flying at night

Night Flight:

The phenomenon of night poses a risk for all pilots regardless of experience but the inexperienced pilot is especially at risk. 72% of our flying information comes through the eye and the eye is easily fooled at night. The darker the night, the absence of a horizon and lack of recency are danger signals. The inexperienced pilot has from 20 seconds to three minutes before losing control after the onset of spatial disorientation.

Once the eye lacks required information, the brain seeks information from the inner ear sensors and the proprioceptive system of our flesh and bones. When there is nothing for the eye to focus on it defaults to about four feet. We will not see at a distance unless the eye is made to look into the distance. It is possible for an aircraft to turn so slowly that the body senses will not recognize it.

Science now has an electronic jacket that will give the body sensory perceptions arising from our aircraft instruments. An enhanced ground proximity warning system (EGPWS) is coming that gives vocal warnings of what is happening and what to do about it.

Night flying has a higher accident rate than identically day flying. Airport weather reports are valid for five circular miles around an airport. Everything between airports will be different for better or worse. A PIREP is worth a dozen forecasts, especially at night. Since night clouds can be invisible, be prepared to go on instruments and make a 180. When your flight has made the 180 your only option your risk factor goes straight up.

Always have aircraft and flight kit prepared for unplanned night flight. Night causes usual visual flight aids to become nonexistent. Night visual and sensory illusions are unique to the conditions. Do not look directly toward the area where you expect to see best. Look slightly to one side or the other. This visual outlook applies to the landing flare as well as every other situation. The special skills of night flying can only be acquired and maintained by frequent night flights.

For night flying you must evaluate the relative risks of such a flight A planned night flight is far less likely to make its planned departure time and arrival time. If schedule is going to be important, don't fly at night. Change either the flight or the schedule.

Failure to use oxygen above 5000' at night means that you accept the loss of 5% of your remaining night vision for every additional 1000 feet of altitude. An additional risk exists if the pilot fails to get an adequate weather briefing especially the one related to dew point - temperature spread. Reduce your night range so that you can refuel before dark and fly to an airport with 24-hour fuelling. Two C-172s on a collusion course without anything other than navigation lights will fly over five miles in less than a minute, use your landing light.

Being lost at night is more critical than in the daytime just as will be an engine failure. Emergency landing situations at night can be improved to full-moon lighting conditions with the purchase of a night-vision monocular for about $200. Ten-times as many accidents occurring on dark nights as with moon light and nearly 30% of the fatalities and an additional 15% of the non-fatal accidents occurring at night where not quite 5% of the flying takes place the $200 spent for a night vision monocular seems to be a reasonable purchase for the pilot who chooses to fly at night.

19% of total fatale accidents occur at night because of power related forced landings. l4% occur during the day in similar power related fatal accidents. The disparity in these figures (they lie) is that only 4% of flying is at night. A high proportion of the fatal accidents were in twins while none were homebuilts or warbirds. Yes, a higher proportion of fatal accidents do occur at night. Evidence shows that in a well-maintained engine and aircraft the risk to life due to engine failure is slight.

Night flight checklist

The FAA in its wisdom or lack of it depending on perspective has three different definitions of when it is night. FAR Part 91 says that night is from sunset to sunrise as far as the operation of position lights. Night, according to FAR Part 61 is from one hour after sunset until one hour before sunrise for purposes of night landing currency for carrying passengers. The official definition is in FAR 1.1.

Go or No-Go Decision
Media weather
Weather broadcasts
PATWAS (Pilot's automatic telephone weather answering service)
TIBS (Telephone information briefing service)


Saying, "No, we won't go." makes you a PIC. If you really know what you are doing you will know when to say "No!" The strongest voice in opposition to "No!" is time. Know your minimums and hold to them.

Flying at Night Is Not

Just like Flying in Daytime ...
The hazards of night flying are directly related to the physiological limitations of the human body not the aircraft. Humans do not perform well at night. Night flying will be different. Night flight is more stressful than day flying and very near to IFR flight without the required training. It should be. A moderate amount of stress will improve performance, keep the pilot awake and motivated. However, subtle events occur at night that would be easily detectable in daylight. The solo pilot at night is at greater risk than when flying with an attentive passenger. Night flight requires the pilot be very familiar with the area and have special knowledge that can be acquired only through experience.

