Lesson 55
5 May 
1.5 hours
Night flying--why didn't I try this sooner?!

Adam and I took off just as the sun was going down, and we got to see it set again up at 3,000 feet. Or, rather, Adam did.  I was wearing a pair of "foggles," which he had had me put on even before we had climbed to pattern altitude, and through which which I could see only the six main flight instruments clustered directly in front of me.  While he watched the sun set and the night come on, I struggled to fly straight and level, then to do standard rate turns, slow flight, straight and turning, and finally recover from "unusual attitudes."

Then it was dark enough for me to try to  find the airport.  I found the reservoir easily enough, but at first was looking too far away to see the airport.  Eventually I noticed a less-dark oblong that appeared to be almost beneath us.  Sure enough, it was the airport.  I'd been expecting to see runway lights, but no one had turned them on yet.  Also, it turned out that we were still about seven miles away; the darkness had made it seem closer.

I clicked the mike switch three times and after a couple of seconds the runway lights came on dim--but bright enough to see easily in the clear air.

In the pattern, I just did the normal landing things and got around onto final.  I'd heard that it would be hard to judge height in the dark, but with the runway lights and the airplane's landing light, it seemed not to be a problem.  What I did notice, though, was that the runway seemed very narrow--seemed more like a back road than a 100 foot wide runway--so I guess that's what throws off your perception of your altitude.

At night, you have to do the landings to a full stop for them to count.  But Adam had me do them "stop and go"--land, stop dead on the runway, and then take right off again.  It was fun and made the short-field takeoff practice more interesting.  After the second landing, he had me land with the landing light off, and the fourth time, with no runway lights, either, just the dim moonlight.

But what a view from aloft!  I was busy most of the time with the instrument work and the landings, but still was able to catch glimpses of the lights--streets and buildings, and the city off to the north.  So clean and clear!

Monday, if the weather cooperates, we'll do a night cross-country, down the James River to Newport News and back.  The moon will be full, and if it's not too cloudy the view should be really something.


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