29R - Nothing but blue skies...

Night flying

Weather: KBJC 082346Z 28012KT 60SM FEW080 FEW200 18/M12 A3008

My last flight was to review navigation strategies as I prepare for some cross country flights. Temporarily forgetting how early the sun sets now that we are back on Standard time, I scheduled the flight for late afternoon, which is now early evening. When I took off, the sun had already dipped behind the mountains. Flying out of Boulder, being so much closer to the mountains, the sun was already well below the horizon. I took off of runway 26 which can be a rarity for Boulder because the prevailing runway is 8, even with a moderate tailwind.

I departed north over the practice area heading towards Cheyenne and Fort Collins. I tuned their frequencies into the two VORs to practice some navigation. VOR stands for VHF Omnidirectional Range. What you need to know about VOR is that it's used to find direction based on the position of a VOR checkpoint on the ground. That's not even a good basic explanation but... I used the Fort Collins VOR and tuned in the DME (very similar to a VOR) to Greeley. Using the 2 signals, you can calculate your position on a map. So I practiced working with navigation and flew around a bit. Then turned back to the south and practiced some unusual attitude flight recovery.

This is to simulate what happens if you accidentally fly into a situation where you lose visual flight reference (clouds, etc.). So I put the foggles on and closed my eyes as my instructor flew the plane and tried to disorient me. The idea being to put the plane into unusual attitudes and then have me safely recover the plane to straight and level flight. It worked because my body felt like the plane was in a turn and diving, but the instruments showed us in a climbing turn. A nice lesson to always trust your instruments. We repeated with two other scenarios and then I tried to orient the plane to the best of my ability to fly us back to Boulder using the navs.

I did a good job getting us close to the airport and then took the foggles off for the last section of the flight. This is when I got to have a little fun with the plane. If you haven't heard of the Vomit Comet look it up. That experience can be slightly replicated in Cessna over the course of a few seconds. The second time we tried it, my flight bag floated up out of the back seat and hit me in the head. We put a pen on the top of the dashboard of the airplane and watched as it floated in the air for a few seconds. It is a really fun experience to get to feel like you are floating for a second, even if you're being held in the seat by the seatbelts.

By this time it had been completely dark for the past 30 minutes. I spotted the Boulder airport beacon and clicked the radio a few times to turn on the runway lights. It was fun playing with the runway lights for a bit, just changing their intensity from medium to high, back to medium, using the radio. It was the first time I had truly flown at night and never had done it at an uncontrolled airport.

This landing was a bit different because we entered final at a 45 degree angle about 3 miles out. If you don't fly the approach pattern normally, it is much more difficult to judge altitude and when to add flaps. I kept the plane nicely on the glide path and flew it straight in for landing. It was only until we nearly crossed the runway threshold that the landing light provided any help with identifying the runway. I don't really know what happened next because it was difficult to see being so dark out, but somehow I managed to completely grease the landing. It was really amazing. Especially for my first night landing. It was a good flight.

Next: Solo flight #2 from BDU to BJC. 3 Stop and goes at BJC and then return to BDU. I'm looking forward to it.


  1. Jeff said...

    One time, my instructor--just for fun mind you--adjusted the lighting controls at the airport for me. He had taken a 2nd plane back from another airport, and I followed in another aircraft with another pilot friend (any excuse to go fly). At around 1130 pm, I set the runway lights to max intensity. Then, someone comes on the frequency and readjusts the lights to lower intensity. This happened several times. By now, I was becoming annoyed. Then, once we got on the ground, he fessed up to messing with us. Ah! Practical aviation humor.  


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