October 2018 Safety Corner

With the beautiful flying weather that USUALLY exists in the fall (although ours has been pretty bizarre as of late!), it’s also a great time to do some night flying and also practice night landings and procedures. Make sure you are night qualified (three takeoffs and landings TO A FULL STOP). I flew for the first time in months this past week. I noticed a couple things that I forgot were ‘special’ items to consider for night flight.

The first is night flight preparation. Do a night preflight that includes checking all weather and especially NOTAMS. Millard is notorious for having unlit cranes and other equipment in the area. Lately, they also have issues with their VASI lights being out. KNOW before you actually launch where the problem spots are around or near the airport traffic area. During your preflight in one of our planes, check all lights – inside and out. Have two flashlights – preferably red lights with you at night in case you have any electric failure. Don’t forget that a good pre-flight procedure will make your night flight much less anxious. Use those flashlights to help you with the preflight and do as much as you can in the hangar while you have some light.

When you get in the air, make sure you are doing a good job of scanning your instruments, because the lack of a horizon and/or moon may be disorientating. When landing, ALWAYS use the VASI if available at whatever airport you may be landing. That will guarantee terrain and obstacle clearance (unless the NOTAM says otherwise). You might want to shallow your level out just a tad sooner when landing so you can avoid a potentially damaging nose-wheel landing. Night landings really test your depth
perception so give yourself some wiggle room until you feel comfortable.

I’m reminded of a time when I took off from North Platte’s airport late at night. The area was so black, with few ground lights, that it really seemed like instrument conditions. I was glad to have done some hood work recently that helped make that experience a non-event. However, I learned a great lesson . . . . night flying needs to be part of everyone’s flying habits. If it’s been a while since you’ve flown at night, consider calling an instructor to help you sharpen your depth perception and night flying skills.

Here’s some more reminders:

  • Don’t forget the oxygen recommendation for flying above 5,000 at night. Night vision can be affected.
  • Pre-flight will be critical. CHECK all of your lighting inside and out of the plane. Always have red lights or small flashlights readily available when needed. Double-check the health of the battery, alternator and voltage regulator.
  • Obviously, make sure weather is not an issue when sharpening your skills. Blundering from night VFR into IMC is not a good situation to be.
  • If you’re going to Omaha or Lincoln or a large airport, please study the airport diagrams. I really believe doing that is a great experience at night, but remember that a large array of bright, multi-colored lights can be very confusing. Study your airport markings and lighting before launching from point A to point B.

Kevin Broderick, ATP, CFII, Skyhawk Safety Officer