Night moves

June 26, 2008 by Paul Richfield, Senior Editor

I’m writing an article on night VFR operations for an upcoming issue of Pilot, and figured it might be a good idea to get night current again. Not just so I can at least sound like I know what I’m talking about, but also to try and recapture that special mindset that goes with flying after dark.

It really is different. You flight plan a little more diligently, and check things over a little more carefully than usual, because deep down you know the prospect of an electrical or, gulp, engine failure at night is just something you’d rather not have to face. I mean, cripes–it’s really dark out there, and the coyotes are getting hungrier by the minute.

My longtime ride, a ’99 Aviat Husky just reaching its peak with 1,422 hours on the tach, couldn’t care less. It’s virtually full of $5.70 per gallon blue fuel (still cheaper than hot sake), the oil is new and the spark plugs blasted clean, and while I plan to replace my nine-year-old battery soon, it’s given me no indication that it’s not charged and ready for a night of runway-pounding action.

My long-suffering mag-light finally expired, though, so I borrowed one from Chris Rose, the staff photographer who would record my efforts tonight. He positioned himself in the grass off to the side of Frederick’s Runway 23, thoroughly encumbered with the fishing vest, tripod, and all the other gear that people in his profession love to tote around with them.

“Just fly your normal patterns and I’ll take the pictures,” he said. Fair enough, but you just fly differently, self-consciously, when you know somebody’s out there with one of those digital Nikons with a lens about four feet long.

It was a beautiful evening and I had the pattern all to myself, at least for the first few circuits. Sure enough, all the clichés about night flying held true. The runway lights, “rabbit” and my own pulsing strobe lights were dazzling, and it took me a few minutes to settle down and get used to all the distractions.

I came in a little high initially, of course, as if scared of the ground I couldn’t see. So I tuned up the FDK localizer frequency and used the glideslope to help stay in the groove from that point on. Cheating? No way–you use what you’ve got. The transition to landing was interesting, because it forced me to break a new bad daytime habit–aiming to plant it on the runway end in order to make the first turnoff at all costs.

Out of ten stop and goes, four or five were pretty nice, several I just don’t remember and a couple got me back on the ground, but that’s all. My biggest mistake of the night was forgetting to push in my prop control all the way in one time on the launch. I noticed it on the climb out and stupidly pushed it in fast, instead of turning it in slowly. That big MT scimitar made a dramatic whooshing sound as the rpms came up; it even got Rose’s attention. No harm done, though, except to my ego.

All told, a pretty average performance. But I’m night current again. How about you?


4 Responses to “Night moves”

  1. Robert pas Says:

    Great story brings back lot of memories thanks robert

  2. Florence Says:

    I remember a night flight over the Las Vegas strip many years ago. That was one of the best dates I ever had….How are you?

  3. Paul Richfield Says:

    Hi Florence,

    It’s great to hear from you! Please send me an email at [email protected]



  4. Dan Z Says:

    I recently (8 January 09) acquired my fixed wing private pilot certificate. My first flight after my checkride was with my son, keeping me night current. It had been about a month or two since I had flown at all and was a bit nervous. All was going well until after my first touch and go as I was leveling off, my son said, ” Should we put the flaps up now?” Looking back, I noticed the aircraft did kinda jump off the runway with a little extra vigor on that takeoff.

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