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Flying at Night was an Eye Opening Experience

I finally was able to knock out that flight I passed on a few weeks back after a little vacation, and a whole bunch of crappy weather, and all I can say is that I am glad it is over.  I should clarify that any time spent flying is better than time spent in just about any other way, but I realized after this flight that flying a small, civilian aircraft at night is just not a whole lot of fun.

In leaving Stead and heading down to Reno it really wasn’t all that different at first because we were over city the entire time so most everything is lit up pretty well.  That being said, it is definitely a different sight picture at night than it is during the day.  I found myself flaring a little to high and having to hold it off much longer than I would have liked.  This was likely a combination of not having flown for a little while, and the different sight picture I was experiencing at night for the first time.

We proceeded to do three full stop taxi backs at Reno because for some reason the FAA wants all of your night stuff to be full stop landings.  I personally don’t understand the logic in this, so if you have any ideas I would love to hear them.  The one upside in this case was that it gave me more time talking to ground and switching radios, which is something you can never really practice enough.  On the C-130 I just type in numbers so it is good to get practice spinning dials.

After leaving Reno we headed East into the I-80 corridor as we very slowly climbed up to a good safe altitude.  This may very well have been the first time I have ever climbed up through the mountains at night without having NVGs like I wear at work.  To be honest it was pretty unnerving.  Despite knowing that I had planned well, and could see the freeway clearly below me and in front of me, it is not fun not being able to see the even the outline of the mountains around you.  It didn’t help that there was absolutely no moon either, but I wasn’t delaying this mission any longer just for some moonlight.

The half an hour or so it took us to get up to Lovelock (KLOL for those keeping track at home) was relatively uneventful, and once we got to altitude the terrain sloped away to the East and there wasn’t even mountains to worry about.  With nothing really between us and the airport, we were able to pick out the beacon pretty quickly, and a few clicks of the mic lit up the runway like a Christmas tree making it even easier to find a few miles south of any other buildings.

After a quick survey of the area we went in and executed three more full stop taxi backs, but fortunately the winds were mostly calm so we opted to just switch runways with each landing to save on the taxi time.  It was definitely a very different experience flying at such a small airport with no lights around it after flying at Reno that is surrounded in lights.  I also had the thought in the back of my mind that there is a lake off the end of one of the runways that made the whole thing a little more ominous.

After finishing up our landings there we began our trek back to Stead, and since we were running a little behind schedule, we utilized the wonder of ForeFlight to go back home more directly.  I have to say that it is just an incredible tool for anyone out there.  If I had a small plane I would not waste my money on a G1000 or other system, I would just buy an iPad and a ForeFlight subscription, because they honestly offer so much more at probably 5% of the price.  The situational awareness that it gives you is just insane.  I honestly wish the Air Force had just bought subscriptions to ForeFlight rather than wasting money on developing a different app.  If you don’t have it you seriously need to check it out.

By this time it was after 2300 local and after a full day of work I was getting pretty tired, but we still had four more landings to knock out.  It was definitely a little comforting coming back to my home airport after so long in the unfamiliar dark, and it got me a little excited again to finish the whole thing out.  Fortunately, the winds at Stead were also light and we were able to execute a few teardrops in the pattern rather than flying a full standard pattern.  It saved a little time which was okay by me and my CFI.  It was also a fun challenge to execute something other than a standard pattern and having to adjust in ways that you normally wouldn’t have to.  That being said, it is not something you should do if there are other aircraft in the area because it would quickly become a mess.

Flying at night in a small civilian plane definitely opened my eyes to the value of having NVGs with the flying I do at work.  The amount of situational awareness that they provide is just downright ridiculous.  On a well illuminated night it is almost as good as flying during the day.  I can’t even imagine doing anything close to what we do without NVGs.

This was also a good flight to help me remember that you have a whole massive skill set to learn as a pilot.  It isn’t enough to get good at landings during the day on a long and wide runway.  You have to land at night, and on shorter and more narrow fields.  You should try to get to soft fields and different surface types because all of those things are only going to help you build your bag of tools that one day may save your life.  From a less practical side, it is also fun to try new things and go new places.

When I was deployed to Afghanistan we took an F-16 pilot for a ride one day and it was the first time he had ever landed on dirt, especially dirt that was probably only 4000′ long or so.  For a guy that is used to pristine pavement that is at least 10,000′ long, it was an eye-opening experience.  He gained a whole new respect for what we do that day, and I guarantee he became a better pilot with that understanding.

So while trying new and different things is often not very comfortable, it is a great way to learn new things, have some fun, and become a better pilot.

April 19, 2018 I Written By

I'm Dave and I am a proud Avgeek. It goes way beyond liking airplanes. It is a passion that cannot be subdued.

Twelve Days of Avgeek Christmas: Day 3 Aviation Apps and Flight Simulators

So you’ve played with your aviation toys, and got your aviation reading for those cold winter nights by the fireplace.  The next logical step of course is to get something a little more techy.  I don’t know what exactly is logical about that, but that is the next area of Avgeek Christmas that we will be looking at.

