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Flying at Night
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Instructional Reminder; ...Night Flight; Night Vertigo; Night flight checklist; ...Flying at Night Is Not; FAA 'Examiner Update'; ...Physiology of night;...Night Sight Skills; ...Night X-country; ...Night Taxiing; ...FAR Night Flight Requirements; ...Night Takeoff; ...Night Landings; ...Night Instruction; ...Night Flying; ...Doing It at Night; ...Night Lights; ...Uncontrolled Airport; ...What to Do If; ...Night Illusions; Black Hole Approaches; VFR Night with IFR Help; No Light Landing at Night (Emergency); Night Departures; Night Flight1; Common Night Accident Factors; A 'blind' Clearance at OAK; Knowing Night from Day; Civil Twilight; ...Prepared for Night Emergency; ...Night Flight Requirements; ...Night Total Electrical Failure; ...Local Conditions2; ...Night Fright Solutions; ...
Working with student to get private pilot landing requirement completed. Noted that student kept using the landing light and having difficulty with his flare. Practice 'inherited' from his father.
Insisted that no light landing be made. Perfect touchdown without any
'searching' for runway during flare. Noted that use of landing light can
create illusions resulting in high flare.
The phoneme of night poses a risk for all pilots regardless of experience but the inexperienced pilot is especially at risk. 72% of our flying information comes through the eye and the eye is easily fooled at night. The darker the night, the absence of a horizon and lack of recency are danger signals. The inexperienced pilot has from 20 seconds to three minutes before losing control after the onset of spatial disorientation.
Once the eye lacks required information, the brain seeks information from the inner ear sensors and the proprioceptive system of our flesh and bones. When there is nothing for the eye to focus on it defaults to about four feet. We will not see at a distance unless the eye is made to look into the distance. It is possible for an aircraft to turn so slowly that the body senses will not recognize it.
Science now has an electronic jacket that will give the body sensory perceptions arising from our aircraft instruments. An enhanced ground proximity warning system (EGPWS) is coming that gives vocal warnings of what is happening and what to do about it.
Night flying has a higher accident rate than identically day flying. Airport weather reports are valid for five circular miles around an airport. Everything between airports will be different for better or worse. A PIREP is worth a dozen forecasts, especially at night. Since night clouds can be invisible, be prepared to go on instruments and make a 180. When your flight has made the 180 your only option your risk factor goes straight up.
Always have aircraft and flight kit prepared for unplanned night flight. Night causes usual visual flight aids to become nonexistent. Night visual and sensory illusions are unique to the conditions. Do not look directly toward the area where you expect to see best. Look slightly to one side or the other. This visual outlook applies to the landing flare as well as every other situation. The special skills of night flying can only be acquired and maintained by frequent night flights. Until the past couple of years I maintained a standard of 1/4 of my flying should be at night.
For night flying you must evaluate the relative risks of such a flight. I do not fly across the Sierras at night any more. I have several times made the flight and found the risks to be beyond my comfort level. A planned night flight is far less likely to make its planned departure time and arrival time. If schedule is going to be important, don't fly at night. Change either the flight or the schedule.
Failure to use oxygen above 5000' at night means that you accept the loss of 5% of your remaining night vision for every additional 1000 feet of altitude. An additional risk exists if the pilot fails to get an adequate weather briefing especially the one related to dew point - temperature spread. Reduce your night range so that you can refuel before dark and fly to an airport with 24-hour fueling. Two C-172s on a collusion course without anything other than navigation lights will fly over five miles in less than a minute, use your landing light.
Being lost at night is more critical than in the daytime just as will be an engine failure. Emergency landing situations at night can be improved to full-moon lighting conditions with the purchase of a night-vision monocular for about $200. Ten-times as many accidents occurring on dark nights as with moon light and nearly 30% of the fatalities and an additional 15% of the non-fatal accidents occurring at night where not quite 5% of the flying takes place the $200 spent for a night vision monocular seems to be a reasonable purchase for the pilot who chooses to fly at night.