Night flight is so completely different from day that it requires careful introduction. Any pilot deficiencies become magnified at night. The night horizon is less visible and more indistinct. Night flight is semi-IFR with considerable reliance on the instruments. Clouds and terrain are from difficult to impossible to see. On monocles nights, the objects seen are those which are illuminated enough to stand out. There can be a gradual loss of visual clues when flying into darker terrain. This leads to disorientation and loss of control.

Night flight adds to the risk of single-engine flying. Emergency options are reduced. The new five-mile VFR minimums increase the impact of weather. Mandated preparation for the flight such as lights and flashlights make a difference. You will be much more able to cope if you maintain radio contact with ATC and have a readily available frequency list. I avoid night training flights that have less than 1/4 moon. Common mistake is flying when combination of pilot, conditions, aircraft, and preparation are not up to making the flight. AIM recommends supplemental oxygen at 5000' at night and at 10,000' daytime.

Flying a consistent profile is essential to safe night VFR. Be so aware that you do not descend below 1500' AGL until you are within engine out distance of the destination. Plan to make a standard 45 entry so that you will reach pattern altitude when turning downwind. If ATC gives you a straight in maintain pattern altitude until you are on two mile final. Fly a VASI or PAPI if available. If you know your ground speed, multiply it by five to get a 3-degree descent path.

In 1991 the night requirements for uncontrolled airspace were essentially raised to controlled airspace requirements. Not having the instruments easily visible/readable is bothersome. A 30-degree unobserved turn can cause complete disorientation. The absence of a horizon can cause loss of control. Both situational and geographic disorientation is more likely.

Our ability to make a truthful prediction of our next night flight is of extreme value. When night flying pilots flounder in hesitancy and indecision, we find that the successful outcome of any flight depends more on pilot confidence in his competence. Confidence is a by-product of competence.

Every night flight or breath for that matter involves a risk on some level. What we do can be evaluated and delineated as to the mathematical risk factor it presents to us. Every night flight decision we make holds consequences. Not making decisions also holds consequences. The ideal would be that we be able to have the foresight to see living and night flying in terms of future consequences. We can't, so we do what we can to face the risks.

Fact is that we do have this predictive capability if we but know HOW to use it. The chances we take in life can be measured and controlled by the way we handle future events. Mathematicians and thinkers since 1654 have provided the probability theory needed to place a degree of certainty into our uncertainty, risk taking and decision making. A pilot must accept the presence of risk and the existence of fear. Both are present and accepted as part of the process. Being afraid makes you more careful. As time fades memory, we are apt to once again approach the risk fear situation but this time you will probably have more awareness and respect for the possible negative outcomes. Your fears are instance policies

Night flight risk analysis begins with finding causes that are influenced by indirect and subtle correlative events or conditions. The relationships are usually not clearly defined but more often summarized as being present. Whenever a kind of relationship does exist we have a correlation. If night accidents are caused by darkness, then primary correlative elements would be amount of natural and man created light. Additional correlative elements of area familiarity, experience, maintenance, equipment, weather and interior lighting come immediately to mind.

The FAA, NTSB, AOPA, and insurance companies have gathered and maintained the data base of night flying statistics compared to day flying statistics. The data, through statistical inference points to causality. Modern computers can crunch the numbers to find future probability. Without this gathering of data there would be no prediction of probability. Enough samples of night flying accidents with selected correlative elements gives us probability.

The ability to make a prediction of accident probability for a given night flight resulting in an accident results in a number. The number is a percentage that gives the probability of an accident occurring. With sufficient data transposed into percentages a person is able to compare, decide, and fly at night in given conditions with some assurance of a non-accident flight. It is a gamble on the odds of event probability. A pilots decision for making any flight, day or night, has to be based upon this theory of decision making because there is no certainty as to what will happen. This is a process that every pilot partakes from for every flight, night or otherwise.

