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I did my first night flight in a helo tonight. I must say it was an eye opener. It's a lot different than in a plane.

 

Coming in to land was more difficult because of not having good references to the landing spot. Also, because of the light, setting down was more difficult. For some reason I found myself going backward.

 

Anyhow, what are some difficulties you experience during night flight and bad weather, and what do you do to compensate for lack of visual references? Also, do the lights on the rigs help or hinder landings and takeoffs?

 

Later

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Lack of visual reference can kill you, even with lots of experience. You have to stay on instruments until on short final, and that can be difficult in a small helicopter with few instruments and no copilot. You do not want to be flying offshore in the dark in an R22. Never, ever. The last guy who did it was in his 70s, had been flying for much of his life, and they found his body floating in the Gulf the next day. His company had lost a 206 about a year before, and it and the pilot were never found. Offshore at night is IMC, almost all the time. Sometimes it's darker than the inside of a black cat, and it's just like being inside a cloud - in fact you could be in a cloud and not be able to tell it.

 

The lights make it possible to land, because they give you some reference. It can still be tough, though, on a dimly lit platform. Some just have a light in each corner of the helipad, and on a very dark moonless night autokinesis can set in, making it appear to move around, giving a very uncomfortable visual illusion. Drilling rigs and some platforms have hundreds of vapor lights, and are very brightly lit, which can be too bright and blind you on approach. It's always tough. Always. The only way to do it safely is in a fully-IFR capable aircraft, with an IFR-current crew. Single-pilot offshore night will result in death sooner or later.

 

Night flight onshore is doable, but you still need lots of experience, because it's difficult even in an urban area, in the traffic pattern at an airport. Landing in a remote area without lights is very challenging, even for an experienced pilot.

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Coming in to land was more difficult because of not having good references to the landing spot. Also, because of the light, setting down was more difficult. For some reason I found myself going backward.

Night flying is pretty neat, isn't it? I noticed the same thing about setting down. If you think about it, as you settle towards the ground the illuminated spots from the landing lights move closer to the helicopter. This gives you the impression that you're drifting forward and you instinctively add a little aft cyclic. I found that once I got into a stabilised hover it was much easier to set down with the landing light off.

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I also had my first night flights this week (with some rain the first time to add to the stress level) and it was quite the experiance. It wasn't bad, just a total new perspective. My instructor had me land with and without the landing light, and I found it easier to land and lift off with the landing light off (using the hover pad and runway lights for illumination).

 

Several things I observed was that everything needed to be slowed down to give yourself additional time to do things. Shallower turns, wider traffic patterns, keeping your eyes outside for other air traffic because the strobes and A/C lights blended in with all the car, streets and misc city lights are a few things.

 

Landmarks at night were completely different at night during the day (this makes sense, but you have to see it to believe it sometimes). Things I thought would make great waypoints or fixes, didn't work at all for the night Cross Country. Areas that we flew over with no lights, roads or other signs of humanity, you had to rely on the chart, elevation planned and the GPS. Thank goodness for my instructor!

 

I have total respect for those that fly at night in pitch blackness at low altitudes and relying on instruments.

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I used to fly my OH-58D out over the water off of the North shore of Oahu on nights with a solid deck of clouds blocking out the moon and stars. Best instrument flying without being an IFR-certified helicopter I've ever had!

 

"Umm, where'd the water go?"

 

Interestingly, dark nights in deserts without a lot of built-up areas are very similar when the cloud cover comes in like that. Lights in the distance don't even help that much!

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  • 1 month later...
Night flying is awesome but I always feel so much safer wearing a good set of NVG's. Night flying over water even with NVG's makes my pucker factor go WAY up lol.

 

 

Night flying is my favorite. The landing light issue has come up several times I see. Some students when they land with the light on tend to look at it. It of course moves around a lot and seems to more when you look right at it. Force yourself to look out beyond the landing light on a reference point at least 75' out. I teach pick ups, set downs, take offs and app, with lights on and off as you never know when they may burn out. I took off one night with two landing lights and landed with none. Never know.

 

JD

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I did my first night flight in a helo tonight. I must say it was an eye opener. It's a lot different than in a plane.

 

Coming in to land was more difficult because of not having good references to the landing spot. Also, because of the light, setting down was more difficult. For some reason I found myself going backward.

 

Anyhow, what are some difficulties you experience during night flight and bad weather, and what do you do to compensate for lack of visual references? Also, do the lights on the rigs help or hinder landings and takeoffs?

 

Later

 

Landing at any time with a single-point visual reference is a challenge if not dangerous. A "Single point reference" can a brightly illuminated area that obscures the surroundings, and that's often the situation with a landing light.

Your peripheral vision is a major part of your depth perception at a surprisingly short range. We're taught that binocular vision and texture (?) allow us to accurately judge range, but those factors are only effective at less than something like 15 feet. Beyond that, we gauge distance by relative size, which affects altitude estimation, and by peripheral vision. The "deeper" we are into the field perceived by our peripheral vision, the lower we are. "Lower" also makes our visual cuing of relative movement more accurate. I noticed this, and used it, in the wayback times when I was doing Firefly in Viet Nam. Not a lot of towers to fly into, so I'd enter the target area low level/NOE with the lights out. When I was teaching night touchdown autos in a TH55, my landings were better with the landing light off, which also forced reliance on peripheral vision.

 

Night landings with the landing light illuminated are also complicated by the angle of the illuminated area- it's out in front, not underneath us, which makes movement over the ground difficult to perceive. The illuminated area's also a point, and it's brightness makes it easily a single reference. If switching the landing light off isn't an option, there's three things you can do to make a better landing:

Keep your scan going- move your head and eyes, look around. Fixation is a bad thing;

If a good scan doesn't help, look to the side of the illuminated area, the farther the better- 45 degrees is optimal in my experience. Your eyes will adapt to the darker field (relative) and you'll see more and have better references, vertical and horizontal. You maximize the utility of your peripheral vision, a BIG help;

You can also make a conscious decision to land with forward motion and I'm not talking about a running landing here. The general rule of slow and small movements is especially important at night. Thinking about "sliding it on" trends you forward, away from landing with any reverse movement. I think it's also easier to locate laterally doing this.

Edited by Wally
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  • 1 month later...

I personally like landing with the landing light on, but when I was in training I practiced with both on and off. When working on my commercial during part of my five hours night requirement, one thing I noticed was that I was hovering really close to the ground. For some reason the darkness gave me the illusion that I was higher than I actually was. I decided not to practice my sideward hovering or pirouettes that night. Anyway, watch for that. Fly safe.

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  • 2 weeks later...

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