Fly by Night
Next week I’m back in the saddle, getting to grips with the Saratoga and all her quirks after a quiet winter. I’ll be flying at Kidlington in Oxford, as they are friendly to general aviation, convenient from London, and have lights.Night rating, here I come.
Flying VFR at night is, well, as different as night and day. You have a dependence on your instruments which is simply not there for daytime flying. You need to understand airport lighting which is irrelevant on bright sunny days. There’s also a change of perspective of the runway. I’ve landed just before dusk at an airfield with lights on and completely misjudged my height on the approach and then again on the flare. This was a runway I knew well, it just looked completely different. I can only imagine how “different” it would look if I couldn’t see the surrounding land.
In the UK, if you wish to fly at night you have to have a separate rating. Unlike the US, PPL training carries no requirement at all for flying on instruments.
You can’t complete a night rating as a part of your PPL: you must have a minimum of 50 flying hours of which 20 hours must be as Pilot in Command and 10 of those hours must be post-qualification. It’s not a particularly onerous requirement but it does mean you should be comfortable with basic flying before learning a new viewpoint.
I have just reached 100 hours* as Pilot of Command so this is hardly an issue. I’ll be meeting with the ever friendly and patient Alistair, with whom I managed to bury the plane the last time we flew together. I’m quite intrigued by the idea of night navigation, of which we must do at least 1 hour. I want to aim for some place with lots of lights, if I can.
The risk is the weather: March in England isn’t known for its clear starry nights, although with sunset before dinner it means we should get a decent amount of flying each evening. The summer months are light until 21:00, long after the flying instructors have all been tucked into their beds.
It’s good at the moment though so, fingers crossed, it’ll last until next week.
*It seems like I should have done something special — or at least landed somewhere for that 100th hour. It actually slipped by completely unnoticed in the middle of a four-hour flight somewhere over southern France.