The following stories from the December 19, 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.
Night flight is both thrilling and beautiful, as described in the Dec. 5 "Training Tip." Always get a timely weather briefing, then keep it updated. What's the big picture? Fronts still march at night, bringing their patterns of cloud formations, ceilings, precipitation, turbulence, and wind. No fronts? That's good news—but don't relax your vigilance. Generally, night-flying weather surprises come in three varieties: unseen clouds, certain kinds of wind shear, and fast-forming ground fog.
"Usually, the first indication of flying into restricted visibility conditions is the gradual disappearance of lights on the ground. If the lights begin to take on an appearance of being surrounded by a halo or glow, the pilot should use caution in attempting further flight in that same direction," says the discussion of night flight in Chapter 10 of the FAA's Airplane Flying Handbook. Horizontal visibility may suddenly deteriorate as you descend through a layer of fog, haze, or smoke.
Calm surface winds often accompany night flight. But a surprise may be waiting slightly higher up thanks to a strong low-level flow or wind shear caused by a nocturnal temperature inversion. "Imagine taking off on what seems like a calm night only to run into a 30-knot or stronger wind only a few hundred feet above the runway. The worst case would be a wind coming from the airplane's tail. A sudden 30-kt or stronger tailwind would rob the wings of some lift, which would probably cause you to lose some altitude before regaining airspeed," wrote Jack Williams, explaining the various hazards in the May 2004 AOPA Flight Training column "The Weather Never Sleeps: Shear energy."
During any night flight, stay alert for the possibility of ground fog. As the AOPA Air Safety Foundation's Weatherwise Safety Advisor explains: "The temperature-dew point spread decreases as the temperature drops, usually in the very early morning and at night. Fog is most likely to occur at these times and can form quickly after sundown or at sunrise." Monitor that spread throughout your flight—and know where you'll go if a quick reaction is needed. Remember: Even when the night sky is clear and the visibility unrestricted, fog can close in below. The well-prepared pilot knows which way provides a safe escape.
A new book published by Aviation Supplies and Academics outlines effective cockpit routines for pilots and virtual aviators. Cockpit Procedures, by Chris Burger, describes the underlying principles for and detailed descriptions of checklists and routines used in many flight schools. Burger discusses good habits to develop, effective workload management, and even what you should have in your flight bag. The author is a flight instructor and pilot examiner and has been an air traffic controller. He operates a flying school in South Africa. The softcover book is 144 pages and sells for $19.95. Order online or contact ASA at 800/ASA-2FLY.
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: I know that as a private pilot applicant I am required to complete a solo cross-country flight that is at least 150 nm total distance. Is there a maximum distance that I can fly on my solo cross-country? Can I literally fly across the country?
Answer: FAR 61.109 requires that the cross-country flight be a minimum of 150 nm total distance. There is no maximum distance given. If your instructor approves the flight, you can fly as far across the country as you like. Keep in mind your instructor will need to review your plan and the weather on the day of your flight, so an overnight trip may not be feasible. To make your flight planning even easier, check out the new AOPA Internet Flight Planner.
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.