Flying at night is not as cool as one might think. Night flying accounts for 10% of all accidents and 30% of all fatalities in General Aviation. And if you don’t know me, I actively attempt to avoid dangerous stuff. I’m a bit of a pansy and that’s okay with me. Danger aside, flying at night does have some advantages. The air is cooler which leads to better performance, the air is smoother, the visibility is excellent and there are a lot less crazy people flying around in my sky.
Such was true about my night flight. The air was the smoothest I’ve ever flown in, the wind was almost non-existent and for the briefest of moments, it was actually fun. I was transported back to the belly of the B-52 where the light was red and it was dark and I couldn’t see anything and I had very little control over anything. But then I actually had to do stuff.
Let’s hit the highlights. (lights… get it?)
When the Flight Manual says the instruments are lighted, seek amplification. Literally. In this aircraft the flight manual specifically says that the instruments are lit. What they meant to say was that there was a weak ass red filtered overhead light like in your car that is supposed to illuminate all your instruments. When I see the term “lighted instruments” I expect to see each individual gauge back lit with some kind of system to control the intensity. The only instrument that did have those things was… wait for it… the Oil Pressure. Woo hoo. Thanks fellas. What I really would like to see is the airspeed. And perhaps the altimeter. You could see the ADI but, for some sadistic reason, it has all of its graduations in a color that disappears under red light. You could not read anything on the VVI except the needle, but really, do you need to see anything else? When the needle is level you have to vertical speed. When it’s up you’re climbing, etc… The only real time you need to know your actual climb rate is when you’re doing some kind of Trouble T departure. Lesson Learned, red filtered headlamp is required.
It’s a bad idea to fly the same tail number for five straight days and then fly something different at night. Especially if you are booked to fly the most bent aircraft that I have ever laid eyes on. This plane was visibly bent. You could not ‘center the ball’ at all. The rudder was all over the place. Also, these airplanes wildly fluctuate with their power to speed combinations. The plane I normally fly, 2200 RPM is good enough for the traffic pattern. In this thing, I needed 2400 and I don’t really know what airspeed that gave me since I never did get a full look at the airspeed indicator (see above). From now on, Tail Number 99 is my plane. Only 99.
There are NO lights on the mountains of the Front Range. It is the perfect example of what can be referred to as the Black Hole effect. You could see the mass of antennae on top of Cheyenne Mountain, but that friends is all she wrote. Note to self, I’m not going to fly in the mountains at night. Flying into a mountain is the fastest way to kill yourself in an aircraft. Trusting Swami is #2.
The landing light does not help you land.
PAPI’s are your friend. When the tower asks you to accept a runway that does not have any PAPI after you’ve done every single landing on a runway with PAPI, the answer is NO.
The USAF forced me to sit through a bunch of crap about night visual illusions. I never had a window, so I never paid attention. I really should have. On my first three landings I flared high and floated down the runway. So on the fourth landing I made a conscious decision to hold my flare another one Mississippi. If I had paid attention at all of those Instrument Refresher Stuff that the USAF tried to teach I would have realized that I was not flaring high, I was flaring too fast and leaving my nose too high after the flare. It only gave me the illusion that I was flaring high. Too bad. This time I actually hit the nose wheel first. My first wheel barrow landing. I had seen many since I spent a good many years flying with Jaguar. But they are not fun and I will strive to never do another. This was the closest I have ever come to actually breaking an aircraft.
The good thing is, in America you only need 3 whole hours at night to qualify for your Private. That’s plenty. (insert sarcasm) Many other countries require night flyers to be instrument rated, and in some African countries flying at night is prohibited. So now I feel like I’m fully qualified to make the personal choice to never do that shit again.