Sunday, December 26, 2010

Night Flight

Night Flight is a small but integral part of flight training. To get a private pilot's license, one must fly 3 hours at night, including one cross-country of 50 or more miles. I did my night cross-country from Winter Haven to Melbourne and back, and since then I've made an effort to stay night current as it is handy.

Flying at night is different from daytime flying. Obviously, one's visibility is much lower, but if there are no clouds and a good moon you can get a surprisingly nice view of the world. The streets are lit up, the airwaves are quiet, and it's just you and the engine up there looking down on the grids of lights.

The view inside the cockpit of my rented C-152 at night.

Our most recent night flight was from Albert Whitted field back to Winter Haven. We had departed Winter Haven in the sunny late afternoon and flown over the suburbs southeast of Tampa, crossing the bay to St. Pete and making a somewhat bouncy respectable landing on the southerly runway. A nice walk past the marina, a cup of coffee, and then some time walking a rock jetty on the water and before we knew it it was dark out.

Facing east as the sun sets over St. Pete's marina. Control tower is visible.

A small high-wing plane landing at Albert Whitted.

The late-afternoon sunlight in St. Pete.

We headed back to the FBO at Albert Whitted and checked out our plane. Last time we had flown at night the landing light had been broken, which was inconvenient, but this time all the lights shone true and we were cleared for a departure East over the water by the tower.

Flying over water at night can be especially dangerous. There is not a clear visual horizon, so one can easily be confused and end up in an "Unusual Attitude" if not careful. Over Tampa Bay, there are the lights from various bridges and the suburbs on the east side of the bay, which is nice; but I found myself focusing heavily on the attitude indicator and the heading indicator.

While overflying the bay, we tried to contact Tampa Approach. The first controller bounced us to a different frequency, who bounced us to a third, who ignored us altogether. Technically ATC does not have to talk to VFR traffic (which is what we are) but usually they at least have the courtesy to tell you to go away. However, this time I simply monitored the appropriate frequency and flew on my way, saying hello to the controller at Lakeland as we flew over on our way home to Winter Haven.

At Winter Haven, we flew into the traffic pattern and completed a semicircle around the field to land. The landing was long as I had come in high, but I'd rather be a little too high than a little too low.

Looks like the next time I'll be able to fly will be January 9, almost 3 weeks out of the cockpit. I'll go solo and stay in the pattern at the airport to get my wings back, but maybe I'll have a fun story to tell you then.