We use risk analysis to evaluate the consequences of starting the engine, taking off, flight altitude, direction, and landing. To do otherwise is to be oblivious of probability as it can and does affect all our lives. Don't say that you don't gamble, take chances, and challenge probability. You do and it makes your life more worth living because certainty will destroy incentive, interest and curiosity.

40% of all night takeoff accidents have non-instrument pilots. Of all night accidents the darkness of the night was listed as a factor in 54%. 26% were judged to be caused by spatial disorientation. Most of the takeoff accidents occurred with in 3 miles and one minute of takeoff. More often than not the pilot was unaware of his unusual attitude. The darker the night the more important is instrument flight capability.

Hundreds of pilots before you have made the risk decision in favour of taking night flight. In the proper moonlight conditions you can see well enough to see clouds, water, some terrain and many lighted areas. A flight over familiar areas at night is a thing of beauty. Other aircraft can be detected far beyond daytime sighting distances. Night landings are acts of faith. You must believe that the lighting and surface delineate the airport and a safe place to touch the earth. Oddly, taxiing at night is a very difficult process. Many aircraft lights do not light your way. Flying at night is like the risks you take with a beautiful woman. You could wind up married (buried).

Physiology of Night

Read up on the physiology of night vision to better understand the operation of the eye. Over age 40, fatigue, and smoking affect visual acuity and adaptation to darkness. Do not look directly at an object at night because the optic nerve location may not let you see it. The decrease in oxygen above 4000' decreases visual efficiency. Air Force requires full oxygen from the surface at night. The light smoker is physiologically at 3000' before he gets into the plane. Above 8000' at night it is a good idea to have oxygen. Since we don't see as well as might be desired at night we must compensate using experience (brains) and technology.

The human eye performs poorly at night.  Fatigue has greater influence on pilot skills at night. The retina is the first and fastest part of the body to react to reduction of blood oxygen. Cigarette smokers start out with an immediate night vision problem. Night vision can be improved by the use of oxygen. Night flying errors happen because of human lack of capability. Night vision is the key limiting factor. Without surface lights, it is hard to know your altitude above the ground, with surface lights it is difficult to locate the airport beacon.

Most night accidents occur on 'dark night' flights. Fatigue makes all of the safety factors involved to be more likely misjudged. Raise you personal safety parameters at night and raise them even more when fatigued. Skilful night flying is fragile, unused night flying skills must be polished regularly or they will be lost quickly.  The eye is much like a video camera. A view is focused on the retina, converted electrically to data sent to the brain. Rods and cones make the visual to electrical conversion. Cones, near the focal centre give colours, brightness and sharpness when light is good. Rods are the night-vision part of seeing. The peripheral region of the retina is rod territory. Rods make it so we can see at night but not in colour. Complete night adaptation of the eye to darkness can take over 30 minutes and be destroyed in seconds.

The human eye is a dual system devoted to day vision or night vision. The duality has inherited abilities that vary with the individual. Some pilots just see better, day or night. Some eyes have retinal structure and nerve elements that are visually more efficient. Pigment and other factors such as pupil size allow eyes to respond to weak stimulus. Age affects the pupil's ability to change size. The wider the pupil the better the night vision. A pilot's ability to adjust to darkness deteriorates with age.

The rods and cones adapt to night conditions. The cones are centred in the eye but are slow to adapt and then only by a factor of x 100. Rods spread to the sides in the back of the eye. They are more sensitive at night by a factor of x 100,000. Rods take 30 minutes to recover from a bright light shock.

There is an oval shaped region of the retina known as the blind spot. It cannot see light.
Binocular vision compensates for this in daytime.
At night we often are unable to see objects if we look directly at them.
To see at night we cannot look directly at what we want to see.
Your central vision is inoperative at night.
Looking off centre at night uses peripheral vision.
Peripheral vision is 100,000 times more sensitive than central vision at night.
Your eyes can be adapted to night vision by wearing red glasses, patching one eye and using dimmed lighting.
No matter how well you do this one flash of a strobe taxiing out destroys it all.
It the lighted airports of today it might be easier to work in a lighted cockpit.
90% of our orientation is visual even in the cockpit.
NASA has proven that there is less oxygen at night than during the day.
The eye is quite susceptible to oxygen deficiency.
Vision at night at 9000' gives the visual acuity that you would have at 15000' during the day.

