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Training Tip: Cold moon flyingTraining Tip: Cold moon flying

Got your three hours of night flying in yet? An excellent opportunity to seize the night is coming up either side of December 12 when the next full moon comes around.

Photo by Mike Fizer.

Assuming your flight instructor is not a werewolf and otherwise occupied, the daylight-deprived days of December, combined with a full moon’s pale-but-helpful illumination of terrain—weather permitting—set a superb stage for an introduction to night flying.

Most private pilot applicants must log three hours of night flying, including “one cross-country flight of over 100 nautical miles total distance” and “10 takeoffs and 10 landings to a full stop (with each landing involving a flight in the traffic pattern) at an airport” to be eligible.

You needn’t do all that flying in one session, and sampling flight conditions on different evenings is worthwhile.

An ideal way to take on night flying, with its delightfully unique qualities, is to set a dual flight for late afternoon. If you run through your basic practice-area maneuvers while the sun is going down, by the time you return to the airport you will find yourself relying more on your instruments for heading and altitude control than you do in full daylight. Shortly you will be able to begin banging out some of those 10 night landings.

No matter how much ground prep you’ve done, night flying invariably makes quite an impression—usually positive—during its real-world introduction. You’ll experience this if you get to activate pilot-controlled lighting by clicking your push-to-talk button, or when you approach to land at a towered airport with a full array of approach lights in operation. Check the chart supplement to review lighting systems installed at airports you will visit.

Night air is often smooth in the absence of the sun’s thermal heating that adds lumps and bumps to daytime flying. Activity in the airspace subsides. On clear nights, aircraft lighting makes spotting traffic easier.

About those night landings: You won’t get much help from your peripheral vision down low, so you’ll need to adjust your technique for maintaining directional control. A common error is overcontrolling. Another is flaring too high. If tire marks are visible on the runway they can help you judge height above the surface. Practice a go-around or two, and make a mental note that wildlife may be out and about at night.

Nocturnal flying, with its layers of difference from daytime flying, presents exciting new experiences, so if scheduling permits, take advantage of the Cold Moon, as December’s full moon is known, to try it out.

Dan Namowitz

Dan Namowitz

Associate Editor Web
Associate Editor Web Dan Namowitz has been writing for AOPA in a variety of capacities since 1991. He has been a flight instructor since 1990 and is a 30-year AOPA member.
Topics: Training and Safety, Night Flying, Student
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