Honestly, I don’t know nearly as much about aviation apps as I probably should.  That may come as a result of the fact that almost all of my flying is military related and we aren’t allowed to rely on apps for our data.  I have used some for weather and stuff like that, but not as extensively as others.  But, there are a handful of apps that I have heard raved reviews about.

The app I probably hear the most about is ForeFlight.  It was one of the first truly blockbuster apps for aviation, and has remained the premier Electronic Flight Bag for most people.  This app includes flight planning, weather, aeronautical charts, and a whole lot more.

The major downside I see is that it is only available for iOS devices, but since they are the most popular devices for pilots it likely is not an issue for most.  The other thing to keep in mind is that there is a subscription involved depending on the level of service that you desire.  But with all they have to offer, their annual subscriptions of $75 or $150 are quite reasonable.

SocialFlight is the premier listing of aviation events.

SocialFlight is the premier listing of aviation events.

Some of the other EFBs that are available out there are WingX, Garmin Pilot, AOPA FlyQ, Jeppesen FliteDeck, Bendix King MyWingman, FltPlan Go, Avare, and AvPlan EFB.  As you can see there are a fair number, and they each have their plusses and minuses.

One of the greatest parts of aviation is the social aspect involved.  Whether it be airshows, pancake breakfasts, or fly-ins, the only thing most pilots like as much as flying is hanging out with other people who love to fly.  One of the best websites for learning about all of these types of events is SocialFlight.com.

They provide an expansive offering of events going on all over the place, and all of it can be accessed from their mobile app.  The app includes maps of local events and listings that can be structured to help you find exactly what kind of event you are looking for.  The app is available for both iOS and Android systems.

You could spend weeks talking about all the different apps out there so I will leave you to simple searches on iTunes and Google Play to find what you are looking for.  There are lots of good reviews and articles out there, including this one from AOPA, about the best apps, and when all else fails you can always ask another pilot or avgeek.

Microsoft Flight Simulator X will provide hours of entertainment.

Microsoft Flight Simulator X will provide hours of entertainment.

The next best thing to flying a real plane is flying a simulator.  In some cases it is probably the only way that most of us will ever get to captain a 747 or F-15.  What’s awesome about modern simulators is that they have gotten so good they can even help with your abilities flying a real plane.

The simulator that I have spent the most time playing is Microsoft Flight Simulator X.  It provides excellent graphics and flight controls.  I just bought a new laptop and was able to bump all of the graphics to their max level and it is so incredible some of the details they have included.  There is also an online option where you can fly in the same airspace as other people including people acting as air traffic controllers.  Some people have even created their own FlightSim airlines which is a unique aspect that I wouldn’t have even imagined not that long ago.

The simulator comes with a pretty substantial number of aircraft but there are quite a few others you can purchase including a lot more military aircraft.  Like so many other sims before it, it is a great chance to “fly” aircraft that most of us will never touch the controls of in real life.

The other incredibly popular simulator that has begun to dominate the market is X-Plane.  Unlike the Microsoft offering, X-Plane is available for your computer, tablet, or even smartphone for which there is a free offering on Android.  Many people have their personal preference, but in my opinion X-Plane has a better offering of aircraft as well as an interface that allows for flying that is a little closer to realistic.

X-Plane may be newer to the market, but they are growing rapidly.

X-Plane may be newer to the market, but they are growing rapidly.

X-Plane also comes with a fair number of aircraft with the ability to download new aircraft, and they are developing new offerings all of the time.  You can even fly the Space Shuttle, which the engineer on my crew did during a recent flight.  Flying a flight sim while flying may just be too much fun for one person.  It does take a little getting use to controlling the plane by tilting and turning your phone or tablet, but it is not very difficult, and most people will get the hang of it in a matter of minutes.

They also offer a world flying edition as well as regional offerings for different airport offerings.

There are also quite a few fun little games available for smartphones that are great for killing time in between flights, or other less pleasant events.  Many of these are available with reduced abilities for free, or at a small cost for the full version.  The beautiful thing about us avgeeks is that we love everything about planes, so even the most simple simulator or app will bring us joy.

Have other recommendations of great aviation apps or software?  Please share in the comments section below.

12 Days of Avgeek Christmas:

Day 1: Aircraft Models and RC Toys
Day 2: Aviation Books and Guides
Day 3: Aviation Apps and Flight Simulators
Day 4: Flight Lessons
Day 5: Headsets
Day 6: Bags and Kneeboards
Day 7: Sunglasses and Watches
Day 8: Handheld GPS
Day 9: Handheld Radio
Day 10: Cameras and Video Recorders
Day 11: Random Aviation Accessories
Day 12: Airplane

December 16, 2013 I Written By

I'm Dave and I am a proud Avgeek. It goes way beyond liking airplanes. It is a passion that cannot be subdued.