The following stories from the December 12, 2008, edition of AOPA ePilot were provided to AOPA members who expressed an interest in the particular subject areas. Any AOPA member can receive information tailored to their areas of interest by updating their preferences online.
Hot night spots
What’s a good destination for a night dual cross-country? The Federal Aviation Regulations get you part way to an answer, setting forth night flying requirements for private pilot applicants, including the mandate that your logged night cross-country flight be “of over 100 nautical miles total distance.” But why not make your destination a practical choice? Is there an airport that you’d expect to visit at night after earning your pilot certificate? If so, check it out during training, in your instructor’s company.
Your CFI will ask you to research the airport and discuss its suitability as a nocturnal destination. Check on its runway lighting, fuel availability, and whether it has amenities such as visual approach guidance systems. Read more about airport infrastructure, the subject of the Nov. 28, "Training Tip."
If your destination is an airport you’ve used in daylight, don’t assume that a night flight will employ the same route and navigation plan. A higher altitude to clear any difficult-to-see obstructions may be prudent. Navigation may be altogether different at night. “Though you navigate by pilotage during the day, you may want to rethink your strategy at night. Because the terrain can look unfamiliar and desolate at night, it's easy to find yourself off course (or, at least, beginning to question your true position). To avoid this, back up your pilotage with radio navigation. Select the VORs or NDBs (nondirectional beacons) that will guide you to your destination,” wrote Robert N. Rossier in his feature on night flight available on the AOPA Flight Training Web site.
Often, problems that arise on night flights trace back to lack of preparation or rushing through preflight details (such as passing up the opportunity to refuel). Compound that error with unforecast bad weather, or systems failure in flight, and now you are facing serious difficulties, as the cautionary tale “Never Again: A cold night in February” makes clear. But make a good go/no-go decision and fly with a healthy surplus of fuel aboard, and you’ll pay a visit to one of general aviation’s most thrilling realms: the beautiful, frequently serene night skies. David Montoya wrote about this in his October 2002 AOPA Flight Training feature “The after-hours club."
Personal tracker available from Aircraft Spruce
When we’re flying somewhere, we want people to know where we’re going and what route we’ll be following. That’s why we file and open flight plans, ask for flight following, or choose a route that takes us near airports in the event of an emergency. You could also carry along a cell phone. What if you’re out of signal range? Aircraft Spruce offers SPOT, a satellite personal tracker that it says is a compact, light-weight, personal ELT. SPOT will send GPS coordinates and a distress message to a GEOS International Emergency Response Center. The unit can be used in flight and after landing. While you’re aloft, SPOT sends a message to the owner’s account every 10 minutes, and friends can access it through the Internet to check on your progress through Google Maps. The unit operates on two AA batteries and sells for $149.99. Service plans are extra. For more information, see the Web site.
Note: Products listed have not been evaluated by ePilot editors unless otherwise noted. AOPA assumes no responsibility for products or services listed or for claims or actions by manufacturers or vendors.
Question: Last night, my instructor and I were flying near a military operations area (MOA). We noticed what looked like military aircraft flying around, but they didn't have any lights on. Aren't all aircraft required to use their position lights when flying at night?
Answer: The FAA has granted the Air Force an exemption to operate in select MOAs without using any lights. These practice runs allow Air Force pilots to train with night vision goggles. You should always check with the controlling agency to determine whether an MOA is active. To learn more about flying in special-use airspace, and "Lights-Out" operations in particular, check out the AOPA Air Safety Foundation online course, Mission Possible: Navigating Today's Special Use Airspace . You can also read AOPA’s regulatory brief.
Got a question for our technical services staff? E-mail to [email protected] or call the Pilot Information Center, 800/872-2672. Don't forget the online archive of "Final Exam" questions and answers, searchable by keyword or topic.