Your visual adaptability to light/darkness is reduced 50% every eleven years of your life. Experience and frequency of night flight is the best compensation for this loss. Any bright light effectively reduces night vision. You might try protecting one eye from light until airborne. Try wearing sunglasses at dusk.

The use of colours other than red in the cockpit has become more common in the 1990's. Light-emitting diodes are more efficient than other systems and will be in all cockpits of the future. Blue lighting such as is common in military aircraft requires much more lighting than white lighting. Vitamin A is a vital element for night vision and adaptation. Vitamin A deficiency will make a significant difference in night vision. However excessive intake of Vitamin A will not give an apparent improvement.

Ample oxygen is necessary for adequate night vision more so than day vision. Above 4000 feet supplemental oxygen will improve night vision. There will be an initial decrease of 5% in night vision and the deficiency is accumulative over time. At 8000 feet the initial effect is about 15% and will become worse with time. The most dangerous aspect of this is that the pilot has no way of knowing that he is not seeing as well.

The wearing of sunglasses during the day is one way to improve your night vision. Neutral gray glasses seem best in their ability to absorb ultraviolet light. At night, red lenses will absorb blue light and aid dark adaptation. Limit your use of bright lights at night since even a momentary flash can destroy your night vision.

Should blur interfere with the things you see at night, it may be indicative of night myopia. Squinting will help some or the use of glasses. If the eye is unable to focus on anything at a distance at night it may be having space myopia. Keeping the eyes moving can help limit these effects that are made worse by staring.

Objects are harder to see at night just because they are less well defined around the edges. This makes things appear farther away than they actually are. The requirement for glasses at night is much greater than during daylight.

Night Sight Skills

The ability to judge distances and heights at night is difficult at night. The absence of haze or its presence can cause illusions at night. Lights will vary in intensity and cause illusion effects. A misidentified light source can cause total confusion. A single light gives no altitude information. Multiple lights may be in different geometric visual planes. Freeways become visible while country roads disappear. Aircraft and lighted towers become visible for miles. Airports have beacons. The most common illusion is a narrow runway that appears to be longer than it is. the narrow runway may make you think that you are too high. Have a set procedure; allow an extra wide downwind at night. Know the length of your destination runway. Required FAR knowledge on all flights! All illusions are made worse at night.

Preparation for night flight must be more intensive and comprehensive. Make your initial night flight preflight during the day. Check all the lights and carry a spare bulb. Visual checkpoints are much closer. Fuel reserves are doubled. Charts are marked with black felt tip pens. Frequencies are written large. Terrain altitudes are noted and crossing extra altitude added. Weather makes a big difference. At night you can't see weather unless there is a moon. We get very used to seeing weather change during the day. Weather changes much the same way at night but quicker. You must expect weather changes at night to occur suddenly simply because we cannot see the changes occurring as we can in daytime. VFR to IFR at night by non-IFR pilots is usually fatale. 100 to 200 hour pilots have most such accidents.

One flashlight is not enough. One big flashlight for preflight, a small one for reading sectional etc., and one backup. Night flying is safest when there are no clouds, a good dewpoint-spread and minimum winds. Don't fly at night into areas where you are not very familiar in daylight. Have the legally required landings and carry another more experienced pilot (instructor) for cheap insurance.

Night X-Country


Make an an honest assessment of skill and limitations. Routes, frequencies, weather, moon phase, airport information, terrain heights, FAR's related to night flight, night flight checklist


1. Take a blindfold test of the cockpit
2. Older pilots need more light
3. Limit night flying to familiar aircraft.
4. An organized cockpit,
5. Charts in order and folded for use, no red lines but well marked
6. Closer checkpoints selected by time between and for night visibility
7. Obstructions marked, ground routes/terrain studied
8. Higher than normal altitude for terrain clearance
9. Plan a what if...non-electronic flight possibility
10. Airport, city-lights proximity route with VASI, PAPI runways
11. Minute VFR fuel reserve required
12. Reduce range 1/3 keep track of wind direction and speeds
13. No straight-in to strange airport, make high/steep approach
14. Phone day before to an unfamiliar field for suggestions
15. Extra careful preflight checking lights and spare fuse
16. Always plan to get fuel before FBO's close for the day
17. Weather notes on temperature/dew point spread

