By Tajae Viaene
My pre-flight took over a half hour, checking over everything twice, while fidgeting with that silly, cheap flashlight in my freezing fingers. The ramp looked intimidating in the dark. The glare of taxi lights seeped through a background of snow, merging with concrete darkened by the night sky. On this first evening flight after earning my Private Pilot Certificate, I distinctly remember the first hint of apprehension as I looked across the ramp for my trusty yellow taxi markings hidden by streaks of ice and snow.
Looking back, I’m sure I blinded a line guy or two with my not-yet-minted lighting etiquette. Taxiing at night was much more daunting than usual, and I frequented slow scoots to make sure I didn’t accidentally pass important intersections or turns. During takeoff, I was on the edge of my seat watching as the whole city expanded and came alive.
Heading west, I recalled the few hours of night instruction I had received. The roads were best to follow instead of flying a straight line, and I had a keen eye watching my instruments and verifying any weather along my course. I was just beginning to feel like an experienced night aviator, when I looked off in the distance and saw a sea of red lights. “Whoa, what is that?” I wondered as the hair raised on the back of my neck. Just as soon as this crossed my mind, the entire sea again turned black. I frantically searched my navigation chart in order to figure out exactly where I was heading. Turns out, it was a stretch of land carpeted by windmills, all with synchronized blinking lights.
I was then able to sink into my seat with ease and reflect on the intensity of this first solo night flight. It was clear I had so much more to learn, especially when it came to night flying operations. With only a taste of night flying from private pilot training, it is up to the aviator to pursue more knowledge through instructors, courses, and night flying articles. I’d heard it said that night flying is an entirely different animal. Now before you depart for your night flight, I ask you to reflect: are you ready to tame this animal or is it best you seek out a little more guidance from those more experienced?