night landings

321bs-night-panel_2568-74compsmI got out the other evening to practice night landings. The regs say you need to make three night takeoffs and landings at least every 90 days to carry passengers at night, but that’s hardly enough. Every time I go out to do night landings I initially think to myself, “do I really need to do these?” and am immediately and decisively humbled the moment I take flight.  I phoned weather en route to the airport.

“Surface winds SW at 8 knots,” the man said. “Winds aloft, 42 knots from the SW.” What? Forty-two knots at 1500 feet above ground? Is this guy joking? It seems perfectly calm down here. I phoned the tower to ask of turbulence or wind shear reports.

“None that I’ve heard,” chuckled the controller as if I’d dialed a wrong number. “It’s beautiful out here.” He announced tower closing for the night in the same breath as radioing my first takeoff clearance — wish he’d have stuck around for a pilot report.

Whooaaa! I thought as my wheels left the ground… The Flying Carpet yawed and bucked like a wild horse as I struggled for altitude, then rocketed through downwind with monster winds at my tail. Night landings are always challenging at Flagstaff, between the black sky on moonless nights like this one, the dearth of ground lights except for those of the city to the north, and anemic airplane performance here at the airport’s 7,000 foot elevation above sea level. Was it tough? Yep. Was it worth it? You bet! ©2009 Gregory N. Brown 

11 thoughts on “night landings

  1. My stomach is still rolling, just from you description. Flying is something I endure (and not well, I might add), but I do enjoy other people’s descriptions! And my husband is absolutely fascinated by space and aviation. Your description reminds me of the “action” scenes in a book about a test pilot set after World War II, “His Edge,” by Wayne Harding. (It’s semi-autobiographical.) VERY good, and suspenseful, descriptions of mayhem in the skies, and him being upside down, and sideways, etc. Certainly they made me, nervous flyer that I am, nervous! The aircraft was practically human in this book.

  2. You have such a great way of getting us into the sky with you! I can feel that wild horse! How often have I felt the same with our 172? The wind sock is calm, no pilot reports of turbulence, winds aloft pretty benign, then I climb to 3,000 feet and experience that same kind of rocketing tail wind you so perfectly described! Thanks for sharing your thoughts on Night Flying!

  3. Hi Greg!
    I, too, fly out of KFLG (Flagstaff-Pulliam) training with Fred and I have to say that I’m already dreading the night training. The 172 should do better in the cooler evenings than during our afternoon lessons to date but it sure is dark around this town at night and there are several large immovable objects in the vicinity, i.e. mountains, to add to the difficulty factor a bit.

    By the way, Greg, I’m almost done reading “Flying Carpet” and it’s got me salivating to get that Private ticket. I can hardly wait to explore this incredible part of the country one airport at a time. The SouthWest rocks!!


    1. Hi Bruce! Yeah, night flying is thought-provoking around here – but you’re flying with the very best and will ultimately learn to enjoy it. It won’t surprise you to learn that most private pilots don’t fly much at night until they have some experience under their belts. It is a mighty useful skill though – even if you don’t plan to make a lot of night flights per se, occasions sometimes arise where you take off elsewhere in daylight and fly into sunset for an early evening landing. Magical! And over lower terrain with more airports, night flying can be pretty routine stuff. Post another comment after your night lesson(s). I have a feeling you’re gonna enjoy it more than you expect. Glad you’re enjoying reading “Flying Carpet!” I look forward to seeing you out at the airport. Greg

  4. Thanks for the helpful comments, Greg. Don’t know if you remember me. I’m the guy who almost bought a pair of your Telex headphones. Fred and I couldn’t get them to work, but I suspect there may be a problem with the 172’s left seat jacks. Picked up a nice pair of Dave Clarks later that week and I still can barely hear ATC and the in-air chatter. [Stress Induced Deafness??]

    Anyway…here’s a crazy thought: I recently took the AOPA safety class on special use airspace and military “lights out” flying. So a thought comes to me. Why not CIVILIAN night flying ops with night vision goggles (Gen 2 or 3)? Is that just crazy–or not worth the effort and expense? I thought it might have been nice to have when you guys were flying that moon-less night from PHX to FLG.

    I’m trying to get up three times per week with Fred. I just filled my first logbook page (17.4 hours) this past Friday and probably would’ve solo’d yesterday but we got weathered out.

    I’m seriously considering picking up a 1973 Cessna 182P Skylane II to finish training in and use as our family “carpet”. [Did I mention that I’m not exactly taken with the FBO 172s?] If I sent you some info on it would you tell me what you think? I’d love to fly a plane like Fred’s but it’s too much–too soon. Someday.

    Thanks for the inspiring writings.

    1. Hey Bruce! I wondered if that was you! Civilian night vision goggles are already available. My guess is they’ll be targeting pilots with those very shortly. Sure, I’d love to see the specs on that plane. The Skylane is a great airplane. Drop me your email and phone number via the “Contact Greg” form. Is your new headset ANR? If not you should immediately swap it for one while it’s still returnable.

  5. I just googled the NVGs myself. I think I’ll just learn to fly at night like the regular people do! $12-15K is a bit steep.

    Is ANR that important in headphones? If nothing else, I can keep the David Clarks for future co-pilots. I sometimes actually get the headset volume thing just right. The problem is that often when the intercom is just right I can barely hear ATC–or vice-versa. I guess I need to discretly set-up the comms during my pre-flight so I’m not fumbling with the radios while trying to get ATIS and ground clearance.

    The info on the Skylane is on its way. Thanks in advance,

    1. The ANR is CRUCIAL, Bruce. You simply won’t believe how much better you will hear and understand radio and cockpit communications, not to mention protecting your hearing.

      1. You might be onto something there, Greg. I joke about having “stress-induced deafness” because I often have trouble hearing ATC and other aircraft’s calls, so I tend to crank up the volume and even leave an extra turn or two available on my headset.

        Trouble is, I’m having a definite ringing in the ears lately–ever since I started flight training. If the ANR clears up my lack of clarity issues, it’ll be worth paying whatever the increased price is for the new headset. [I can keep my existing David Clark headset for future


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