Touch-and-Goes, At Night!

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Viewing Fairbanks from UAF’s Reichardt Building; 5pm, mid October

An unexpected twist in today’s flight: got my first hour of flying at night! I wasn’t scheduled to fly at all today because a lot of people had beat me to the scheduling program, but the entire afternoon cleared out ~11am today. I wanted to fly at 5:30pm because that’s when CFI4 gets done with his day job (he had a lot of free time with the government shutdown, but it’s a lot harder to find him at the airport since everything reopened). Strangely though, he never got the scheduling notice, and didn’t start heading to the airport until 6pm. I went ahead and preflighted the 150 while waiting.

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Fairbanks/UAF at 5pm, mid October

By 6:20pm, the air temperature cooled enough that the wings started frosting up. Another student was able to de-frost the 152 at 5:45pm with warm water so we started the same process with the 150. All we succeeded in doing was putting a nice thin ice layer on the wings because we couldn’t wipe the water off fast enough. Darn it. Air temperature cooled off so fast!

Civil twilight is 7:01pm today in Fairbanks – it was already 6:30pm and we were losing sunlight fast. I was getting sad that I spent the effort to preflight and ‘defrost’, was still waiting for CFI4 to get to the airport……and I wasn’t going to get to fly.

Surprise though! CFI2 told me to wait for the 152 to come back and do night stop-and-goes! You need 10 takeoffs and landings before the practical test anyways, so I did 8 today and will do the final 2 when I do my night cross country. Woohoo! While waiting for the 152, I quickly went through all the Jeppesen online ground school sections on night flying.

The flight school has the great tiedown spots right next to the lit up fuel site, so only a minimal amount of flashlight gymnastics was needed during preflight.

Taxiing all the way out to 2R at night was lovely with the blue taxi lights. I believe west ramp has the green taxi centerline lights – which I look forward to using one day.

My first 2 patterns were near perfect stop-and-goes. Each turn was 90degrees (which I didn’t expect without my normal ground references), pattern altitude was good, downwind was the perfect distance from the runway, flare height fine, very stable approaches. My only issue was that I landed about 2 feet off centerline.

Then pattern and landings all kinda went downhill. Takeoffs stopped being along the extended runway centerline (eek, lost my visual reference points in the dark). Winds picked up at my base and final legs which made me nervous. I kept turning base and final too early, my crosswind turn was consistently greater than 90degrees, I kept rising 100feet above pattern altitude. I started turning towards the runway on downwind. On final, I couldn’t stay lined up on centerline and definitely kept overcorrecting. I couldn’t properly level out before flare. I think CFI4 is perplexed as to why I can’t get the centerline thing down after so many landings. Me too.

There were at least 2 times that I remember being ~150ft above the runway and was still oscillating over the runway edge lights – should have probably have been go-arounds but I managed to somehow touch down on pavement (way off centerline). Those were definitely some of the more scary moments of flight training so far.

Did 2 short field takeoffs – my first 2 ever – love the power πŸ™‚

Only got to fly ‘inches’ off the runway once today. Not my finest work, but I have done worse. This was after landing a smidge harder than I should (a few times) on the main wheels….CFI4 let me fly 30feet over the centerline instead of making it be inches.

My radio work is getting more confident – was even able to report having traffic in sight right when tower told me about it. Only one mistake today: after reporting my final landing would be a full stop, I said “cleared for the option” instead of “cleared to land”.

One of the more interesting moments was when I turned base just as a Boeing 737 was passing me on final for the parallel runway. Wonder what the passengers thought of me flying straight at them. πŸ˜‰

City lights…..the airport is southwest of Fairbanks. On 2R, there are only city lights on the takeoff and crosswind legs. It is pitch black for downwind and base. A strange set-up to a novice pilot.

The new wing covers for the 152 are awesome. The only issue with putting the plane to bed was that the water used to defrost earlier had turned into a thin sheet of ice all over the ground. I guess it is finally time to dig out the no-slip snowboots.

Overall, I think I like pattern work at night better than during the day. No distracting terrain features (!), less traffic, easier to see approaching planes, and I like the pretty city lights πŸ˜€

β€”~β€”~β€”~β€”~β€”~β€”~β€”~β€”~β€”~β€”~β€”~β€”~β€”~β€”~β€”~β€”~β€”~β€”

Things to work on:

  • At night, my initial descent kept going from a nice 500ft/min to 1000ft/min. Not sure why, but once I saw that it happened consistently, I was able to use trim. The 152 is the first plane where I’ve had to consistently use trim (and am getting confident doing so). I think the rapid descent is a personal nighttime flying thing for me – be sure to watch out for it in the future.
  • Push the nose down at all times on base and final (I tend to pull up during my turns)
  • Make smaller corrections to pull myself to the centerline.
  • Find a non-visual nighttime reference to takeoff on the extended centerline.
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