It’s that time of the year again; time to change the clock back 1 hour. The end of daylight saving time marks very little in aviation by itself. The immediate effect is having to change the amount of time that you subtract from UTC. At our flight school Sporty’s Academy, we are currently -4 Hrs UTC, but after Nov 1st when we return to standard time, we will revert to -5 UTC.
The most common difficulty experienced as a result of the time change are the time conversions while interpreting encoded weather reports and forecasts. The end of daylight saving time also signals the nearing of winter for most in the country. While cold weather flying topics will have to wait for another post, this time of year does limit the amount of daylight flying that we have access to. With those reduced daylight hours, we need to begin to prepare for our night flying activities.
To fly safely at night requires that a pilot be properly prepared for the occasion. The first item that most people think of are flashlights. Having the correct and operable flashlight is a must on any night flight and will assist in preflight, cockpit organization, navigation (chart/map reading), and as an emergency backup just to name a few. Since each of these functions requires a different type/intensity of light, it is a good idea to carry a flashlight that has both red and white functions, along with varied intensity settings. I like to carry a headlight and a hand flashlight, but use whatever works best for you.
Preparing for a potential electrical failure at night not only requires a flashlight, but also a handheld transceiver. You might be thinking that talking to ATC is the least of your worries in an emergency, but having that assistance can be a life-saver if the time comes. In addition, most non-towered airports have pilot -controlled lighting that requires a certain amount of “clicks” on the radio to activate the runway lighting. You never want to be forced to land on a dark runway.
If you are using digital charts on the iPad, take a closer look at this in-depth article from iPad Pilot News for proper iPad preparation.
Pilots who are preparing to fly at night already know there are additional equipment requirements for night flying per the regulations (FAR 91.205 (c)). This list covers the minimum equipment required to fly at night. In addition to the FAR minimum, don’t forget that some aircraft manufacturers also include a Kind of Equipment List (KOEL) that might provide for additional equipment that is required during night operations. I have always adopted a simple rule of thumb when it comes to night flying; if something is broken, don’t go flying.
Beyond equipment requirements, we also have other regulations to consider specific to night operations. Perhaps only in aviation could we come up with three different (and often confusing) definitions for the same word, night. The numerous definitions for night are in reference to the requirements to operate navigation lights; when you are able to log night experience; and when you must complete your landings for currency in order to carry passengers at night.
Let’s look at each requirement:
- Navigation Lights – per FAR 91.209 (a) – you cannot operate an aircraft without operating lighted position lights from sunset to sunrise.
- Recent Flight Experience – per FAR 61.57 (b) – no person may act as pilot in command of an aircraft carrying passengers during the period of 1 hour after sunset to 1 hour before sunrise, unless in the proceeding 90 days, that person has made at least three takeoffs and three landings to a full stop during the period beginning 1 hour after sunset to 1 hour before sunrise.
- Logging Night Time – per FAR 1.1 – the definition of night time for the logging of night experience is the time between the end of evening civil twilight and the beginning of morning civil twilight as published by the American Air Almanac, converted to local time.
Each one of these is fairly simple and straight forward. The only detail that pilots often forget is to recall that night landing currency (in order to carry passengers) requires landings be made to a FULL STOP. In addition, one parameter often interpreted incorrectly, is the time for civil twilight. Before the advent of the internet, you would have to locate a printed copy of the American Air Almanac and find the time table for your local area. Thanks to modern access, you can visit a simple website and provide your closest major city for the correct local times (be careful to convert for daylight saving time).
So…you may be wondering why the confusion for some pilots. The answer comes in this scenario. Let’s say that we are going for a local night flight in Cincinnati, OH on May 2nd. After reviewing the table for the American Air Almanac, we discover that local sunset (adjusted) is 20:32 and the end of evening civil twilight is 21:01.
In this scenario we would could begin logging night time at 21:01, but the landings we are practicing wouldn’t count towards recent landing experience requirements until a pattern circuit began after 21:32 local. There would be 31 minutes of logged night flight time at which time any landings performed wouldn’t count toward carrying passengers.
In short, make sure that if you are going to log a night landing in your logbook that it also meets the requirements for 1 hour after sunset or make a notation that it doesn’t count to be sure you are in compliance with the regulations.
While I could devote an entire article on the topic of night emergencies, keep in mind that our actions and checklists generally don’t change since we are at night. What does change are the complications that night brings with required electrical power to operate and see safely, limited outside visual definition (e.g. is that a field or a lake?), and cockpit organization and viewability. Take the necessary time to sit with a CFI and review your aircraft’s emergency and abnormal procedures and discuss what changes or complications exist in a night scenario. Then, go out and fly some of these scenarios to put this into practice.
The dreaded engine failure at night is often the most discussed and feared. While there is no one procedure that can adequately prepare you for all possible off airport landings at night, your local CFI will have suggestions and practice scenarios that you can help you prepare to minimize some of the uncertainties.
Night flying isn’t all work and no fun. Most of my night flights over the years were smooth flights with amazing visibilities and quiet ATC chatter. Nothing compares to a beautiful sunset from the sky and flying along into the night hours and watching the city lights come to life.
Here’s to your next night flight. Enjoy!