Night circuits

I’ve now completed both of my dual night circuit lessons – all that’s left to do for the night rating is five solo takeoffs and full stop landings (as they are full stop landings and not touch and go’s, they’ll take a little longer, and thus be spread across two more lesson slots).

After lots of cancellations due to weather, the first lesson was in very nice and calm conditions, with the surface wind calm, and the wind at circuit height nice and steady. This was great as it meant I could be concentrating on the new bits of looking for PAPIs and judging height etc, rather than using all my concentration simply keeping the aircraft level, as can happen on very blustery days!

We started off with a couple of normal circuits, making use of the runway approach lighting and PAPIs etc. As I seemed to have these basically sorted, we then proceeded to gradually reduce the lighting available (simulating landing at less equipped airfields). First we asked ATC to turn the PAPIs off, which just meant having to judge height visually, and did a couple of circuits like this.

Next time round we asked them to turn off the approach lights, and we turned off our landing light as well. The approach lights (also called ‘lead in’ lights) didn’t make a big difference (in fact if anything it was easier as they weren’t quite so dazzling), but without a landing light it becomes a lot harder to judge when to flare for the actual touchdown, so we did quite a few circuits like this, until landing to end the lesson.


The second session was all about emergencies, including:

  • Runway lighting failure (the correct action being to go around – apparently they used to have a codeword the instructor would give which in response ATC would turn off the runway lights, but that’s no longer done after one instructor (who no longer works for the club!) actually continued and landed without the lights!)
  • Various external lighting failures (the correct action being to land as soon as practical, and if appropriate inform ATC so they can warn other traffic etc)
  • Radio failure – in this situation you need to first attract the attention of the tower (by doing a normal circuit then go around, and flashing your navigation lights etc), then look for light signals from them indicating if you are cleared to land or not. This was practised getting both a solid green (cleared to land), and solid red (go around) from them – the lights are not entirely obvious, but having now seen them I should be OK should I need them ‘for real’.
  • Internal lighting failure – at this point a torch is required to see the critical instruments (airspeed and altimeter). The practise for this one became ‘interesting’ as I was asked to orbit for some instrument traffic, so had to do a couple of orbits in this way (in a real situation I’d probably have declared a PAN to get priority). While I ended up going around off the approach as I touched down a bit fast and so bounced a little etc, the approach itself was OK.
  • Total electrical failure – this is essentially a combination of the previous 3 issues – the only difference being that to attract ATC’s attention you no longer have any lighting available, so instead have to use engine noise as you pass the tower.

The conditions during the second lesson were significantly worse than the first – there was a fairly strong wind (albeit straight down the runway), with a lot of bumpy air, which while hard work was also good practise as it showed I could do it even when it isn’t perfectly calm (though I doubt I’d want to go solo in those conditions!)