• Night Visual Flights NVFR

    Tips to make the most of them

Whereas during the PPL (A) course, a pilot learns to fly and navigate during the day, in order to gain a commercial pilot’s license CPL (A), they will have to train to fly at night and undergo NVFR’s flying or Night Visual Flights.

In this post we explain everything about NVFR/Night Visual Flight. If you have lost track and don’t know the period of training we are talking about, please go to our ‘How to become an airplane pilot’ post, where we describe all the different stages on the way to acquiring your wings.

And now, here is a video from Samuel Perez, one of our student pilots who explains the basics of NVF. Don’t miss it!

What are Noise Abatement Procedures NAP?

Flying at night can seem similar to flying during the day, but this is quite far from the truth.

NVF is totally different for pilots since, at night, all sight landmarks used in the daytime are lost making it impossible to distinguish mountains and other geographical elements that help with orientation. Additionally, speed and height estimation become extremely difficult.

Do not fret though! There is a whole aiding system to NVF which we will now explain.

Lights and airport signs

In the daytime, at the airport, the taxiways, runways and signposting can be seen and distinguished without difficulty but at night, things are different.

Each of the lights at the airport has a function so it’s really important for pilots to know them all for night flights.

  • 🟢  The central taxiway light is green.
  • 🔵. The lights on the sides, which have to be at a certain distance, are blue.
  • ⚪️  The lights delimiting the runway are white, fixed and of varying intensity.
  • 🟢  Those that mark the threshold of the runway are green.
  • 🔴  The lights indicating the end of the runway are red.

Also, the lights that light up the runway for night flights are directional, i.e., are only visible from the aircraft when it’s aligned to the runway.

H24 Airports: Night flights 365 days a year

When it comes to flying a visual night flight, it’s fundamental to do so from an airport with H24 operation. These are open 24h a day, 365 days a year.

Therefore, NVF will always have a service available, should anything go wrong unexpectedly.

In our case, at One Air we fly from Malaga International Airport, which is where we do the NVFR rating course; one of the few airports in Spain with 24H operations.

PCL System: Pilot Controlled Lighting

As well as all of the colour coding of airport lighting, there is a system by which pilots can control the intensity of the lights on the landing strip. Yes, that’s right, you’ve read correctly.

Through the use of PTT (Push to Talk) on the radio of the plane, and according to the number of times you press it, the intensity of the lights will go up or down.

This system is termed PCL or Pilot Controlled Lighting, but it’s also known as ARCAL (Aircraft Radio Control of Airport Lighting) o PAL (Pilot Activated Lighting).

The PCL system is especially useful at airports with little night traffic, where lights would otherwise be unnecessarily used for long periods of times.

Optical illusions at NVFR flights

And what to do to prevent them

During night flights, it’s very likely for pilots to experience optical illusions that will confuse their senses. Following, we list the most frequent ones and ways of preventing them:

  • Black Hole:

    It’s frequent when approaching a runway in which the previous terrain is not lit. The feeling is that you are way too high up when it’s really a low approach.

  • Autokinesis:

    It’s the feeling a still lit object starts to move after observing it for a few seconds. It happens especially with stars and boats.

  • False horizon:

    Confusion arises from the nose of the plane and the real horizon, creating a false turning feeling.Flicker Vertigo:Strobe lights cause this. Its effect is especially noticeable when entering a cloud.

  • Translation:

    It’s the consequence of perceiving movement with respect to another aircraft flying in proximity, or even to terrain. It commonly occurs when flying over water or crop fields. The feeling is the illusion of movement when staring at a fixed spot.

How to prevent optical illusions on NVFR

For student pilots, night flights are one of the nicest parts of their training because it’s such a different way to operate and it creates really special feelings to fly at nightime.

In order for you to enjoy this type of flight and do so safely, we recommend the following:

  • Carry out a good briefing, both before and after the flight.
  • Use peripheral vision, don’t focus on a fixed point.
  • To mitigate optical illusions, do as flight instrument tell you and check what you’re shown against what you see.
  • If flying with another pilot and they suffer from illusions, warn them and tell them to check instrumentation.
  • If the weather is unstable, it is best to avoid the visual flight and go for the instrumental flight. Of course, ensure the aircraft you are flying has the required instrumental capacity.
  • If you feel disoriented, seek help from the ATC.

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