As you may know we’re the process of our ATPL training and we’re more in the practical side of the training at the moment. So, even for us, the moment has come: Night Rating Training.
In this article we’ll touch and see individually our two experiences to give you a wider piscutre of how this particular kind of flying and training is conducted in the different parts of Europe. Let’s see how Francesco did during your training:
Well, let’s start saying that for this training I had to transition from my old plane to the Piper PA28-161 Warrior II, a very nice airplane. I have to admit that we was quite scared thinking of what was due to come. You know… Night Flying, in a plane that you don’t know in a new city which you don’t know along with VRPs (visual reporting points) and Airspaces and I was also scared about the night attitudes and landing techniques. I have to admit, not a very nice start for a new exciting phase of your life.
But, luckily I was worrying too much. My training was carried out in the UK in Exeter almost a year ago (in some of the days that now I remember as some of the best in my whole pilot life), and Tommaso has completed his Night Training just a few days ago in the shining Jerez. Well, let’s start from the beginning.
When you fly in the EASA airspace in Visual Flight Rules you have a difference between daylight flying and night flying. (the FAA regulation is very different in this aspect). In Europe when you get your PPL you will be able to fly from the sunrise to the sunset (roughly 30 minutes before/after respectively) and this can be very limiting for planing and safety, especially during winter. And here it comes the Night Flying and the required Night Rating. Well, to be honest, this rating is mandatory to begin your IR/CPL training in most Flight Training Organizations, but I’m very happy that it is. When you get a night rating your PPL privileges extends and you can fly approved aircrafts at literals any time, this means a lot of freedom and safety.
Well some people find night flying a lot more difficult than daylight one and try to fly the barely minimum required time for your training, while some other pilots find night flying very pleasing and much more funny and beautiful that the daylight one. Well I fall in the second category. Night flying for me was an incredible experience. You operate in a dark cockpit with jut a tiny red dome light and your instrument lighting so things are more difficult, especially to handle the aircraft relying more on the instruments than looking outside. But there is something magical in the views, in the way you feel. Everything begins when you line up in the runway, it’s all lighted, you can only see the white light running at the side and at the center of the runway progressively becoming red and it’s such an amazing experience. When you takeoff everything is different, you have to look at your artificial horizon, but honestly I didn’t find it more difficult than usual to handle the aircraft and trim it. You will have to rely on your sensations as well, but pay attention not to fall in one of the very common illusions of the sense-of-the pants or of the vestibular system (you will study this in details in the Human Performance Subject, but pay attention since now not to fall into any illusion at night as it will be easier due to the lack of visual references)!
After the first 15 minutes, when you’re really focussed on how to handle the aircraft and the different way of managing the flight path, the magic happens, you start to look out and see the city lights, the streets, the hundred of car lights running below you in their lives and you’re up in the dark skies watching them from above. Another thing that you will find impressive during night flying is how far you can see, you can spot cities and airplanes traffic that would be impossible to see during the day.
Night VFR Navigation isn’t difficult after all, you’ll just have to rely on the light of the cities and street, helping yourself with the lovely Radio Nav Aids and you’ll be fine, but while navigating in your trimmed airplane you’ll start to notice new things, particular light and buildings that you never saw before. It’ll be like seeing everything, your city, your well known landscapes like if you never seen them before, with the eyes of a newborn, you’ll became like a child getting excited for everything.
In Spain things aren’t much different.
The syllabus is a bit different (but that depends on the school) and night rating is done just at the end of the Single Engine VFR phase.
So far night flying has been the most exciting thing I’ve ever done in my training, and as Francesco has already said, the night views are something unique that you have to experience yourself, otherwise it’s just not possible to explain how it feels.
In the area of Andalucia that is hosting my training we haven’t got much streetlights, threfore I couldn’t really use streets as features for a point-to-point navigation as I would have done with daylight.
This problem has some nice straightforward walkarounds:
-At night you can see things you’re not able to see nomally, so when heading southwards, Morocco was clearly distinguishable, instead of the hazy landscape I see in CAVOK days
-When heading towards smaller villages, the radio aids we have in this area helps us to set a radial and distance in our equipment to have a reference fix.
Once you confirm you have setup the fix correctly and you have identified it, it’s time to relax and look how amazing the features you see every day can be… just without the Sun.
Night Rating, although, it’s very short… It has a minimum of 5 hours, therefore, as all the amazing things, it’s very quick.
And it has a lot of challenges when the aircraft comes out of the nice and steady cruise phase.
I have to say that, having one flight of familiarization before going through IF, navigation and solo circuits, helps a lot.
That’s because flying at night is tricky inside and outside the cockpit.
Outside the cockpit it’s meant as all the planning routine we’ve been trained to execute since day one, but it has much more importance when the Sun goes down.
First of all, at night the weather can happen without visible clues: you must be really aware of how the weather is supposed to evolve in your airspace.
And as if it wasn’t enough to think about, alternate destinations can be an issue… Usually, in daylight, we use a nearby aerodrome as alternate, just in case we need to divert due to wind or other occurrences.
The problem comes as that aerodrome is not suitable for night operations, therefore we have to use Seville and Malaga (in the unlikely situation that we come too late to Seville).
Inside the cockpit it’s not the EasyJet based series, it’s all the procedures we learn to operate our aircrafts in the most commercial way possible.
Well, during night, we have to deal with different checks and external/internal lights setting according to the flight phase.
That’s another “load” adding to what I tought would’ve been the most difficult part of night training: approach and landing.
First of all, since we flew in VFR, we had to rejoin the airfield through the standard procedures, and if identifying our VRPs wasn’t much of a challenge, finding our downwind/base clues was, at least for the first flight.
The airport lighting doesn’t really help as it shines in the direction of the approach, so I’ve been thaught how to recognize those features at night, and once you know them, it’s as easy as a daylight approach.
If features look a lot closer than they are in reality during night, the runway looks a lot “higher” than it is, causing the pilot to think that he’s too low on the approach path.
As you think this, you’re tempted to delay your flare, sometimes a bit too much, ending in the same hard landing you would’ve done flaring too early.
Having had two different instructors during my night rating, I can say that I learnt something from both.
One told me how to recognize the “magical expansion” of the runway that we aim for to start flaring, and the other one gave me some tips on how to fly a better approach at night in terms of speed, altitude and power setting.
Overall, I think that the Night Rating is something any cadet should look forward to, because although it’s rather quick, gives you memories and views you’ll never forget.
It’s also important, by the way, to face it with the right attitude and concentration, as anything you do in the air.
In order to get prepared for it, I would advise a review of your school’s OPS Manual, especially for the sections concerning night operations.
When you go to the aircraft already knowing the procedures to execute, your instructor will have more time to focus on sharpening your skills instead of teaching what light should be on at what time. If you pay by the hour, it’s all time you just gained.