Night Flight

Part of the requirements for a PPL are that you have three hours of flying at night, a night XC of over 100nm, and 10 TO/Landings to a complete stop in the traffic pattern. I stayed a little late at work (no sense going by the house for 10 minutes)…

Written by
Richard Brown
Published on
26 Jul 2016
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Part of the requirements for a PPL are that you have three hours of flying at night, a night XC of over 100nm, and 10 TO/Landings to a complete stop in the traffic pattern. I stayed a little late at work (no sense going by the house for 10 minutes) and then it was a 1 1/2 hour drive to the airport. Traffic in So Cal can turn a 30 minute drive into a much longer one when everyone is trying to go the same direction. When I got there I talked with my CFI about what the plan was. He said we could do the XC and some TO/Landings there, or go somewhere closer to just get some of the TO/Landings out of the way. I told him I wanted to just get in some landing practice because the last four times I had flown it was just to go somewhere and land once, then fly back and land once. I needed some extra landing practice for the repetition.

I wanted to go to an airport I hadn’t been to so the options were San Bernadino, SBD, (boring according to my CFI), El Monte, EMT, (also boring according to my CFI), and Brackett, POC, (the airport where my CFI took his initial PPL training.) So I told him let’s go to POC so he could have the nostalgia effect.

I did the pre-flight on the plane and then he moved the other planes around in the hanger so that it would be done when we got back. We then waited a little for the sun to go down so that it would count as night flying and we taxied out. I wasn’t sure if I was going to like flying at night, not because I don’t enjoy being up in the sky after dark because I love flying on airlines at night, but I wasn’t sure how I was going to feel about landing at night. I had read a lot of things about how landing at night was so different than landing during the day.

Night Flight
Control Tower at CNO at sunset.

It was a short little flight over to POC. In fact it was a lot shorter than I thought it was going to be and before I knew it I was calling in to the tower. I entered the left down-wind and we were 2nd in line to land. It wasn’t completely dark on the first landing but it was getting there. We were up and around the pattern again for our second landing. The sight picture is just a little different at night because the landing light only reaches out a little ways in front of the plane, but the lights down the side of the runway help you get a feel for how high above the ground you are.

I kept coming in high… I would turn final and all the lights on the PAPI would be white, which means I am coming in steeper than I want, which makes it more difficult to make a nice smooth landing. We talked through what I was doing and wasn’t doing and my CFI said he would take a closer look on the next time around the pattern. So far he hadn’t been giving me any input, just observing. The last time around the pattern he talked me through everything and when I turned final there was the PAPI with two white and two red lights, perfect. I came in nice on that one and had a smooth landing.

It always comes down to the little things that I had apparently gotten away from over the course of my last four flights. My power setting was a little high as I was passing abeam the numbers, I wasn’t getting my second notch of flaps in soon enough after turning base, I was still at 1,900 rpm on base instead of 1,800 rpm on base, and all of those things added up to coming in high. After the last landing we had this back and forth with the tower who had a tendency to talk fast and mumble a little. If you always fly into there and are familiar with him you probably understand him just fine, but that was not the case here.

Tower: “00Uniform, please expedite mumble-mumble-helicopter spooling up.
Me: “Say again?”
Tower: “00Uniform, please expedite mumble-mumble-helicopter spooling up.
Me: (Talking to my CFI) “What did he say?”
CFI: “Just tell him we’ll expedite our taxi.”
Me: (To the tower) “Will expedite our taxi, 00Uniform.” (I give it a little more throttle to pick up the pace.)
Me: (As we get a little further down the taxiway we pass the helicopter and I say to my CFI) “There’s the helicopter the tower was talking about.”
CFI: “Oh, is that what he was saying?” (He and I had each picked up on a different part of the conversation from the tower. He heard ‘expedite taxi’ and I had heard that there was a helicopter.)
Me: “Yeah, I heard him say a helicopter was spooling up but didn’t understand the rest of it”

After that while listening to the radio we figured out that he was asking us to expedite past the wind sock because he started asking people to hold short of the wind sock. We sat at the hold short line and waited for the helicopter to leave. We watched it as it left the area it was parked and slowly hovered over the runway before leaving. It was a big police helicopter and just looked like a large dark shape with lights all over moving across the airport. We were next to depart and the tower gave us our clearance but we told the tower we were going to wait just a bit for the rotor wash to dissipate before leaving.

As we were climbing out my CFI asked how I was going to get back. I said I was going to follow the 71 freeway, but I initially mistook the 57 freeway for the 71. He pointed out my mistake and then I saw where the 71 freeway was so we followed it along. I listened to the ATIS information for CNO and switched over to the tower just in time to hear her announce the tower was now closed. That gave me the chance to practice my radio work for a non-towered field on the way back in.

The landing there at CNO was good, although their lights are not as bright as the lights at POC. I do like flying at night. Landing is a little different, but not that much and the freeways (at least here in southern California) just look like a river of lights and are easy to follow.

Saturday I will be flying down to Palomar (CRQ) for the second of my three XC’s before I go on my long XC.

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