Saturday, November 17, 2012


KFAM 180015Z AUTO 09004KT 10SM CLR 07/M02 A3040

I have gotten in two night flights in the past two evenings. That is more night flying that I did in years at 44N. 44N had runway lights, but I regarded night ops there as being challenging. Additionally, the tiedowns were not illuminated, so anything I did, preflights or post-flights, had to be done by flashlight and the headlights of my car.

KFAM's runway is more-or-less level and the shade-hangar has overhead work lights. It makes things a lot more friendly.

There were high clouds tonight, mostly cirrus clouds that began as contrails. To the north, the clouds were lit from below by the lights of St. Louis.

Night flying is kind of quasi-IFR to me. In sparsely-settled areas, it could be easy to be confused as to where the stars were. So while it's still VFR, prudence dictates frequent reference to the instruments. My minimums for flying at night are a lot more stringent than they once were. And I pay attention to the dewpoint, for if the spread isn't wide, as the air cools, you can get ground fog.

I now regard night VFR, especially cross-countries, as primarily solo-only flight, unless there is a very bright moon. Over the last ten years, I've had one incipient engine failure (loss of oil pressure) and one partial failure (loss of intake sealing on one side). Neither resulted in an off-airport landing. But it seems to me that an engine failure followed by an off-airport landing at night has a high probability of not being survivable. Unless you're lucky enough to be within gliding distance of a lit and empty parking lot, all you can do is glide into a dark area and hope like hell that you're not gliding into a set of steep hills or power lines or a forest. Landing on a lit road isn't viable, for where there are street lights, there are most likely unseen power lines.

That's a risk that I no longer feel comfortable sharing with passengers.

Still, there is something magical about flying at night, from the pattern of the streets in towns, the random house lights in rural areas, and the rivers of white and red lights along busy highways.

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