Night Flight to Chico and Red Bluff
So, one of the things I have to do, as a step of getting my private pilot’s license, is a 100 mile night flight. That’s a minimum, not a maximum. This is with my instructor, not solo (apparently, there are no solo night requirements for the license; any solo night work I do will be after I get my licenes).
Destination: Chico. Bonus destination: Red Bluff. (It happened to be fairly close..). Pilotage was not going to get us far, as you can not see the terrain at night. You can see the twinkles of cities; and depending on the highway, you might see that.
For the night flight, I had permission to depend on radio aids; that is, tuning to VOR radio stations to determine my position relative to those stations, and using them as my way points. My route followed I5, which is a fairly busy freeway, even up north. This would help me keep track of where I am should my radios fail. (The route direct to chico would have had me travelling a big giant void).
Weather Saturday night was great. Cool on the ground; hot as heck above ground for the first 1500 or so feet. Then cool again at altitude. Clear skies and great visibility. (Cool is relative. It had been 108F that day..).
Lessons learned on this particular trip:
- USE the checklist for landing. Don’t run it from memory. In my final landing of the night, this bit me - I have the DAYTIME landing list in my head perfect. … However, at night, it helps to turn your landing light on. It helps you judge where the ground is, and when to flare. I flared late and we hit a bit hard :(. On the bright side, I’m supposed to practice landing with my landing lights off.. this counts!
- My favorite light is no longer in stock at Frys. Grr. I need a few of them. Super bright white, and a pretty darn bright single led red, single unit. I remembered to tape the one I have on the white side, so I don’t accidentally use it. That would kill my night vision.
- My instructor was playing with the white light portion of my LED flashlight. He could see the ground from several hundred feet in the air. It could make a useful backup light should my landing lights fail. Not enough to see usefully, but to help gauge the ground level.
- The chart is freaking impossible to read. In particular, you can’t make out the magenta or yellow on the chart under red light. I think next night flight around, I’m going to photocopy the chart so I have a black and white copy with me, and see if that helps with contrast.
- My VOR work (using radios for reference points) needs improvement.
- I need to more carefully look at the terrain around airports before flying there. Parts around Red Bluff were pretty black and unlit, and we had no moon, so I had no depth perception of the surrounding area. I had to modify my pattern approach accordingly to stick to the area that was definately not hilly. Instead of entering on a 45 to the downwind, I entered almost directly on the downwind direction itself.
- Wow, that heat saps the heck out of climb ability. I think I need to add some padding to what my book says about times and distances to climb on a hot day.
All in all the trip was fairly uneventful. Things were peaceful. With no moon out, there wasn’t much to look at other than the pattern of lights from I5 and the occasional city. I don’t think I’d do this again for pleasure - nothing to look at.
On the flip side, I didn’t have any orientation issues that can be associated from night flight. Due to lack of things to look at, night flight can be close to instrument flight. You have to trust your instruments a lot more and your visual reference a lot less.