One of the highlights of the course so far: night flying! You only get 4 lessons of these, so tempting as it is to just sit back and look at the pretty lights, you’re actually supposed to learn something.
- The first night dual we went to Chandler and managed to get in about 14 touch and goes. The air is so calm at night (without the thermals from the heat of the day), it felt like I was flying the simulator! The plane stayed where I’d put it, it was also very quiet at Chandler with little other traffic, meaning I got priority clearance and the longest runway. The ATC controller also demonstrated the light display to me on a final. The main difference at night is the perception of where the runway actually is, giving you the illusion of distance (and heavy landings) but I didn't think mine were too bad. Lee also demonstrated what would happen if the instruments didn't work by dimming the avionics and panel lighting. It was really cool.
- The second dual was a cross-country, which is just surreal. I did the normal departure I was used to and had to rely on the VOR to know when I’d got to my turning points as I really couldn't see anything that wasn't lit on the ground. Did you know you can turn on runway lights from the ground? Airports which have lighting but are uncontrolled at night (so lights are off) can state pilot operated lighting meaning you can turn them on by dialling up the radio frequency and pressing the PTT (push-to-talk) button multiple times. This was great, we did this to a few airports in the area and did a touch and go at Coolidge. As with any nav, I was then given a diversion to try and find somewhere off the route, I wasn't so good at this, not that it was any different than during the day but it felt like there was certainly more to concentrate on at night. Nevertheless, it was amazing to see how everything looked in the dark and I snuck in a few back-seats with my house mate so I would have more than 2 lessons in the practice.
Sadly, we’re still not allowed to take cockpit photos; I really wish I could because the view was absolutely incredible. But here’s a picture I took from the ramp of the taxi and runway lights:
SOLO NIGHTS! You get two night solos, both of which are just in the pattern at Falcon practising landings, this was a little scary initially but my departure time was at twilight so I could pick out my ground reference points for turning and then know where they were for the time it was fully dark. It’s easier than it sounds, everything with lights looked so bright and there was a nice cross road on final just in line with the runway. I was the only person in the pattern so the ATC was extra nice and I got about 7 full stop and taxi backs in (no touch and goes due to noise abatement). I also got to hear the tower closing at 9pm which was strange.
The second night solo went as well as the first, though I did get asked to extend my downwind (eek, mountains!) so used the terrain mode on my MFD for the first time; this gives colour indications for the proximity of the terrain, red means less than 100ft away, thankfully tower asked me to perform a 360 so I wouldn't be getting to close to the superstitions. I felt night flying was a huge achievement, like I could handle that plane in any conditions. It’s also something I’d like to show my dad, everything just looks so different at night.