PRE-FLIGHT for Night Flight

Have current sectional and area charts, flashlights, pens, radio backup? Check all lighting.
1. Night reference to instruments takes longer than in day light.
2. Look outside more than inside
3. Set all lights at lowest intensity that can be seen without effort.
4. White lights increase mental alertness
5. Clean windows
6. Use landing light when near airports.
7. Limit landing light use on ground due to over-heating of bulbs.
8. Run-up creep is more likely to be undetected at night
9. Use caution in proportion to darkness
10. Lighting should be limited to preserve night vision
11. Practice taxiing using navigational lights
12. Tower can use light-gun to light centre line of taxiway
13. Know where you are at all times and know the nearest landing spot.
14. If confused get assistance---CCCC
15. Moonlit waters and freeways make good checkpoints
16. Cloudy, moonless, windy nights are most difficult
17. CAVU weather with full moon is best
18. Recommend 1/4 moon as minimum unless IFR capable
19. Keep altitude 'insurance' in force at all times. Know your terrain.
20. Check heading indicator/compass at checkpoints
21. Be prepared to go on instruments and make 180 if you fly unexpectedly into a cloud. Major cause of night flying accidents.
22. Review causes of vertigo and disorientation
23. Try not to pass a checkpoint without being oriented to next one
24. Report your positions with extreme accuracy
25. Night flight requires your highest level of precision and skill.
26. Extreme levels of flying skill may be required all at once.
27. Reference the A/FD to get frequency and procedure for turning on airport lights.
28. Black hole takeoff and landing occurs in regions of few lights such as toward the ocean or a mountain. You must be .....instrument competent.
29. VASI or PAPI runways help you to avoid night landing illusions.

Night Flying

Be IFR rated
Trust your instruments
Coordinate your turns
Hold your head still
Don't fly alone
Lower lighting
Have flashlights
Use oxygen
Use electronic aids
Fly the airport pattern
Eat right

Night and Age

Colours are not as clear and sharp
More light is required
Recognition takes longer
Disabilities exist
Pupil size is smaller
Focus range and speed decreases
Visual accommodation may take several seconds

Night Taxiing

Night taxiing is more difficult than any taxiing other than zero-zero conditions. Night conditions are also difficult for the controller. the controller may not know where your are any more than you do. Be as specific as your can as to your last known location, your compass heading (you may not have set your HI) and the colour of the line over your nose. At night, don't do anything except taxi and keep track of your position. The more experienced you are the more willing you seem to be to admit a problem of ignorance and a need for help. When in doubt, stop.

Many aircraft have inadequate taxi lights and even lighted airports have unlighted areas. A tower signal light can be used to show the centre taxi line. As age enters the picture, night vision fails. When taxiing use as much lighting as you can and get any available assistance from ATC. Being totally lost on your home airport is not uncommon.

When you need help, get it.

Night ground operations are more difficult. You may be able to follow the taxiway with a nose light while a wing-tip light makes it difficult to see the yellow line. Be considerate of other pilots and don't use strobes while on the ground daytime and especially at night.

Night Takeoff

Taking off into dark terrain may give an illusion that causes the pilot to make a bank or shallow descent. Dark-terrain takeoffs should be made on instruments. Night takeoffs should rely heavily on instruments until altitude is sufficient to allow for any monetary disorientation that is likely to occur using visual reference.



If you are cautious during the day, be doubly cautious at night.
If your strobes sparkle it indicates rain.
Visual illusions
Lack of lighting over final approach gives too high illusion.
Instrument competence
Greater attention to instruments at night.
Select altitude and airspeed and keep it
Abrupt power reduction gives nose down illusion. (somatogravic)
Biological clock problem
Be rested
If solo use ATC services
Experience and training
Don't activate lighting too early while taxiing out for takeoff or too early when arriving for landing.
Very dangerous to takeoff into total darkness like toward the ocean--you are IFR,
Check heading indicator to correspond to runway prior to takeoff.
Make no turns until at safe altitude.
Remember scattered lights on a mountain can be confused with stars if there is no horizon.

