Visibility: CAVOC, more than 10k
Temperature: -9°C, clear and cold night
Wind: 070°, 7 knots
Equipment: D-EKKT (Cessna 172)
It is one of the sunniest days in weeks and while everyone else enjoys the sunshine, I anticipate sun set.
Dusk is turning the clear sky to shades of dark blue when I arrive at the airport. I have double checked the batteries of my pilot flash light, I will need it tonight. The office of the flight school is packed. Pilots are standing around in groups, chatting, laughing. It’s like a cocktail party but without the booze.
Night VFR is a separate endorsement to the private pilots license in Germany. The airport has longer hours for night training once a month. I will have my second or third lesson tonight.
The apron is illuminated by flood lights and I don’t really need my flash light for the preflight check. But I’ll be damned if I don’t use it tonight! A student pilot asks if he can come for the ride. Of course he is welcome.
On my first night flight, the full moon was reflected by the full cover of snow. Easy conditions for starters. Today there is neither moon nor snow – but stars.
The plan for tonight is a trip north to the Friedland VOR (FLD), close to the coast. The tower opens our flight plan and we are off into the night. The air is cold and glassy smooth. The large Lycoming takes big, hungry bites out of it and we climb fast despite three people and a big load of fuel.
The radar frequency is busy with coordinating airliners for evening flights into the two major airports. They don’t have much patience for us and seem glad when they can hand us off. The new frequency is almost silent and the controller is chatty. The lights on the ground are getting fewer and further apart as we are leaving the perimeter of the Big City. And all of a sudden I realize that the black void under the stars on the horizon must be the Baltic Sea. Magic.
“Kilo Sierra” is a lady with a lot of experience under her wings and not a lot of upgrades since she left the factory. She is kept up very well but her condition is pretty original. So I know exactly how a pre-GPS student in the 70s felt. The illumination on the control panel is pretty minimal. Some of the instruments have dim lights. Others – like the artificial horizon – have no illumination of their own. There is a small, adjustable map light with a red bulb close to my head. I use that for the instrument panel and after a period of adjustment, it works surprisingly well. I keep my flash light on the seat. It makes me feel better but I only use it once or twice.
On the way back we fly towards the lights of the Big City. A different kind of magic. Suddenly we encounter light turbulence and the lights disappear. We are flying into a cloud that I did not see in the dark. I was trained to focus on the artificial horizon when I loose visual contact to the ground. It is quite amazing how difficult it is to keep the airplane straight and level once you don’t see the ground any more. I am grateful for the training with the IFR cap I have had.
Back at the home base, the pattern is still busy. It is both important and difficult for a novice to build a mental picture of the positions of everybody in the pattern. I will need a bit more time for the night VFR rating and a lot more until I feel comfortable flying at night. But I’m very much looking forward to the process!
To be continued…
(originally posted on April 18, 2014 by tilbo at aloft.blog.com/night-flight/)