill of light less night landing. I am sure they will still make me tense the next time I go up for night practice.

Flight Hour Logged this post: 4.3
Total Flight Hours: 25.5

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