CHAPTER 12. Night Operations

Pilot Requirements

Flying at night requires additional pilot skills and a private pilot certifi cate. It is possible to have a private pilot certifi cate with a “Night Flight Prohibited” limitation if the pilot did not complete night fl ight training and is restricted from night fl ight, similar to that for Sport Pilots. This is an option for pilots who want a private pilot certifi cate but do not plan to fl y at night. If the pilot fi rst obtains the private certifi cate with the night limitation, the limitation can be removed after completing the private pilot WSC night training. The training that must be accomplished at night for WSC private pilot night fl ying privileges is:

  • One cross-country fl ight over 75 nautical miles (NM) total distance, and
  • Ten takeoffs and landings (each landing involving a fl ight in the traffi c pattern) at an airport.

Sport pilots or private pilots with the night limitation are not allowed to fl y at night; however, they can fl y after sunset during civil twilight until night if the aircraft is properly equipped with position lights. Civil twilight is when the sun is less than 6° below the horizon, about 30 minutes before sunrise or after sunset, and varies by latitude throughout the year. It is the time when there is enough light outdoors for activities to be conducted without additional lighting. [Figure 12-1] If it is overcast and visibility is inadequate, good pilot judgment would dictate not to fl y after sunset.

Equipment and Lighting

Title 14 of the Code of Federal Regulations (14 CFR) part 91 specifi es the minimum aircraft equipment required for fl ight during civil twilight and night fl ight. This equipment includes only position lights. Normal standard category aircraft are required to have this additional equipment as would also be recommended for WSC night fl ight, including anti-collision light, landing lights, adequate electrical source for lights, and spare fuses. The standard instruments required for instrument fl ight under 14 CFR part 91 are a valuable asset for aircraft control at night but are not required.

Aircraft position lights are required on all aircraft from sunset to sunrise in an arrangement similar to those on boats and ships. A red light is positioned on the left wing tip, a green light on the right wing tip, and a white light on the tail. [Figures 12-2 and 12-3] This arrangement allows the pilot to determine the general direction of movement of other aircraft in fl ight. If both position lights of another aircraft are observed, a red light on the right and a green light on the left, the aircraft is fl ying toward the pilot and could be on a collision course. Similarly, a green light on the right and a red light on the left indicate the aircraft is fl ying in the same direction as the pilot observing the lights. Landing lights are not only useful for taxi, takeoffs, and landings, but also provide an additional means by which aircraft can be seen at night by other pilots. [Figure 12-4]

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has initiated a voluntary pilot safety program called “Operation Lights On.” The “lights on” idea is to enhance the “see and be seen” concept of averting collisions in the air and on the ground and to reduce the potential for bird strikes. Pilots are encouraged to turn on their landing lights when operating within 10 miles of an airport. This is for both day and night or in conditions of reduced visibility. This should also be done in areas where fl ocks of birds may be expected.

Although turning on aircraft lights supports the “see and be seen” concept, pilots should not become complacent about keeping a sharp lookout for other aircraft. Most aircraft lights blend in with stars or city lights at night and go unnoticed unless a conscious effort is made to distinguish them from other lights.

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