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Night flying...

Now the days are getting shorter, my flying options are limited to the weekends or a day off.
On a clear, star lit night I’m sometimes wondering: This must be perfect for flying; good visibility, calm weather, moonlight…

I do have a NQ and IR rating, however except for the mandatory 5 hours I did not do any night flying.
In The Netherlands, VFR Night is forbidden, so there is almost no GA night flying going on.
Most pilots consider it dangerous, partly because they are told it is. The standard joke you hear is the procedure for engine failure: Turn on the landing light. Don’t like what you see? Turn it off.

About the only Dutch pilot I know that flies at night regularly is Aeroplus. But he flies a SR22 where you have the option of the chute.

How many of the private pilots on this forum are night flying regularly? What’s your strategy when the engine quit? Can it be done safely?

As you might imagine, our highly ridiculous CAA in Sweden endorses VFR Night… Probably because it’s pitch black 24/7 in the northern regions and flying is still something we want to do.

I’ve done quite a bit of night VFR in PA28 type aircraft over the years and I didn’t think twice about it in the past. These days I’m a bit more reluctant to fly anything without turbine(s) or at least twin pistons over large expanses of water or at night, but not because anything serious ever happened. I’ve had an alternator fail at night, but fortunately within 30 minutes of landing.

There aren’t any really great strategies to employ besides not flying. If you do fly, try and avoid obvious risk areas such as dense forrest, large lakes, highly populated areas etc. Oh, and bring three flashlights and three extra sets of batteries. Plus, don’t fly an aircraft you’re not familiar with, or know the operating condition of.

On the other hand, Night VFR isn’t any more dangerous than Night IFR, the same considerations apply and if you’re happy to fly IFR down to minimums in a PA28, Night VFR is not any more dangerous, in my opinion.

ESSB, Stockholm Bromma
A topic that comes up every year, usually in autumn…;-)

I am not “afraid” of night flying in SEPs (Cirrus or non Cirrus).

BTW, night flying is more dangerous than day flying, but not due to the potential risk of engine failure, but because pilot errors lead to more severe consequences. Still, all talk about the risks of night flying always centers on engine failures….it the old thing of pilots denying that they themselves are by far the weakest spot in the chain of elements in flying. Pilots also like to spend thousands for new gadgets and stuff but refuse to pay hundreds for good recurrent training.

Anyway, I don’t do much night flying either, even though I have had the rating for twelve years now.
As to the reasons: obviously, one factor is the reduced availability of GA airfields in Europe at nighttime. France is possibly the exception here, as they have PCL at many small airfields and many cheap regional airports, too. Scandinavia also has some PCL. Germany does offer at least some possibilities for useful night flying because many smaller GA airfields are night-equipped and can be operated at night on a PPR basis; also, most regional airports in Germany have very modest fees so night landings at these airports don’t break the bank. On the other end of the scale, in Italy – which generally allows VFR at night nowadays – one can only use the bigger airports and they are usually expensive. Re the Netherlands: one more aspect that confirms it is actually the worst place for flying in Europe. I wonder if SERA will do anything about the VFR at night ban…

However, in the last twelve years I have found that the main reason why I don’t fly at night a lot is a different one. It simply doesn’t fit into my personal “schedule” much. I understand that this is because I presently only fly for pleasure and not for business, but let me try to explain. When I am on a multi day “flying tour”, I almost exclusively fly in the morning. In summer (which is when we all tend to do our trips) this gives you the best weather. On those trips, I hardly do any flying in the afternoon. Flying in the morning (sometimes early in the morning) allows me to reach the day’s destination before noon, refuel the aircraft etc. and usually be sat in a nice restaurant in a city or on the beach by 1 pm. This allows me plenty of time to enjoy my destination during the afternoon, look for a hotel without any pressures, etc. It all falls into place much better and this “strategy” has really stood the test of time for the last 13 years. Likewise, if leaving one place in the evening (instead of in the morning) where will you put your luggage in the meantime? Want to enjoy a glass of wine? Can’t do that if you want fly later on. It just doesn’t make sense.

Even on one-day trips, I usually don’t come into situations where returning after dark would make sense. In summer (which, again, is when we do most of our flying) flying back after dark would mean to return home at a silly time. I just don’t want that.

So, what really only remains (again, for a “leisure” pilot) is the pure fascination and the beauty of night flying. I do “satisfy” this fascination with the odd night VFR local bimble plus a few touch n go’s usually around october of each year.

Mainz (EDFZ), Germany

I love night flying! That said, I have done most of it in L.A. where ‘night’ isn’t really ‘night – the lights stretch to the horizon. Wonderful flying, though! I’ve also done some night x-country in Europe and the US and love it. There is a certain serenity to gliding above the lights below. And seeing the full moon come up straight ahead is magic. What’s been said above is very true:

- be very familiar with the airplane
- bring three torches (with red filters!) and spare batteries
- organize the cockpit, so everything you might need is to hand and secured – groping for something on the floor of a dark cockpit isn’t the best idea, especially if hand flying
- if setting off in daylight and flying into night, ensure (as much as possible, this can be hard to see), that the panel lights work. It’s great flying into a beautiful night only to discover that you are now effectively on partial panel….
- practice night landings – the visual cues are very different from day

An interesting topic.

