Lesson 134
11 December 1999
0.8 hours
Low Sun

This was a short late afternoon flight down the James River in a C-172, mostly just to do some flying and try out a new headset.  My son Chris, always good company, came along.  We ambled out to preflight the airplane at about 4 PM.  It was tied down facing west, and the sun was already so low and the air so clear and dry that the low sunlight was downright painful. The two little green vinyl sundimmer things I had in my bag didn't help much--not enough.  The landing light was burnt out--which made it easier to decide not to get current at night this time.  The rest of the decision was because the wind was out of the west at 10 gusting 20, and I didn't feel much like fighting it in the dark.

Finally I got the engine fired up and we taxied at right angles to the sun.  We took off and headed east to the river and on to the Hopewell VOR before turning southwest, trying to keep the sun out of our eyes.  The visibility was better than I've ever seen it before in these parts.  We could see the mountains about 100 statute miles to the west, a long chain of them.

It was clear that the wind was going to slow us so much that we'd have to just head home, right up the sun in order to get there before dark.  So we squinted and swore a lot.  I was glad for Jim Kirk's insistance on attitude flying, because it was just about impossible to see the instruments. The sun was below the horizon before we reached the airport, but still on us at pattern altitude until we got on downwind.  There were two airplanes ahead of us in the pattern, one on base, the other downwind.  But another airplane had been announcing for some time that he was making a straight-in approach, and sure enough, all of a sudden there he was, busting into the pattern just ahead of and slightly below number two.  so the new arrival had the right of way, being lower, and nuimber two had to go around to keep from landing on him.  It seemed just a tad pushy to me.  We were number three, but I had to extend a long way on downwind because of the other traffic.  There was a number four behind us, and he managed to poke along back there until we got down and off the runway.  Number two, who had gone around, came in just behind him, and we all were tying down at just about official dark.

Just as we were tying down, the wind dropped to dead calm--almost two hours before that was predicted--and I considered briefly doing some night landings, even though the landing light was out.  But decided to go to a Dairy Queen instead.

And now I know something more about low sun angles. (What do they do in Alaska, where the sun is low at noon?)  Next time, I'll bring along the "Kirk Seaplane Base" baseball cap that Jim Kirk gave me when I passed the checkride.

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