Night landings

1. Use your landing light.
2. Avoid turns when cockpit workload is high.
3. Don't hesitate to ask tower to turn up lights
4. Pre-select an early go-around point and use it.
5. Use a slightly longer/steeper final than normal.
6. Know how to get lights at an uncontrolled field.
7. Flare level and don't try for full stall landing.
8. Maintain constant airspeed on final with power on.
9. Remember distances can be very deceiving at night.
10. Practice landings with and without landing lights.
11. Practice landings with and without landing lights.
12. Undershooting at night is greatest cause of accidents.
13. Avoid long shallow approaches. The steeper the better.
14. Down slope lights cause high approaches and long landings.
15. Up slope lights cause low approaches and landing short of runway.
16. If flight takes place at night with 25% of the accidents--either fly a lot or NOT.
17.If you are insecure flying at night, consider limiting bank angles to half of normal.
18. Straight in approaches are most dangerous unless VASI or glide slope available, make high steep approach.
19. If moisture reflects from landing light beam do not use for landing since it usually causes you to flare high.

You must know critical information (heights of terrain), that which can be seen Vs unseen at night, (freeways Vs country roads) situational awareness becomes vital, willingness and ability to communicate to ATC. and knowing the performance parameters of the aircraft cold (without interior lighting) is beyond the just "nice to know" requirements of daytime flight.

The descent to the airport should be planned well before the actual occurrence. Do what it takes to raise your level of mental alertness. The safe performance of night landings depends on your ability to control approach speed and altitude. If your daytime landing procedures are based upon a stabilized approach the transfer to night landings will be easier. The stabilized approach gives you a reference from which to evaluate night landing illusions. Your depth perception, visual cues, and runway perspective will change at night. The desire to remain high and fast can overcome your training. A high fast landing at night will be hard long and dangerous. Like day landings a good night landing begins with a good approach but it is not exactly the same. Avoid excess airspeed, use your instruments to confirm visual impressions, especially the altimeter and airspeed indicator. Set your configuration of power, flaps, and airspeed as though doing a soft field landing.

Once you become aware of the many illusions that often occur at night. You will see the advantage of flying a pre-selected approach pattern. Runway lighting gives you an impression of runway area. There is an illusion as to the runway length-to-width ratio. The vertical-position illusion occurs when there is no visible horizon. It makes lights and visible objects to appear higher than they actually are. The false-horizon illusion makes lights and stars appear to blend so that you cannot be certain as to where the horizon is. The foreground-occlusion illusion occurs when something ahead makes a light disappear. Climb immediately.

Keep power on during a night landing. The terrain cues needed for flight path correction are meager and undetectable at night. Look at the lights toward the far end of the runway. When these lights begin to flatten out you should enter your flare. Do not try to make a full stall landing. Your visual ability to determine altitude at night is seriously degraded. Make your flare using the runway lights at the far end of the runway. raise the nose until they are covered, but no more. Hold some power on as the plane gradually descends. You don't want to hit the nose wheel first but a relatively flat landing at night is acceptable.

You need to be an active night flyer if you expect to make consistently good night landings. You need to be doing at least 1/4 of your flying at night to retain proficiency. With experience a pilot can become consciously aware of the visual cues that are available and use them to improve night landing accuracy.

Likely faults by those whose proficiencies are due to lack of practice will be:

1. Approach speed too fast due to poor airspeed control.
2. Unable to detect/correct wind drift
3. Hard touchdown due to over-reactions during flare.
4. Likely to be below pattern altitude

Night Flying

The factors that kill both good and poor pilots are both unpredictable and impartial. There are risks in everything we do. Flying has several added dimensions to these risks. The worst flying risk is the needless risk. The needles risk is most likely to occur when you are 'hurried' to do something.

