Night flying

Timo and Aleksi getting ready for the night.

Timo and Aleksi getting ready for the night.

We spent the week in Kuopio at Night Flying camp. Over the four nights at EFKU we logged the required 5 hours of night flying to obtain the NF rating.

The six of us who started our training together at SL Flight Training had yet to finish the Night Flying training. The other six who started at Patria Pilot Training, carried out their NF training last spring, and the three who already had the PPL, also had completed NF rating before.

The NF training times are restricted in Finland in the following ways. Training can’t be done between 0900-1500 local time nor between 10th May and 1st August (below latitude of 65N) or between 1st May and 10th August (above latitude of 65N). The rest of the year, training can start 1,5, 2 or 2,5 hours after sunset depending on location, and must end 1,5, 2 or 2,5 hours before sunrise (below 62N, between 62N and 65N or above 65N respectively). This week sunset in Kuopio was around 1700 UTC (2000 LOCAL) and sunrise around 0300 UTC (0600 LOCAL). Kuopio being between latitudes of 62N and 65N, it meant that we were able to start flying after 10 pm and had to finish by 4 am.

It's really dark at night on the runway.

Darkness falling on the runway.

The first night the weather was giving us a bit of a headache. The weather minimums at night are a little higher than during day and the flights couldn’t commence as planned. But, fortunately we were able to start the flights flying the traffic circuit instead.

One of us making a touch and go.

One of us making a touch and go.

It’s quite obvious there isn’t much light in the night time, but still it surprised me how dark it really is. It poses challenges in many everyday tasks that you don’t even think about during day. First of all, it’s dark inside the plane. To read the checklist you need light. Before starting engine that was usually a flashlight. Holding a flashlight takes up one of your two hands. Considering that usually one hand holds the checklist and the other does the items on the list, you might wish for a third one at night. After starting the engine, the dome light on the ceiling was very handy. But we didn’t use it during taxi or flight, because it would be like trying to look outside your house window with the lights on at night. You can’t really see anything, right?

The blue light is a taxiway edge light.

The blue light is a taxiway edge light.

Taxiing at night at a strange airfield. You guessed it, challenging at first! The taxi light lights up the taxiway only some meters ahead and following the yellow centerline isn’t as easy anymore as in daylight. You must really concentrate on where you are going. This of course is being emphasized at a strange airfield. Coming off the runway I once happily taxied past the exit, then turned around and almost went past it again. That didn’t happen anymore after that one time, you learn! Follow the yellow line slavishly!

The first take-off. We studied the night flying theory, but there wasn’t really anything that could have prepared me for the darkness. I took off from EFKU runway 15 and turned left – pitch black. The city is on the other side and turning towards east there is nothing, just darkness. When leveling the wings after the turn, I could see the airport behind me, but in front of me, nothing. That first take-off was a bit of a shock for me. I was wondering how am I going to be able to do this by myself. First take-off towards the city lights would have probably been easier. Anyway, I got over the shock after two rounds.

The first flight consisted of a low approach, three normal landings, a stop and go (you bring the plane to a full stop on the runway and only then take off again), a landing with no PAPI lights and a landing without the landing light. Landing without the landing light was probably the most challenging one. EFKU runway doesn’t have the runway center lights, only the runway edge lights, and coming into landing looks a bit like landing into a black hole. The landing light lights up the ground from a few meters height which gives you just enough time to perform the last phases of landing. Without the landing light you can’t see the ground so you put the plane in the right attitude and position and just wait for the tires to touch the ground and then pull the power idle.

Taxiing back to the parking spot. Notice the yellow line to follow.

Taxiing back to the parking spot. Notice the yellow line to follow.

The second night we did some cross-country flying. The route was EFKU-EFVR-EFJO-EFKU, about 300 km in length and took just under 2 hours. The weather was perfect. Even though the moon wasn’t visible this week, the stars were shining bright. The starry sky was beautiful. The air was calm and it was pretty cool cruising in the dark, the rare city lights glimmering underneath. Let me remind you, in my dream I fly long-haul through the night to faraway lands. The cross-country at night brought me closer to that.

