I’m not too sure whose idea it was to allow VFR (Visual Flight Rules) pilots — meaning you have to be able to see outside to avoid hitting things — to fly at night. Don’t get me wrong… It’s nice to not be grounded by the absence of the sun. For instance, it is great that you can take a flight in the late afternoon knowing that it will terminate well into night and be able to do so legally having only your VFR rating. It’s great that you can fly at dark, in darkness if you want. But, night is a little more than contradictory to the “visual flight rules.”
At night, there are plenty of times where you can’t see anything at all — no horizon, no lights, nothing. Times like these leave you having to rely on your instruments only. That’s not a bad thing and it’s not crazy scary or anything, but to me it is a little more than contradictory to what the VFRs constantly pound into your brain. Such was the case light night over open ocean (You can see last night’s flight in the above pic. Clicking it will take you to ‘Flight Watch’ where you can track all kinds of flights. Cool site… But, I’m wandering here…). So, yeah… last night’s night flight… I took off from Savannah and headed to open ocean, enroute to Charleston. When over water, you couldn’t tell the difference from a star versus the light on a buoy. If banked, turning 30 degrees (which is a lot), you can’t see the turn and you can’t feel it. (see JFK Jr.) You have to have total reliance on your instruments. VFR prohibits you from flying into clouds. Well guess what? At night you can’t see clouds until you’re in them. Then, when you are, you have this nice dimmly lit gray fog surrounding you that lights up with the strobes on your wingtips every second. It makes the propeller do that cool, disco strobe freezing thing. So, you have to fight your way back to ‘legal’ and get out of the clouds. That’s fun when they’re low and there’s lot of them. Then, you have to find your airport, which most incidentally have no runways lit for you. You need to turn on the lights yourself. (You do this with your radios by clicking the mic in succession.) Then, you have to land. You get some landing light from the plane cast on the runway when you’re about 50 feet from it.
All in all, night is quite an experience in an airplane. And, experience is something you’ll definitely want when you fly at night. Me… other than the flights that intentionally take me into nighttime, I’ll wait for those perfectly clear, full moon lit nights once I get my license.
So… Anyone want to go night flying?