Some pilots find flying at night to be peaceful, while others try to avoid flying at night because of the dangers it presents. Regardless of how you feel about flying at night, you may be put in the situation where you have to do it at some point in your life, so it’s best to be prepared. Here are some of the top night flying tips for pilots:
Perform pre-flight inspections during daylight hours
Every pilot needs to ensure pre-flight inspections are done prior to take off. But, completing these inspections becomes more difficult when it’s dark outside, which leads many pilots to take shortcuts or skip over steps that are too challenging to complete without adequate light. The purpose of a pre-flight inspection is to ensure you are safe in the skies, so you should always complete each step of the inspection before you take off. To make it easier, plan ahead and complete the inspection while it’s still light outside so you don’t have to worry about doing it in the dark.
Pay extra attention to the aircraft’s lights during the inspection. You should check the navigation, landing, and taxi lights to ensure everything is working properly.
Carry multiple flashlights
It’s recommended that pilots carry various flashlights with them during night flights since there won’t be any natural light to rely on. Bring flashlights of different sizes and beam strengths, and always carry extra batteries with you in case one or more of your flashlights dies.
Don’t push yourself
If you’re yawning before you’ve even taken off, it may be best to put off your trip until the next morning. What may seem as slight drowsiness could turn into full-blown exhaustion once you are up in the sky because of the calming sound of your plane’s engine combined with the darkness of night flying. There have been numerous studies that show missing a few hours of sleep can make driving a car more dangerous, so imagine how risky it is to fly a plane when you are feeling fatigued.
Be prepared for nighttime illusions
Pilots can experience a number of different visual illusions while flying at night. Why? Your eyes will adjust to the darkness after about ten minutes, and from that point on, they are about 100 times more sensitive to light than they would be during the day. After 30 minutes of being in complete darkness, your eyes are about 1000 times more sensitive to light, so the problems become even worse. Because of this sensitivity, your eyes may fool you when you look at a brightly lit object while flying at night. For example, if you look at a star in the sky, your eyes may fool you into thinking the light from this star is moving around, which can make you feel disoriented. To avoid this illusion known as autokinesis, it’s recommended that you look to the side of brightly lit objects instead of looking directly at them.
You should try to avoid exposure to light while you’re flying, but if it’s not possible, close one eye so you are only exposing one to the light.
Check FBO and takeoff hours
If you’re planning on refueling your aircraft, it’s important to check the FBO’s hours to determine if they will be open. Many FBOs do not operate at night, so you may be out of luck if you don’t plan accordingly. You can always bring extra fuel with you if you think you will be flying at night when FBOs are not operating.
Some smaller airports also don’t allow planes to take off at night, so this is another thing you need to check if you are planning a night flight.
Plan your route near major highways
If you’re flying at night, it’s recommended that you adjust your route so that you are always near a major highway. There are two main reasons why this is important. First, highways are usually well-lit and tend to be emptier at night. If you need to make an emergency landing in the middle of the night, a highway may be the best place to do it. Second, even if you are unable to land on the highway, airports are usually located near major roads, so if you find yourself in this position it may be best to try to make it the short distance to the closest airport.
Review the different runway lights
Landing your aircraft can be more difficult at night when you can’t clearly see the runway beneath you. That’s why it’s imperative that you prepare by reviewing the meaning of each light that you will see on a runway as you land. For example, white and amber colored lights are used to mark the last 2,000 feet of a runway. Synchronized flashing lights will be found on each side of the runway so the pilot can determine the width of the runway. Finally, threshold lights are used to signal the end of a runway. If you are departing, you will see a red light that marks the end of the runway, but if you are landing, it will be a green light.
Keep an eye on the forecast
Flying through bad weather is more challenging at night, and it can be hard to tell when you are approaching a patch of clouds or thunderstorms. You should always check the weather forecast regardless of what time you plan on taking off, but this becomes even more crucial if you are leaving at night.
Although there are some risks associated with night flying, if you take the time to carefully prepare your plane and plan your trip, you shouldn’t run into any issues when taking off after dark.