Thursday, May 8, 2008

My First Night Flight

The lesson I had planned for yesterday happened, which was good, because the next few days are calling for bad weather (in fact, I just spoke to my instructor -- we're not going today, and tomorrow's not looking good either).

Last night's lesson started later than planned. One of Chris's other students was flying the plane around a little when I got there, so we didn't really start until nearly 7pm. Even then, we started with ground school. He was teaching me navigation, which I understand the theory of already, but the actual practice of calculating your routes using pilot tools is a bit more technical than I'd expected. I think I picked up on it quickly, and I'm eager to practice filing out some flight plans myself, but I forgot to get the template (there's a standard flight plan chart Chris has) before I left. Maybe I'll scan one in for a future post -- navigation is going to be heavily involved for awhile.

Anyway, by the time we were done with navigation it was getting dark. Chris hadn't planned on it taking that long, but I got into it and had a lot of questions. We went outside and Chris called to get the plane fueled up (at Oxford, the fuel is delivered by truck, though at many other airports fueling up is like it is with a car where you taxi up to pumps). That took awhile too.

We finally got in the plane by around 8:30 and taxied out to the runway. Everything was fine in the run-up, so we called for clearance to take-off. Even though not a single plane had taken off or landed since we stepped outside, 6 in a row suddenly came in to land. After the 5th one, ATC let us slip in. The ride was surprisingly bumpy, thanks to the incoming storm the brought rain all last night. The worst part though was landing.

Landing at night SUCKS. Taking off is fine; flying around is fine -- it's just like at daytime (though navigating without being able to see as well will become a future challenge, I can tell). Landing at night, however, makes it tough to tell how far off the runway you are when you start your flair. If you level-off too early, you're flairing high and the plane will fall -- from whatever height you're at -- onto the runway when you lose your speed. It's like jumping off a ledge thinking it's 2' when it's really more like 7' and landing with a forceful THUD! If you don't level-off early enough though, you land smack-down on the runway with the nose wheel (or, best case: on all three). Even going 45nmph on an angle into the ground is still quite unpleasant.

In fact, had I started this blog a while back, these would probably be exactly the descriptions I would have used for daytime landings. The difference is: I'm half-decent at those now ("half-decent" not "really good" -- you never want to get too cocky when flying or you'll make bad choices). Landing at night is like learning to land all over again. I'll just have to practice, but I want to get good... or at least half-decent.

Tonight: back to studying for my written exam, maybe another practice test and trying to see if I can find the flight plan template online so I can try some of those. I'm looking forward to getting up again: we're flying to Simsbury Airport which is supposed to be frighteningly short!

Hopefully the weather clears up soon...

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