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When Can You Log Night Flight And Night Landings?

Boldmethod

It's nearly fall, which means the days are getting shorter. It also means you need to know when you can start logging your night time, and night landings.

Night time can be a little confusing, because not all of the FAA's night rules start at the same time. But don't worry, when the sun starts going down, we're here to help.

First off, there are three time periods you need to be familiar with to make sure you understand the FAA's night rules:

  • Sunset to sunrise
    • Your position lights need to be on (and anticollision lights if you have them)
  • The end of evening civil twilight to the beginning of morning civil twilight
    • You can log night flight time, and your plane needs to be night equipped
  • 1 hour after sunset ending 1 hour before sunrise
    • You need to be night landing current to carry passengers

Sunset to Sunrise

Steve Dunleavy

When the sun goes down, night regulations start up. But not all of them, just the first one. In fact, you can't even start logging night time at sunset. According to FAR 91.209 you need to have your position lights on from sunset to sunrise. One note for our friends in Alaska - the rules are a little different for you. The FARs say you need lighted position lights "during the period a prominent unlighted object cannot be seen from a distance of 3 statute miles or the sun is more than 6 degrees below the horizon."

If you have anticollision lights, those need to be on too, unless you've determined it's in the interest of safety to turn them off (e.g. you're on the ramp or in clouds).

So when exactly are sunset and sunrise? The easiest way to tell is to use the US Navy's Air Almanac website. But if you really want to know the definition, here goes: "sunrise or sunset is defined to occur when the geometric zenith distance of the center of the Sun is 90.8333 degrees." That being said, we'd recommend you stick to the Navy's Almanac.

For those of us without the measuring equipment for "geometric zeniths", sunset happens when you're standing at sea level with a level, unobstructed horizon, under average atmospheric conditions, and the upper limb of the Sun appears to be tangent to the horizon.

Civil Twilight

tsuna72

Next up is civil twilight, and more specifically, when it ends. The FAA's definition of night time is in Section 1.1 of the FARs. Here's what they have to say: "Night means the time between the end of evening civil twilight and the beginning of morning civil twilight, as published in the Air Almanac, converted to local time." If you fall in that time period, you can log night flight time, and your plane needs to be night VFR equipped.

So when exactly does civil twilight end (and begin)? Again, the Navy's Air Almanac comes to the rescue. According to the almanac, today in Boulder, CO, civil twilight ends at 7:48 PM, and begins again tomorrow morning at 6:09 AM. So if you're in Boulder, you can be logging night flight time any time between 7:48 PM tonight, and 6:09 AM tomorrow morning.

How is civil twilight computed? Here's the Navy's definition: "civil twilight is defined to begin in the morning, and to end in the evening when the center of the Sun is geometrically 6 degrees below the horizon." A good rule-of-thumb for the calculating civil twilight is that it usually ends between 20-35 minutes after sunset. Tonight in Boulder, sunset is 7:21 PM, and civil twilight ends at 7:48 PM. That's a difference of 27 minutes.

1 Hour After Sunset To 1 Hour Before Sunrise

martin cruze

The last piece to night flying is logging your night landings, and carrying passengers with you. According to FAR 61.57(b), to carry passengers between 1 hour after sunset and ending 1 hour before sunrise, you need to make at least 3 takeoffs and landings to a full stop in the preceding 90 days during the period beginning 1 hour after sunset and ending 1 hour before sunrise.

By now, you should be a pro at calculating 1 hour after sunset. Just head on over to the Navy's Air Almanac, lookup today's sunset, which in Boulder is 7:21 PM, and tack 1 hour onto it. So if you need to get night current in Boulder tonight, you can start those takeoffs and landings at 8:21 PM.

Putting It All Together

As long as you're using your position and anticollision lights between sunset and sunrise, logging your night flight time after the end of civil twilight, and logging your night landings at least an hour after sunset, you're good to go.

Colin Cutler

Colin is a Boldmethod co-founder, pilot and graphic artist. He's been a flight instructor at the University of North Dakota, an airline pilot on the CRJ-200, and has directed development of numerous commercial and military training systems. You can reach him at colin@boldmethod.com.

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