The city of Varkaus.

The city of Varkaus.

Navigating at night with a map is a little more difficult than during day, as you can imagine. Especially with no moonlight, it’s hard to see anything that isn’t lit. On the other hand, cities and especially lit roads are excellent navigation aids. But at night, the radio navigation equipment, supporting the navigation, are very useful. When it’s completely dark underneath, it’s nice to have a needle pointing the direction to the destination.

The instrument panel at night during the cross-country flight.

The instrument panel at night during the cross-country flight.

Coming back on the cross-country flight, a Flybe plane from Helsinki landed a few minutes before me. Because of this, all the approach lights were on. Joining right baseleg runway 33, it was a cool sight. It was one of those moments when you can’t help but think where you have ended up by dreaming big.

OH-CJM coming back from a flight.

OH-CJM coming back from a flight.

Next up on the third night was a training area flight. That included the usual training area maneuvers, performed in the dark. 30- and 45-degree turns were a little trickier, because the shadows blocked the upper corner of the attitude indicator, making it hard to see your bank angle. Slow flight, stall recoveries, recoveries from unusual attitudes and standard instrument turns (180-degree) were also performed. Heading back to the airport, I once again realized how difficult it is to estimate a distance of a lit target. Night time is a tricky time for a newbie. Back at the airport I did a few rounds in the traffic circuit to practise landings at night.

Finnair service to Kuopio with several daily flights.

Finnair service to Kuopio with several daily flights.

The last night was the night for our solo flights. They consisted of flying the traffic circuit making five stop and go landings. I have to admit I was a little nervous heading out by myself into the darkness. However after the first landing and take-off the feeling of flying at night was just awesome. We were three in the circuit at the same time and it felt pretty great to think that we all share the same amazing experience. In my opinion I did the best landings of the week when flying solo. I suppose you concentrate more fully on what you’re doing when alone. All in all I felt great after my solo. Another milestone is now accomplished. The night flying training is complete and the updated license will arrive by mail sometime soon.

Kim and me after our solos. Happy!

Kim and me after our solos. Happy!

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10 responses to “Night flying

  1. I remember my first night flights and how fast the landing procedure seemed to speed up. Maybe because you are navigating by the lights and cannot see the ground as well.
    Great post by the way.

  2. Actually when reading your post I have discovered, that the scandinavian countries are fantastic for making VFR flights, as in the summer months there is almost no night. Waw! Enjoy 24 hours of flying with no restrictions… I look forward to make my night VFR as well, however, in Spain it is almost impossible to make visual night flights, as they are restricted… Safe landings!

    • Yea, we even have a difference in the aviation regulations regarding the definition of night because of the light during summertime. I guess it would be pretty awesome to fly at “night” especially in Northern Finland where the Sun doesn’t set at all. Haven’t tried it.

      That’s interesting about NF in Spain. Why are they restricted?

      • To be honest, I don’t know. During the PPL course you learn about it, and than at the end they say to you: it is prohibited… As well as practicing spins… They are only allowed in acrobacy…
        About the night VFR, I think probably they are to lazy to enhance the procedures for the airports for visual night flying, so it is easier to restrict it… I believe they are some airports on the spanish mainland allowing night VFR.
        Now at least we can make the rating, which is for sure a nice experience, you may practice night VFR as a part of the course, but once you have the rating, forget it! No idea, why.
        But having it, I can use it outside Spain… And the experience should be amazing and I believe it makes you a safer pilot…
        Should you try to fly at night in the summertime, I am sure, you would write a post about it to share it with everyone ;-)

      • Maybe they think it’s too dangerous on the islands. If you’d fly between them etc. Crossing the sea at night might be considered too risky. Interesting anyway.

        Surely I would. ;) Who knows what the future brings.

      • The strange think is, it is not only on the islands. And during the training you have to fly between the islands anyway… So if they allow it on that way, I really don’t know…
        I am sure flying at full moon over the ocean must be fun-tastic!

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