For my first night cross-country of this semester, my instructor and I flew to Dyersburg airport in Dyersburg, Tennessee. I spent the hour before the flight preparing for my first night flight in over a year. I made sure that I had my flashlight and an extra set of batteries. I also was reading up on the newer 2003 Cessna 172R. This would be the first time I would fly the newer 172 and although they aren't incredibly different, it’s important to know about the differences. The biggest difference between the new and old models is that the newer R models are fuel injected instead of carbureted. While this means that carburetor ice is now impossible, the downside is that the aircraft are a bit more complicated to start. Little changes included inertia real seat belts and strobe lights. Overall, the R models are nicer.
As we departed Carbondale, we contacted St. Louis radio to open our flight plan and Kansas City center to begin flight following. Upon reaching our cruising altitude of 6,500 feet, we were amazed by the visibility. We could see far past Cape Girardeau and Sikeston, Missouri. The flight to Dyersburg went better than I expected. I was hitting each checkpoint within 5 seconds of what I planned. I have the people who forecasted the winds aloft data to thank for their accuracy though. Upon approaching the airport, we closed our flight plan, cancelled flight following, and set up to land. We turned downwind for runway 22 and noticed that runway 16/34 was pitch black; good thing the winds were favoring 22. The airport was located on the south side of the town which was fairly unpopulated. Since there were virtually no lights south of the airport, we had to be aware of the black hole effect. The black hole effect makes pilots think they are higher than they actually are. This is because of the lack of lights in a certain area. If the pilot does not account for this, they can descend to an unsafe altitude and possible contact the ground short of the runway. That’s why it’s so important for pilots to pay close attention to their instruments and runway glideslope equipment if available while flying at night. My landing at Dyersburg was fairly well considering I hadn’t done a night landing in over a year. The trip back to Carbondale was essentially uneventful. I was hitting each checkpoint within 30 seconds on the way back. Coming back to Carbondale, we called up St.Louis radio to cancel our flight plan. When they responded “18G, Wichita radio, flight plan cancelled” my instructor and I paused with confusion. The controller came back with “Uh, scratch that, St. Louis radio” I guess controllers have their less-than-stellar moments too. After landing back in Carbondale, I put 2.5 hours in my logbook with some more cross-country time.
If you’re wondering how I got the picture above, I used an app called GPSLogger available on the Android market. The app is free to download and is fully customizable. What it does is take snapshots of your GPS locations at set intervals (I set it up to log my position every 30 seconds) and save it in Google Earth format. The app really doesn’t drain that much battery and is easy to use and configure.