Sunday, October 17, 2010

Nighttime flying

Last weekend we wanted to fly up to northern Kentucky to visit relatives. In order to make a Sunday morning departure a bit easier I decided to move the plane to a closer airport on Saturday evening. At the same time I thought it would be a good opportunity to get in some night landings.

FAA rules require me to have at least 3 night time landings in the past 90 days in order to carry passengers at night. As we all know, once is an accident and twice is coincidence. So obviously I will be infinitely safer after three repetitions than after two. Well, at least that's what the FAA believes.

After the government stole all my money last April, I haven't been able to pay for my flying addiction. So I didn't really meet all the currency requirements. You may notice that the FAA forbids me from carrying passengers if I'm not current on landings, but they don't care if I go out on my own. I suppose they're okay with me killing myself just so long as I don't kill anyone else in the process. So I went out by myself that Saturday night and flew the plane up to our other airport, then put in my three night landings.

The Sunday flight was fantastic. The skies were clear and calm, and our trip was smooth and pleasant. As suspected, we didn't depart until close to sunset. What would these people do if they were flying on an airline schedule? They would be missing flights on every trip, since the airlines only ever delay flights when you arrive at the airport early. A late departure meant our arrival back in the Atlanta area was at night. Good thing I did my landings!

One of my many aviation toys is a portable GPS navigator, the Garmin 396. This is a wonderful device. It paints a magenta line on the screen and all you have to do is follow it. Well, there's a few other things you have to do too, like descend and land. But this unit is so great it even helps you with the descent. As for the landing you're still on your own, with or without passengers. I have my unit preset to a descent profile of 500 feet per minute. This isn't like Jay Leno's profile: it's actually a straight line. The 396 also shows a warning when it's time to descend. It pops up a message on the display that says "Approaching VNAV Profile". To a non-pilot this sounds like absolute gibberish (well, truth be told it sounds like gibberish to most pilots too). But what it really means is "hey dummy, start down now". They didn't put a message like that in the Garmin probably because some lawyer thought it was too insulting. So when my 396 told me it was time to start down I set George the autopilot to start the descent. And the plane stuck to that profile like ticks on a hound dog.

One of the problems of flying at night is finding the airport. Actually, that's one of the problems of flying during the day too, but it's even worse at night. Imagine a vast sea of lights: white, yellow, red, green, blue, taupe, chartreuse, ecru. About the only color light you don't see is black. Now somewhere in that collection of lights you need to find a light that flashes white then green. Sound hard? Well, it's even harder than that. As the distance was ticking down on the Garmin I kept staring out the windscreen, "It's out there somewhere." I finally spotted it, right where it was supposed to be.

I started steering left so that I could make the right hand turn to line up with the runway. Remember, I was still descending. I had been descending continuously for the past 10 minutes. I looked to my right and saw the runway lights. I turned off George the autopilot and prepared to make my final turn, which would be about 90 degrees. I turned (still descending), and rolled out perfectly lined up both horizontally and vertically for the runway. "Yeehah!" I yelled. My wife chastised me: "you don't yell 'yeehah' when flying an airplane." And why not? It was a perfect descent to a perfect approach, and it was followed by a perfect landing. Us pilots live for days like this.


Terry said...

Sweet post. The riding stuff is great, but you should post more flying stuff, including the nitty gritty (spouse or family come with, how to you get the rental car etc on the other end, does your wife support the hobby ). I dropped dome friends into the middle of ragbrai last year. We landed at Boone airport and they jumped right on the route. Seems like an amazing experience (and the flight was pretty cool too). Blue skies.


wnl256 said...

Thanks for the comment, Terry. And you are right: I do need to post more flying related material. I've been so busy with work and other activities (home theater and cycling) that I haven't had much time to fly or post about it lately. We did recently take a trip to Florida to visit relatives and I may post something about that. For the record, my wife fully supports my flying and we frequently take trips together.