Posted by: Orlando Web Services | September 11, 2010

Quietly into the Night

There is nothing but black and the glow of blue taxiway lights out my window. Inside the cockpit small yellowish lights illuminate the Cherokees instrument panel, the “steam gauges” are alive!

With small filtered flash lights in hand Gordy and I go through the checklist. Everything is looking good. Our tanks are filled to the top, past the tabs as to avoid having to refuel the plane on our return. This flight isn’t intended to be more than an hour and it’s not going to be a cross country. This flight is about the night and me getting my night currency for the first time as a Private Pilot.

To be current for night landings with passengers, a pilot must have done at least 3 full stop landings between the times of one hour after sunset and one hour before sunrise within the last 90 days. Night begins for us at 8:20pm.

Why did I wait?

I earned my private pilots certificate in October of 2007. I think I had only flown once at night as an observer for Gordy during all that time. I guess that I waited because I never really had a need to fly at night. Night flying is exponentially more dangerous, but at the same time it’s exponentially more wondrous. The danger is that you can’t see anything unless you have been gifted with a full moon, which is not the case tonight. And even a full moon doesn’t solve many problems. At night you are just guessing as to whether a lighter shade of gray is a field or just smaller trees…there is no apparent safe place to land in an engine out situation.

Back in the cockpit we are ready to go. Gordy will be the first to take the controls and then we will alternate until I get my three landings in. As we head down the runway I read off the gauges. Oil press is GOOD, Oil temperature is GOOD, fuel pressure is GOOD, and airspeed is ALIVE! Our lone landing light shines a narrow path ahead as the white lights of the runway accelerate past my window. Over the crown of the asphalt to my delight, there are no deer or other critters. I can see the end of the runway in the distance beyond the yellow lights telling us that 2000 ft are left and then red lights showing us the final 1000 ft. There are no worries as we left off at around 80 knots. The runway lights disappear below me and bid farewell from in front of me as the dark of night envelops the plane.

As we bank left the countryside lights up gently. There are lights below but they are sparse with nothing to connect them. A few passing cars can be seen and are the only means of telling where a road might be hiding should we need one to land. As we turn downwind the village of Penn Yan sparkles like a jewel out in front of us.

At 1000 ft above the ground I can now see where we took off from. Gordy begins to prepare the plane for landing and I tell him when we are abeam runway 19. As we begin our turn toward the runway, Penn Yan begins to set below the cockpit like a high speed constellation. Darkness quickly ensues and one again we are in the dark. A few clicks of the mic button allow us to increase the intensity of the runway lights. We give it 5 clicks, medium intensity, so that we can keep our point of reference with the runway.

With full flaps in now and our airspeed at 90 knots we turn to final. The 2 light PAPI shows 2 bright white lights, which means we are where we want to be at night, above the usual glide scope. The runway numbers are starting to show themselves now and we dim the lights to low with 3 clicks. There is no real wind to be concerned about and as the runway comes into view Gordy is on the mark. He brings it in and we land gracefully.

That’s one in the book for Gordy!  I’m next at bat!

We both go on and repeat the same thing 3 or 4 more times. I now have four night landings in my log book and I am FAA legal to take passengers. I may solo at night, but I won’t take a passenger unless I have a lot more night hours in my logbook. My landings were spot on, but not even hours can stop a nice buck from coming through your windshield.

For the record, we did see deer…two of them (and a few bats) when we flew quickly over to Canandaigua for my final landing of the night.

Night flights are peaceful…and a full moon would have made this flight perfect.

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