I have ~1700hrs TT but only 22hrs night. Why? Because most GA airports are closed when it’s dark!

My local one (Shoreham EGKA) currently closes 1900L which gives you an hour or two “genuine” night time, which is OK for logging a bit of night time on a quick local or when coming back from somewhere, but that’s about it. The only airports around which close later are a very long train trip away.

>if you’re happy to fly IFR down to minimums in a PA28, Night VFR is not any more dangerous

I think there are two aspects to the risk:

  • risk you can’t do much about i.e. no way to pick a landing site following an engine failure
  • pilot related risk (doing a Kennedy, etc)

As an instrument pilot I don’t worry about the 2nd one. Actually I’ve always thought the night qualification was a bit of an anomaly because flying on a totally dark night is the same as instrument flying.

The 1st one would however keep my night time quite low. I like to have an “out” and at night you don’t have one unless you have a chute. For over water, your “out” is a life raft.

However even in an SR20/22 would you fancy ditching at night? Assume say 1m waves. Getting into the raft in the winter is going to be fun when you can’t see anything, beyond a bit of light from a lamp.

Shoreham EGKA, United Kingdom

I also think that engine failure is not the reason to avoid night flying. The reason is that everything is a little bit harder. Currency is more important and night IFR is certainly harder than day IFR IMHO. Night VFR is harder than day VFR.

I have flown 313 hours since August last year and 29 of those have been at night. So roughly 10%. It was none over the summer and a lot in winter.

My hours are that way for the same reason as Boscomantico. Flying back from Europe to the UK in winter on day trips means you are always coming back at night.

I worry less about having an out (otherwise why fly over a low overcast or make an approach to minimums?) and more about not making a mistake. Mistakes are more likely at night.

The hardest thing in my view is landing at night – at an airport with approach lighting and only runway edge lighting it is hard to judge. Throw in a crosswind and it is hard.

EGTK Oxford

My home airfield doesn’t have runway lights, so I have to go elsewhere. I’m very tempted to go to the nearest other airfield where I previously did my NQ, but the dual rate is almost £200 for a Warrior (which in my opinion are at the lowest end of quality that I have seen in these type of machines) and the solo rate is something like £70 an hour more than I pay to fly my Archer. Plus there is the usual hassle of paying to taxy to the pumps because someone else left it empty, having to pay by hobbs rather than brakes off to brakes on, various issues I recall with barely readable instruments, a lack of decent nav/com equipment, and getting absolutely covered in mud because they park them on the grass. And this airfield only has lights on 2 days a week so the combination of weather and the lights being on are not often a positive match.

I quite like night flying, though I only have 12 hours I think, but the cost and hassle is putting me off for the small amount of hours I would do. I’m not overly concerned about engine failure, though the last one I flew had all sorts of fuselage rattles going on and I wasn’t enjoying the experience it had to be said.

My plane is going in for a re-spray soon, and to be honest I think I’d rather spend my time flying the local Piper-Cub in the daylight and doing some stick and rudder for a change.

Dutch pilot and love night flying so Aeroplus is not the only one! Yes, there is an increase in risk but I fly my own aircraft and don’t skimp on maintenance. At the end of the day ( no pun intended ) if your number is up there is sod tout you can do about it so no point in worrying about it.

I do have stricter minima though – forecast cloud base over the entire route and alternate at least 1000ft above planned altitude an 10k vis.

EHLE / Lelystad, Netherlands, Netherlands

>otherwise why fly over a low overcast or make an approach to minimums

I don’t think this is anywhere near the same as flying on a real proper black night.

A low overcast, no fog, is likely to be OVC003-006 or so, which gives you some tens of seconds to find a site – assuming you are flying well above Vs and over open countryside which 99% of the time you will be, in Europe.

An approach to minimums – same. OVC002 is the lowest you can do legitimately, on an ILS, and those are very very rare. I have done a number of OVC003 ones.

I think OVC002 is extremely rare if there is any visibility below i.e. no real fog.

But if flying to an airport reporting the actual minima it is obviously 50/50 whether you will have to divert, and in Europe most diversions are places you do not want to be at. Most are actually absolute dumps which will force half a day to be spent sitting on a train, etc.

And any non ILS minima are going to be way higher than 200ft.

Whereas with a totally dark night you will see absolutely nothing until your landing light is seen on the ground. Unless you have [these](

Night flight is very pleasant however

Shoreham EGKA, United Kingdom

> Whereas with a totally dark night you will see absolutely nothing until your landing light is seen on the ground.

or you tell the tower to switch on the runway lighting

EDxx, Germany
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