When I was a student pilot learning to fly in Fullerton, I gained a unique perspective. Work kept me busy during the daylight hours and during the winter it gets dark earlier. So, the majority of my flight training was at night.
If you review the requirements to obtain a private pilots license, you’ll recall it require three hours of night training. This is important because it teaches the student pilot to get a basic understanding of what the sky looks like without a horizon. As well, if you have any mountains in your area, like we do in California, they disappear at night.
Another challenge when flying at night is finding your airport. When I first started out, I was always searching for a well lit area for my destination. It took me a while to break that mental picture and start accepting that I should be looking for a dark area. Gaining that practice in a safe environment with my CFI gave me the confidence to fly at night safely.
The beauty of flying over a lit up city is a reward for all that practice. Plus, you’ll also enjoy calmer winds. And finally, you get to beat the heat! We all know there’s limited ways to get cool when flying during the day in our trainers. Garrett always says we’re “low and slow”. I think we can agree we’re actually “low, slow and overheated!”
There are a few pitfalls to watch out for when flying at night. The first and most important to watch out for is spatial disorientation. When you lose a visual horizon this is a serious concern. Make sure you get training on how to handle this. The other big risk is engine trouble. During the day, you have a good visual of the ground and can pick a place to land. At night it all changes. So, be prepared and always be asking yourself, “Where would I go now?” Have a plan for the unexpected.
Flying at night can bring beautiful scenery and calm winds. The busy skies tend to clear and the experience is out of this world. Watching sunsets and night skies were a great background to an unforgettable experience attaining my PPL.