It’s the right time of year to do a night rating (as we hit ‘official’ night (which is defined as sunset + 30 minutes) during normal club opening times), so I’ve decided to get this done.
I don’t intend to fly at night regularly (in a single engine aircraft if an engine failure occurs at night out of range of an airfield then it’s entirely down to chance as to what happens, as you just have to aim for a dark area, you can’t pick a field etc as you do during the daylight), but I’d like to be able to fly at night so should I get caught out at any stage with needing a diversion (or if I get my planning wrong!) then it’s a) legal, and b) I know what I’m doing.
The first lesson was basically an introduction, so we went up, did a little loop round Newmarket (which has a very obvious well lit astroturf pitch in the middle so nice and easy to recognise!) and then transited overhead the airfield (where the instructor pointed out the beacon that’s on the airfield, and highlighted how directional the runway lights are).
Next up we headed out along the A14, where I noticed that Bar Hill Tesco is quite recognisable as the Tesco logo colours stand out from quite a distance, and then turned round and headed back to do a couple of circuits.
The bits that surprised me were quite how far you can see some things (for example the mast at Sandy Heath) – apparently that can be disorientating for navigation, as you think you’re closer to something than you really are. Despite being warned about it, I was also surprised quite how strong the wind was at altitude, given it was quite calm on the surface.
We did a couple of circuits – the difficult parts are knowing where the runway is when on downwind (because of how directional the lights are the airfield while downwind basically looks like a black hole), and maintaining the correct approach path. The PAPIs help here as they indicate visually if you’re on the right approach path (although later in the course I’ll practise some landings with them turned off), but it’s still very different than during the day. The disconcerting part is that while approaching the runway you’re essentially aiming for a black strip between the two lines of lights, and while it’s totally black underneath you. It reminded me a bit of when I first started working on circuits, and had to get over the fact that you essentially aim straight at the ground until the last moment when you flare – that took a bit of getting used to (I kept inadvertently trying to pull the nose up!).
The first landing was very flat (judging the flare is much harder as you have to do it by the lights), but the second one wasn’t too bad.
The next couple of lessons will be entirely circuits (first just getting normal ones right, then practising without the various aids like the landing light, the PAPIs, and with the runway lighting at different levels), following that we do a (dual) navigation exercise, and then some solo circuits. It should be a good course, and I’m looking forward to getting it done.