I thought I would write just about the subject that the president, made mention of in his comments earlier, about night flying.
I personally enjoy night flying, it is generally smoother, the lights are beautiful and the traffic is lighter, and from a mechanics stand point the engine actually performs better due to the cooler air temperatures. Some worry about flying single engine at night. The few times that I have known about engine failure at night, or helped investigate an engine failure; the problem was due to fuel mismanagement. One a Piper Arrow, went down on a perfectly gorgeous night, ran out of fuel, when we helped with the investigation there was only a thimble of fuel in the gascalator. Fortunately, no one was fatally injured, but a perfectly good airplane, got totaled. I cannot understand how or why someone would take off or continue a flight with insufficient fuel at night.
However, the thing that is probably the biggest factor at night is the difficulty at seeing the weather. You can fly into a cloud or clouds and not even notice, unless it is the strobes, or other lights, start reflecting off the clouds. However, you can actually be on top of a layer and in the clear so the strobes are not reflecting, off anything, but when you look down you can no longer see the lights. Now you are on top of a layer, which may end up being solid all the way to your destination. Unless you are Instrument rated, you now face descending thru a cloud layer. There have been possibly been more accidents caused by trying to descend below the clouds as there has been engine failures at night. That is why many of those who rent aircraft require you to have an Instrument Rating to fly at night.
One of the most interesting and possibly the scariest of my earlier flying days, I was flying from Mexico, MO, to Independence, KS, this was in the early 1970’s. I was just past the Missouri line flying into Kansas, Westbound. I had the beacon for Chanute, Parsons, Coffeyville and Independence, Kansas in sight; I looked down at my chart, check my position (No GPS in those days) and when I looked up there was not a light to be seen. I looked down and could see the ground, but no lights, by seeing the ground I knew there were no clouds under me, it was pitch black. I did a cross check on the Chanute and Oswego VOR’s I was right where I was supposed to be. I gave a radio call to Chanute FSS (they had a station there at the time) and tried to find what was going on. They made sure I knew where was at, as I gave them the radials off the VOR. They came back and said there was a power outage and the whole area was out of power. I kept flying toward Independence and about 10 minutes later the whole horizon lit up as the lights came back on, it was just as if someone had flipped the switch. It was awesome, and even better, I was right on course, as the beacons were right where they were supposed to be. So carry a flashlight, the batteries in new LED lights last a lot longer than the old flashlights. So keep the lights on and happy flying. Enjoy the beautiful lights.
John E. Davolt, Editor