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  Home > Newsletter > N.I.G.H.T. Flying Safety Review, January 2016

N.I.G.H.T. Flying Safety Review

Flying at night can offer pilots and passengers a unique thrill and beautiful vistas, but it doesn’t come without its own set of challenges, especially regarding safety. Here’s a mnemonic checklist for items to consider for safety when flying after dark, courtesy of the November/December 2015 issue of FAA Safety Briefing.

N = Nightlights

In-flight lighting systems have come a long way in the past decades, so take some time to learn more about new lighting systems, specifically how LEDs are quickly becoming the go-to “nightlights” for flight. Also brush up on how your local airport’s visual approach slope indicator (VASI) or precision approach path indicator (PAPI) lights keep you safely on the path to safety.

Plane and Pilot Magazine reports that many pilots carry a variety of flashlights, especially those that have a beam you can adjust between wide angle and spot. Here’s a tip: Always carry at least three standard flashlights plus two camp lights on any night flight. You can strap a camp light on your forehead under your headset, and it will light up anything you look at. If the instrument lights fail, a wide-beam camp light can save your life.

I = Illusions

Despite the many technological advances that have helped improve the capabilities of our situational awareness, danger still exists around reduced vision and acuity and seeing illusions, especially during night flight. Illusions can lead to spatial disorientation or landing errors, and often contribute to fatal aircraft accidents. With fewer visual cues to go by during night flying, now is a good time to review some of the potential sensory illusions.

G = Gadgets

Again, the advancement of technology and gadgets has been a boon to pilots and flying, but there’s also a danger in relying too heavily on them. Don’t lose sight of your most important and basic responsibility: to fly the plane — that is, to maintain attitude, altitude, airspeed, and, above all, awareness. At night, strong flight skills are even more important, so it’s especially important to practice the art of paying attention or, more precisely, the art of appropriately dividing attention among competing priorities.

H = Human Factors

Humans are complicated creatures and, as in any complex and highly integrated system, all kinds of things can go wrong. Our ability to function properly can be adversely affected by many other factors, such as those referenced in the well-known “IMSAFE” checklist. Nocturnal operation can magnify the impact of any and all these factors: illness, medication, stress, alcohol, fatigue, and eating/emotion. Do what you can to mitigate risk factors, including everything from getting enough sleep, avoiding alcohol, getting enough exercise, and adhering to safety procedures and checklists.

T = Terrain

Night flying has a lot in common with basic flying in instrument meteorological conditions (IMC), because both environments involve operating with reduced visibility. Except when distractions dominate the pilot’s attention, it’s easy to avoid visible terrain and obstacles. A well-illuminated obstacle may be visible enough, but what about an unpopulated or sparsely populated mountain ridge? For safety in night flying, it’s absolutely essential to know where all the rocks and ridges are in relation to your position, to ensure that you maintain sufficient altitude to avoid what you can’t see.

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