The differences between a prepared departure and an unprepared departure can be measures in time. Pilots must learn not to chase minutes by hurrying, because your limits of experience are being exceeded. If this should happen to you, speak up, slow down and join those pilots who stress being good over being lucky.

Night Lights

The rotating beacons all carry vital information:

Civil land: alternating white and green
Beacon operates daytime when field below VFR minimums.
Military land: two quick white flashes and a green
Heliports: rapid flashes of green, white, or yellow
Lighted water: alternating white and yellow

Uncontrolled Airport

Pilot controlled on CTAF frequency:
Low-intensity takes three clicks of mike switch
Medium-intensity takes five clicks.
High-intensity takes seven clicks.

VASI (visual approach slope indicator
Have two for G.A. aircraft or three bars for 747 types.
"Red over White, you're all right."
Three bar VASIs will have two red over white for G.A. aircraft.

has four lights in a row on left side of runway
On glide path gives two reds and two whites
High gives three or four white
Low gives three or four red

Night Illusions

Try some night airwork without cockpit lights. It will make you listen more closely to the sounds of the aircraft. Runway and approach light illusions will always be a problem if you are in an unfamiliar area. For this reason it is always desirable to make a daylight familiarization flight to an airport before a first time night arrival. If there is no VASI or VAPI for vertical guidance if you get too low the runway lights will begin to disappear. 

A steep approach is always better at night. If there is a strong crosswind and you are crabbing to the runway instead of slipping you will get the illusion of being inverted. If the airport is well lighted in a surrounding dark area you will have an illusion of being higher than you actually are. Again a steep approach has much advantage. Rain on the windshield will give the illusion of being higher than you are. An arrival at an airport with and approach lighting system (ALS) tends to be lower and at a shallower angle than otherwise. If you are low and pitch the nose up as a correction or through the use of flaps, the illusion will indicate that you are rising. Any reduction of power will cause you to land short.

At night, banking into or away from a line of lights will give the illusion that a dive or a climb is occurring. The same dive or climb illusion can happen by a change in aircraft pitch occurs while flying toward a light. Lights that appear dim, as seen through haze, will be reported as more distant than they are.

Pilots unconsciously make extensive use of their peripheral vision. Level flight, banks, climbs, and descents all rely 80% on peripheral vision. (See downwind turns) At low levels our peripheral vision gives us a sense of speed. Over time we develop a peripheral sense as to what "normal" low-level speeds are. Add a tailwind, low altitude, a bank to final approach, and a peripheral sense of a "high" speed. We now have an illusion causing a pilot response that says to pull back on the yoke to reduce the speed. The pull merely makes the bank steeper and initiates a low-level stall spin. Recovery is not possible.

A final approach over high terrain leading to the runway gives an illusion of a low fast approach. An approach over terrain that makes the runway seem like an aircraft carrier will give an illusion of too high and too slow.

Night has its own illusions that are covered in the night flight lessons. The distance of lights is greatly affected by the relative clearness and haze existing. A region of no lights such as might exist off the end of a runway toward the ocean can cause disorientation because of IFR illusions. The best solution is to go on instruments until established inland at altitude.

Black Hole Approaches

The black hole illusion is that you are too high on the approach. The deceived pilot will descend into danger. The night focus of your eyes is in the far distance. Again, the illusion is that you are overshooting and you will again descend. Because of visual changes with age the older you are the more likely you are to be fooled by the black hole illusion. Glasses can be fitted to compensate for this difficulty.

1. Use charts
2. Use glide slope aids
3. Use published routes
4. Hang on to radar help
5. Never descend if uncertain
6. Know MSA for area
7. Have personal minimum altitude
8. Remain above VASI slope

VFR Night with IFR Help

Since the VFR pilot at night is subject to illusions that can lead to controlled flight into terrain, the use of instrument approach facilities can provide you with help in terrain avoidance. Pilots tend to add speed when flying in insecure or uncertain situations. Most runway overruns occur at night as do most IFR approach accidents. Night and low visibility VFR approaches should be flown at appropriate airspeeds. Use whatever IFR guidance is available.

