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15 Tips You Should Use On Your Next Night Flight

UND Aerospace sponsored this story. Check out the full series here. And, if you're ready to start your aviation career, learn more about UND Aerospace.

Night flying adds a new set of challenges to your workload as a pilot. In fact, in many countries you're required to hold an instrument rating or special waiver to fly under VFR at night.

Here are some tips to help you out...

1) There are some serious benefits to flying at night.

Less traffic and radio congestion, less turbulence, and lighter winds are just a few of the benefits you'll find by choosing to fly at night. With the Earth and air cooling off, there's often less thermal activity, resulting in a smooth ride.

2) But nighttime doesn't come without downsides...

In the event of an engine failure, especially in a single engine aircraft, flying at night is almost as bad as having an engine failure in IMC. Potential landing areas that aren't lighted are often nearly impossible to analyze for landing.


3) Don't forget which position lights you're looking at.

Even though there's less traffic at night, don't let your guard down against mid-air collisions. If you see the lights of another aircraft and they appear motionless, there's a chance you're on a collision course with each other.

Green position lights are on the right wing, red position lights are on the left wing, and white position lights are on the back of the wing or tail. Use the lights to determine which way the other plane is headed.

4) Adjust your scan pattern.

At night, peripheral vision detects motion the best. When scanning for traffic, spend a few seconds looking at each section of your field of view, paying attention to your peripheral vision to detect other aircraft. If you see another plane, don't try to focus directly on it. Instead, look slightly to the side of the traffic. Your eyes will pick up more motion information by viewing it offset.

5) Use oxygen, even below 12,500 feet.

At night, your eyesight is even more sensitive to higher altitudes. Early signs of hypoxia can be detected as low as 5,000 feet at night, compared to normal daytime flying.

Jason Pineau

6) Bring backup lights.

Bring a flashlight (or two), headlamp, and batteries before you go flying at night. Just because it's dark doesn't mean you should cut corners on pre-flight and post-flight checks. Ideally use red light; it'll help your eyes adjust to the darkness and give you the best vision.


7) Know your night currency requirements.

Three full stop nighttime landings are required 1 hour after sunset or 1 hour before sunrise in the preceding 90 days to carry passengers. Don't forget that, "the required takeoffs and landings must be performed in an aircraft of the same category, class, and type." Those 3 night landings in a Cessna 172 don't count towards night currency in a twin engine Piper Seminole.

8) Logging night time doesn't start and end at sunset and sunrise.

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.

9) Keeping your mind awake is critical.

If it's late at night and you're tired, the last thing you want is to doze off. Pilots falling asleep at the controls have caused dozens of often-fatal accidents. Bring food, drinks, music, or another person with you to keep yourself awake and sharp.

Steve Dunleavy

10) Avoid nighttime icing conditions.

Even with TKS fluid or pneumatic boots, it's much harder to detect ice accumulation at night, as well as when it starts and stops. With no sunlight, it's challenging to sublimate ice off of your wings in clear conditions.

martin cruze

11) Don't fly at night if you don't feel comfortable with your instrument flying skills.

In non-urban areas around the country, you could find yourself flying into black, moonless nights with no discernible horizon. This is essentially instrument flying, regardless of the visibility or cloud clearances. Make sure you're comfortable with flying by instrumentation alone if you're having trouble flying visually, or wait until the morning to fly!

Brian Futterman

12) If lights begin disappearing ahead of you, something is blocking them.

Clouds and terrain will block lights ahead of you, so pay extra attention to minimum safe altitudes and don't forget about the terrain and obstacles around you.


13) Give yourself the best exterior visibility possible.

Avoid bright lights prior to flying, give your eyes time to adjust to the darkness, and keep the panel/switch lights dim as you fly at night. The lower the light from screens inside the cockpit, the better shot you have at seeing outside.

Jason Pineau

14) As a courtesy to other pilots, don't turn your strobes on until you're on the runway.

Blinding pilots and ground crews around the ramp and taxiway isn't good for anyone. Use strobes when crossing runways or when entering the active runway.

Jason Pineau

15) Be aware of black hole effect.

Above featureless terrain at night, there is a natural tendency to fly a lower-than-normal approach. The phenomenon is often called the 'black-hole' effect, and you need to be extremely careful about it.


What are some things you do when you're flying at night? Tell us in the comments below.

Ready to put your flying career in motion? Whether you want to start your aviation career, or you just have a few questions about learning to fly, get in touch with the UND Aerospace team today.

Swayne Martin

Swayne is an editor at Boldmethod, certified flight instructor, and an Embraer 145 First Officer for a regional airline. He graduated as an aviation major from the University of North Dakota in 2018, holds a PIC Type Rating for Cessna Citation Jets (CE-525), and is a former pilot for Mokulele Airlines. He's the author of articles, quizzes and lists on Boldmethod every week. You can reach Swayne at, and follow his flying adventures on his YouTube Channel.

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