Night Time is the Right Time

After about 5 weeks of the weather gods having their way with my plans, I finally got in my first night lesson. It was a perfect night, 50 degrees, some patchy clouds at 20,000′ eventually cleared to unveil the stars. The moon was nowhere to be found. The air was perfectly still. I was able to get my preflight done with partial daylight which made it mostly routine. We then took our time departing to make sure the first takeoff counted as a night takeoff (>1 hr after sunset). We left KHFD heading to KPVD. Most of the trip was over area I’m familiar with so I just needed to get my orientation with the various light groups (mostly rural area). I leveraged GPS (old Bendix/King 89B) and the PVD VOR to make the direct flight. KPVD is smack in the middle of the major areas of Providence and Warwick,RI so it was really hard to find. I finally spotted the beacon (alternating green/white). I then referenced the airport diagram to understand where the runways are located relative to the beacon since I knew I wouldn’t be able to make out the runway lights until I was more aligned with it. Next I was able to spot the intersecting runway REILs and had a better idea of where my runway was going to be and entered the downwind. It wasn’t until I was about to turn base that I looked back and saw the “running rabbit” or sequenced flashing lights leading up to the runway. Ok, I’m feeling a little better, now to think about the flare. As expected it was a little hard to judge the timing of touchdown but I considered it a good landing (didn’t land on the nose wheel and the instructor didn’t freak out, so that’s a good landing). After the required full-stop we had planned to depart the area. This is a class C airport but we didn’t hear any other traffic from the time we were handed off to the tower to the time we were taking off so we asked to do a couple more. It sounded like the controller was happy to have something to do. We did two more stop-and-goes then thanked him for his time and let him get back to whatever tower controllers do when there’s no one around.

On the way back to KHFD we decided to stop for a quick landing at KIJD which is non-towered. Once I spotted the beacon I keyed the mic 7 times to turn on the runway lights. It sounds so simple but it’s such a cool feeling that I made an airport turn on. We were heading on a perfect straight-in approaches from 10 miles out. There was no one else in sight but since straight-in final approaches are never good practice, we entered the pattern on the upwind. This gave me a chance to take a quick look at the runway as well as play with the 3 different light settings (3,5, or 7 clicks). Once on final I keyed the mic 5 times to turn the lights from full to medium intensity since they were a bit bright. The only other excitement here was just missing a skunk that cut in front of us on the taxi way as were enjoying a few minutes with the windows open. Luckily he wasn’t threatened, that would have made for a bad rest of the flight.

The last challenge was finding KHFD in the middle of all the Hartford lights. The beacon was spotted and the unlit area of the CT river helped be get my orientation to enter a left base for 20. I was thankful for the VASI since I couldn’t make out the banks and trees on the edge of the river that usually seem like they are just below the wheels. This landing snuck up on me and was a little hard but at least it wasn’t flat.

I’m sure I’ll come up with other tips once I replay the audio but I do have this one. The beacons were pretty easy to spot but as we moved I had to keep looking for it. I found that it was easier to identify a pattern of lights that was near or leading to the beacon to make it quicker to find. The light pattern could be spotted so I could quickly identify the beacon again to make sure the airport was still where I was expecting. There’s a bunch of other helpful tips here.

That covered 2.1 hours of nighttime and 5 night takeoffs/landings. One more night out to get the rest of the landings in and I can check off that requirement. Even though it only takes 3 hours of night training to qualify for private pilot in the US, I think I’d pickup a few more with an instructor before I’d be comfortable on my own. Even though the area we were in ranged from rural to city, there was always some sort of lights to make out the horizon. I’m sure it’s totally different in more remote areas, over water, or in lower visibility. All requiring more instrument dependencies than the visual reference flight I made last night.

Overall I had a blast. It was so much fun, I can’t wait to do it again.

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