Dennis Dura, Chief Pilot, Ohio Department of Transportation Night time can legally be logged when a flight occurs between the end of evening civil twilight and the beginning of morning civil twilight, as published in the American Air Almanac in accordance with FAR 1.
In accordance with FAR 61.57b, no person may act as pilot in command of an aircraft carrying passengers during the period beginning 1 hour after sunset and ending 1 hour before sunrise, unless within the preceding 90 days that person has made at least three takeoffs and three landings to a full stop during the period beginning 1 hour after sunset and ending 1 hour before sunrise. That person must be the sole manipulator of the controls and the landings and takeoffs performed in an aircraft of the same category, class and type.
Even though the aircraft does not know whether it is day or night, pilots usually experience an increased level of anxiety during night flying than day flying. One major reason for this is the fact that we are diurnal animals, not nocturnal animals. We normally sleep at night and our eye sight is best during the day.
We lose our cone vision (center vision) at night which is our night blind spot. We have to rely on our rod vision (peripheral vision) using scanning techniques and off-center viewing. Using our peripheral vision degrades our visual acuity (something less than 20/20) and depth perception.
If a VASI is not available for a night approach, the approach is usually executed on the steep side to avoid obstacles. Whether you are flying an airplane or helicopter, a shallow to normal approach into a black hole has resulted in landing short, causing a number of accidents. Keep in mind that a steep approach in an airplane may result in a greater landing distance because of landing further down the runway and/or landing with a little more speed than normal.
In a helicopter, be careful of settling with power and /or requiring more power to terminate the approach than normal. Landing lights burn out at times and it would be wise to practice a few no landing light approaches under controlled conditions. This would give you some experience in what to expect from a no landing light approach and landing from your aircraft.
Cockpit lighting should be at a level that does not require you to strain to see the instruments, but dim enough to help you retain your night vision. Be familiar enough with the cockpit switchology that you do not need to search around for a switch under reduced light conditions. Beside having a flashlight with extra batteries, it is always good insurance to invest in a couple of chemical light sticks as back up.
You are more susceptible to visual illusions at night and a good instrument scan with proper outside scanning will reduce the possibility of illusions or vertigo. Keep up your instrument proficiency. At night, it is easy to inadvertently go IMC or lose the horizon.
Night flight does not have to become night fright.
Dennis Dura, D.P.E.