Tuesday, October 21, 2008

A Lovely Evening for Flight!

During my first 10 hours of student flight training, I mostly flew at night. My very first flight was during sunset, and at dusk, my first landing ever. It almost spoiled me, as the air is much smoother and cooler. It's like sailing on perfectly calm seas! When I switched to days, I was in shock! During the day, the sun warms the earth, and a natural convection begins, and translates to a bumbier ride & less performance. Add in all the other aspects of weather, and well, it's just not the same. You can even tell the difference when flying under an overcast, versus a clear day. Then don't forget the visibility at night is usually great, and the glimmering view of the city, beautiful.

After my first instructor left to go back to the majors, I was stuck flying days. I didn't see night again until the required night cross-country trip. Students weren't allowed to fly solo at night, without special permision at least, and it left me yearning.

So it should come at no suprise, after obtaining my PPL, that I quickly scheduled a night flight. Plus, I needed to get my night currency again (3 T/O & Full Stop Landings within 90 days). I was a little leary though...would I be off on the flare? ...too early, too late? I would just have to see. At least I DID know, that it would be far easier for me to spot area aircraft!

I arrived around 7:15 to grab the lock-boxed key, and begin pre-flighting the aircraft. To be official, the T/O & Landings have to be an hour after sunset, which was 6:25PM today. The air was a cool 55°F, very close to standard temperature...which translates to ideal performance. I was real giddy as I checked her from nose to tail. I couldn't wait to get up there!

So far so good, and I hopped inside. It was something special to be my first solo flight at night! She quickly roared to life even being cold, and I lit her up. To me, these flying machines are cool to begin with, but a lit up cockpit, even more so! The winds were calm, so I headed to RWY 20 at PGV. I made sure to keep my strobe off, until ready to take off. Don't want to go around blinding anyone! She felt a bit ruff during run-up, and I figured she was a little cold still. Leaning her out a little helped. Flaps in the take-off position, Transpoder to VFR, and we're ready to go!

"Pitt-Greenville Traffic, Diamond 2-2-3-delta-charlie departing runway 20, Pitt-Greenville." She roars down the runway! Could she be as excited as I? I had almost forgotten how quickly airspeed comes up during a cool night! I looked down and she was already at rotate speed! Up - up- and away we go! Oh wow was the air smooth! Yes yes, this is what I've been missing! I reach pattern altitude so quickly, that I actually overshoot 100'. Slowing her down in the downwind, I setup for my landing transition. Turning base was strange, as it was nothing but a black area...no landmarks to go by this time. I just fly the turn points by the altimeter (800' base, 500' final) and I'm right on the glideslope. WOOT! I begin chasing the rabbit, and correcting for a slight crosswind. The lights off the wings reflect off the runway...a bit later I flare, apparently a bit late (dang it), but smoothly transition the nose higher and land medium but firmly. Lord knows I hate to bounce, which I rarely do nowadays.

I come to a full stop, but another aircraft is shooting an approach into PGV onto RWY 02. If you've been following thus far, you know he's coming toward my departure vector. This sometimes happens during calm winds...each pilot determines which direction they'd prefer to land in. Usually, they alter to existing pattern traffic (ME), but they were flying IFR and doing approaches. They were about 3 miles out, while I could see them, I still had time to get out of their way. I radio back to them, letting them know I'll make an early crosswind turn, and head out of the pattern area. They kindly thanked me, and I'm suddenly off to Washington/Warren Field (OCW).

Now I've flown over there quite a few times, but never at night. As I climb to 2500', I verify they do have pilot controlled lighting. I setup the second comm to their radio frequency, and begin listening in. It's only about 15-17 miles away, a short flight. I take in the beautiful night scenery. I always loved looking out the window of a commercial flight, and pearing at the glittering lights below. Even cooler, that I get to decide where and how high, to go.

Green-White-Green, the OCW beacon appears dead ahead. No one has been on the airwaves, so I can pick which runway... 17? 23? 29? I decide to go with 17. As I begin to turn into a left downwind, I see both 17 & 23 have lighting, and I get a little confused. I quickly realized after calling out pattern position in reference to 17, I was actually in a pattern for 23. I announce the correction, and turn final towards the runway. OCW has trees on the side so I choose a point past the green line (touch down marker). I don't want to flare late this time, and I end up in a better position to smoothly land. I end up being a bit left of the centerline (dang), but a smooth landing non-the-less.

If there was a pattern tonight, it'd be taking off in the direction of inbound traffic. When I'm back taxing on 23, another pilot announces he's coming into the area. He's going to land straight in, which I wish people wouldn't do. I easily see him 3 miles out, and we agree I can get off the ground before he's in the area. I'm about 1300' up when I see him pass underneath me a good 400' below. Did I mention I love being able to spot people easier at night? It was EXTREMELY helpful tonight. He asks if there's an instructor on board. First thought in my head, ok, what did I do wrong? I radio back I'm by myself. He radios back that he recognized the plane number, and thought (my CFI's name) was on board. Ah, releaved that I hadn't made some huge goof, told him no, but he was my instructor, and I just passed my checkride last week. He congratulated me, and told me to tell him he (also named Brian) said hello.

Back to PGV, I didn't have the spare time (ok ok, I mean money), to toodle around the Greenville area. I overflew the ECU stadium, completley dark, but you could still recognize the front of it. No one in the area this time, as I setup for the downwind leg for 20. I had my smoothest landing yet, and taxied back to the FBO.

I park her in the first spot, lined up perfectly (my isn't it the small things that make us happy). I've completed my necessary landings, and sadly shut her down. All good things must end, so that others can begin. As I tie her down, and close her up, a CRJ comes in for a landing. I couldn't help but feel good to know I'm up in the sky with them, except this time....I'm in command. Makes me feel tingly all over.

(Photo courtesy of "EastCoastAirShooter", and is of another DA20 at night at PGV)

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