July 20th, 2012: Night Flying and Landings
Having completed my Tower Solo today I was ecstatic. This one had me up at night, not because I was nervous about flying, but I hadn't had as much tower practice as I would have liked, but the truth is, once I got into it and I was alone in the plane, it was a blast. Being able to communicate with the tower really made me feel like a pilot. I think it's one of those rare moments when you feel yourself transitioning from student to pilot in command and it was superb.
Just to put some icing on the cake, at 10 o'clock tonight I went back up in the air to get some night flying and landings in. I had heard from other pilots that this was a tough adjustment so I really had no idea what to expect. What I discovered however is that it was far more comfortable than I had imagined and a complete thrill. There was no moon up tonight so the sky was dark, really dark, but extremely clear. Taking off didn't feel a lot different than it had during the day, the biggest difference was looking out over the nose as I climbed into the night sky. I was loving every second of it! While I was flying primarily by feel, I also kept checking the instruments at regular intervals to make sure what I was feeling was also what was really happening. Looking back on the runway for the first time on my crosswind to downwind leg of the approach had my giggling like a kid in a candy store. How many times I had looked at the approach lights on the runway during a commercial night flight and wondered what that must be like, the dark paths of runway between those beautiful runway lights and the maze of taxi ways lined with blue lights, it was t thing of beauty, and I was about to get the answer to the question I had been asking for years, how do they do it? Flying through the pattern my CFI showed me how to use the mic button to turn on all of the airport lighting, now that's power, key the mic 3 times for dim, 5 for medium and 7 times for bright lights...we'll take 7 for bright lights thank you! Turning downwind to base, then base to final I was completely stoked, my first night landing. What was it going to look like, what was it going to feel like, was my CFI going to need to take the controls at the last second if I was a little off, was the runway going to seem closer, farther away?
It felt amazing. While my first landing wasn't perfect, it was far better than I had envisioned, after all, I really had no idea what to expect. There was a bit of a left crosswind close to the ground that caused me to drift to the right a bit, but I still managed to sett he Cessna down nicely and continue my roll out for a go around. I repeated the process 7 times, each time getting a little more comfortable with the night approach and finessing the landing a bit more. My CFI had his seat all the way back and his hands no where near the controls which gave me an added boost of confidence throughout the entire process. Having completed my goal of seven night landings in just under 30 minutes, I asked if it would be alright if we just took off and flew somewhere, to which he answered with an enthusiastic ""absolutely". It was breathtaking as I flew out over the bay and over Benecia and Martinez, the lights of the city and the beautiful bridge glowing perfectly clear in the calm night air. For the next 25 minutes I just soaked it all in as we continued to fly around southern Napa County and I asked my usual barrage of questions.
I really didn't want to return to the airport and could have easily flown for another couple of hours, but my CFI had been flying all day, and as it was now approaching midnight, it was time to return to Napa County Airport and make my final landing for the day. Approaching the airport from a few miles out I keyed the mic 7 times and watched as those beautiful lights came on in the distance just for me. Fantastic. I entered the pattern on an extended downwind, turned to base and then final, coming right down in the center of the runway for one last touch down of the night, taxied in and parked the plane at the ramp for the night. After securing the plane which my CFI would come back and pick up in the morning, we headed to the car both grinning from ear to ear. The 30 minute ride back to Sonoma was filled with talk about the tower solo earlier and the shear joy of flying at night.
This was perhaps the most amazing experience yet. I can't wait to do it solo!