No Light Landings at Night (Emergency)

Landing in darkness techniques under emergency conditions. Select a long runway. Use Localizer or ILS approach if available. Find a long runway if available. Set power for slow descent with nose high, minimum flaps, At 100' hold nose high but do not flare. Fly into the ground. This method will work when flying into the sun and having difficulty seeing runway.

General recommendation is not to go into an airport at night that you haven't scoped out in the daytime.

Night Departures

Preflight before dark when possible.
Reference your charts, plates and AF/D before getting aboard.
Mark your chart and obstacles so that it can be seen at night.
Carry several different sized flashlights.
Use a night passenger-briefing card.
Locate all spare fuses and switches you might use at night.
Allow extra taxiing clearances to other aircraft at night.
Reset the timing clock for the runway lights.
Use only airspeed indicator for rotation speed. Night gives a speed illusion.
At rotation focus on attitude indicator for pitch attitude.
Maintain runway heading or wind correction using heading indicator.
One degree of correction for every knot of crosswind component.
Every night flying pilot should have basic instrument flying skills.
Tests show that a non-instrument capable pilot will have control for only 22 seconds.

Night Flight

Night flight compounds all the hazards that exist at all other times.
The dearth of visual cues is what makes night flying different and more dangerous.
Only regular practice at night will deliver the required proficiency in flare and attitude selection for landing.
An unfamiliar airport at night compounds the difficulty and hazards.
Use of the AFD can warn of night landing hazards and obstacles.
Remain current on instruments because the same skills are required on dark nights.
A flight that ends after dark will probably include fatigue as a potential hazard.
Poor cockpit lighting in small aircraft increases the hazards of night flight.
Set personal minimums such as 1/4 moon, light winds and long familiar runways.

Common Night Accident Factors:

VFR into IMC
Descent below IFR minimums without airport in sight
CFIT on approach, takeoff or during go-around
CFIT into terrain or water
Improperly set navaids
Night greatly increases the hazard and likelihood of a weather related accident.
66.7% of instrument approach accidents happen at night.
Only 2% of general aviation flying takes place at night.
11.5% of accidents occur at night
19.4% of accidents occur in weather at night
22.9% Occur on approach before reaching the runway.
46.7% Occur on an instrument approach at night.

Knowing Night From Day


Wherever one is located on or near the Earth's surface, the Earth is perceived as essentially flat and, therefore, as a plane. The sky resembles one-half of a sphere or dome centred at the observer. If there are no visual obstructions, the apparent intersection of the sky with the Earth's (plane) surface is the horizon, which appears as a circle centred at the observer. For rise/set computations, the observer's eye is considered to be on the surface of the Earth, so that the horizon is geometrically exactly 90 degrees from the local vertical direction.

Rise, Set:
During the course of a day the Earth rotates once on its axis causing the phenomena of rising and setting. All celestial bodies, stars and planets included, seem to appear in the sky at the horizon to the East of any particular place, then to cross the sky and again disappear at the horizon to the West. The most noticeable of these events, and the most significant in regard to ordinary affairs, are the rising and setting of the Sun and Moon. Because the Sun and Moon appear as circular disks and not as points of light, a definition of rise or set must be very specific, for not all of either body is seen to rise or set at once.

Before sunrise and again after sunset there are intervals of time, twilight, during which there is natural light provided by the upper atmosphere, which does receive direct sunlight and reflects part of it toward the Earth's surface. Some outdoor activities may be conducted without artificial illumination during these intervals, and it is useful to have some means to set limits beyond which a certain activity should be assisted by artificial lighting. The major determinants of the amount of natural light during twilight are the state of the atmosphere generally and local weather conditions in particular. Atmospheric conditions are best determined at the actual time and place of events. Nevertheless, it is possible to establish useful, though necessarily approximate, limits applicable to large classes of activities by considering only the position of the Sun below the local horizon. Reasonable and convenient definitions have evolved.

Prepared for Night Emergency

Everything must be in reach
Both fresh and extra batteries
Flashlight (s)
Hand-helds GPS and Nav Com, phone
Know your systems
Know your fuse and breaker positions
Practice operation of cockpit while blindfolded
Have chemical light sticks within reach.