Thursday is one of my usual flying days but, the weather forecast for this Thursday wasn’t very good. I checked with Sandy and we decided to switch to Wednesday night. We have been trying to get my first night flight done so this was a perfect chance. I couldn’t have asked for a better evening for my introduction to night flying.
I got to the school at 6:30pm and we spent the first half hour going over the differences between day and night flying. After that, we went out to the airplane together to do the preflight. When Sandy showed me how the panel lights worked, we found that the attitude indicator and turn coordinator both had burned out bulbs. Since no one else was scheduled for that time, we switched to another airplane. By the time we got going, it was almost 8pm and the tower was closing. It felt strange to be treating this familiar, towered airport as an uncontrolled field.
I made the calls to Waukegan traffic and took off for the practice area. It was a beautiful clear night, temperature about 40 and air that was perfectly smooth. We spent the first few minutes just looking around so I could get an idea of what the area, that I had flown over so many times during the day, looked like at night. I was somewhat disoriented at first but, I soon started to recognize some familiar landmarks. The Fox Lake area was a group of black areas ringed by the lights of houses along the shore. Galt Field stood out because the runway lights were surrounded by dark fields.
I didn’t have a lot of time for sightseeing though. Sandy had me do some clearing turns then get into slow flight. That went pretty well. I found I was using the instruments a little more than usual but most of my attention was still directed outside. Next was power off stalls. The first one didn’t break very sharply so I did it again to get a good stall. The airplane flies and stalls the same at night as it does during the day. It’s only me that sees things differently at night. The final maneuvers were steep turns. They weren’t perfect but I kept the altitude variation within 100 feet – mostly. As I rolled out of the second turn, we got a pretty good bump from our own wake in the otherwise absolutely calm air. Again, I needed the instruments a little more than during the day but not as much so as I had expected.
The next challenge was to find the way back to Waukegan. I found Fox Lake and from there headed straight east. Soon I saw the airport beacon right on my nose. Even though I found the field without any problem, I still felt a little disoriented and doubted myself. A little help from the GPS verified that this was, in fact, Waukegan and not Kenosha.
I clicked the mic button five times to turn on the runway lights. Getting oriented to the correct runway and entering the pattern felt strange to me. During the day, the tower controller would have, probably, had us enter the left base for runway 5. Because these was no controller on duty now, we would stay to the northwest and enter the left downwind. I had a little trouble knowing where I was in relation to the airport and which runway was which. I used the heading indicator to check the runway headings and make sure I was setting up for the right one.
On final for the first landing, I found even the medium intensity runway lights too bright and turned them down with three more mic clicks. Sandy got on the controls with me for the first landing and is was just about perfect. We taxied back and took off again for landing number two. This time, Sandy didn’t help but talked me through the pattern and landing. Again, it was a good one and we headed back to takeoff for landing number three. On this one, Sandy was quite and left me to do it all myself. I ended up cocked just a little to the left as we touched down but, otherwise, it was another smooth landing and our last one of the night.
This was a very good lesson and I found myself enjoying flying at night. I will have to do more of it.