03 October 2010

Night Flying

On Friday, 1 October, I flew at night for the first time.

A cold front behind the remnants of the tropical storm had passed through during the day, and there were surface gusts over 30 knots.  My CFI called me on the way out and asked my opinion on the weather.  At the time, the surface winds were still gusting over 20 knots--stronger winds than I had experience flying in.  The Dulles terminal forecast for 0000 Zulu and later showed the winds abating, so I decided to go for it.  When I got to the FBO, I discovered that I was the first student to be dispatched for the day, due to the weather.  In my standard briefing, I noticed an AIRMET for moderate turbulence below 10,000 ft covering our area, but it was scheduled to expire mid-flight.  While the surface winds were dying down, the winds aloft were still brisk (31 knots at 3000 feet).

The sensation of flying at night was wild.  Pilotage was difficult, especially picking out HEF's beacon with all the city lights behind it.  That will take practice.

I flew the maneuvers (steep turns, stalls) very sloppily.  I oscillated between flying them using external references and instruments.  Next time, I will transition directly to instruments when doing these at night.

We went to Warrenton (KHWY) and practiced takeoffs and landings.  The dispatcher at the flight school warned me that the first landing will be a hard one due to the change in depth perception--and she was right.  I flew the first approach normally to full 30 degree flaps, but with the 30 knot headwind, I was dragging the airplane in.   I held 10 degrees flaps for all the remaining landings, which was the first time I had done reduced flap landings.  The flare was a little different, but the landings weren't terrible.

I was surprised how much the headwind changed the approach angle and how much power was required to correct the sink rate.  On the downwind turn, I noticed the airplane accelerate quickly relative to the ground due to the nearly direct tailwind.  On the return leg back to HEF (about 060 ground track), I could see the city lights sliding by horizontally at a good clip.  I added a few degrees left for wind correction and slid right into the spot for a base entry.  A Baron was landing ahead of us, and I didn't spot him until he finally overtook us and started to turn final.  

Flight time this lesson: 1.7 hrs dual, 1.7 hrs night
Total time to date: 19.6 hrs dual, 3.5 hrs PIC, 1.7 hrs night (8 TO/LND)

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