19% of total fatale accidents occur at night because of power related forced landings. l4% occur during the day in similar power related fatal accidents. The disparity in these figures (they lie) is that only 4% of flying is at night. A high proportion of the fatal accidents were in twins while none were homebuilts or warbirds. Yes, a higher proportion of fatal accidents do occur at night. Evidence shows that in a well-maintained engine and aircraft the risk to life due to engine failure is slight.
Enter a steady standard rate turn and have student lean forward and look between his legs. After about 60-degrees of turn have student make one sudden one-way head movement. Have the student take control. Expect that incorrect inputs will give pilot weird feelings and reactions. Repeat exercise as before but emphasize that student should not turn head or look anywhere except at the instruments. By holding your head erect and scanning the instruments you can prevent vertigo
Night flight checklist
The FAA in its wisdom or lack of it depending on perspective has three different definitions of when it is night. FAR Part 91 says that night is from sunset to sunrise as far as the operation of position lights. Night, according to FAR Part 61 is from one hour after sunset until one hour before sunrise for purposes of night landing currency for carrying passengers. The official definition is in FAR 1.1.
Go or No-Go Decision
PATWAS (Pilot's automatic telephone weather answering service)
TIBS (Telephone information briefing service)
Saying, "No, we won't go." makes you a PIC. If you really know what you are doing you will know when to say "No!" The strongest voice in opposition to "No!" is time. Know your minimums and hold to them.
Flying at Night Is Not
Just like Flying in Daytime ...
The hazards of night flying are directly related to the physiological limitations of the human body not the aircraft. Humans do not perform well at night. Night flying will be different. Night flight is more stressful than day flying and very near to IFR flight without the required training. It should be. A moderate amount of stress will improve performance, keep the pilot awake and motivated. However, subtle events occur at night that would be easily detectable in daylight. The solo pilot at night is at greater risk than when flying with an attentive passenger. Night flight requires the pilot be very familiar with the area and have special knowledge that can be acquired only through experience. I very much suggest you get this experience along with a pilot who have already acquired the experience.
Night flight is so completely different from day that it requires careful introduction. Any pilot deficiencies become magnified at night. The night horizon is less visible and more indistinct. Night flight is semi-IFR with considerable reliance on the instruments. Clouds and terrain are from difficult to impossible to see. On monocles nights, the objects seen are those which are illuminated enough to stand out. There can be a gradual loss of visual clues when flying into darker terrain. This leads to disorientation and loss of control.
Night flight adds to the risk of single-engine flying. Emergency options are reduced. The new five-mile VFR minimums increase the impact of weather. Mandated preparation for the flight such as lights and flashlights make a difference. You will be much more able to cope if you maintain radio contact with ATC and have a readily available frequency list. I avoid night training flights that have less than 1/4 moon. Common mistake is flying when combination of pilot, conditions, aircraft, and preparation are not up to making the flight. AIM recommends supplemental oxygen at 5000' at night and at 10,000' daytime.
Flying a consistent profile is essential to safe night VFR. Be so aware that you do not descend below 1500' AGL until you are within engine out distance of the destination. Plan to make a standard 45 entry so that you will reach pattern altitude when turning downwind. If ATC gives you a straight in maintain pattern altitude until you are on two mile final. Fly a VASI or PAPI if available. If you know your ground speed, multiply it by five to get a 3-degree descent path.
In 1991 the night requirements for uncontrolled airspace were essentially raised to controlled airspace requirements. Not having the instruments easily visible/readable is bothersome. A 30-degree unobserved turn can cause complete disorientation. The absence of a horizon can cause loss of control. Both situational and geographic disorientation is more likely.
Our ability to make a truthful prediction of our next night flight is of extreme value. When night flying pilots flounder in hesitancy and indecision, we find that the successful outcome of any flight depends more on pilot confidence in his competence. Confidence is a byproduct of competence.
Every night flight or breath for that matter involves a risk on some level. What we do can be evaluated and delineated as to the mathematical risk factor it presents to us. Every night flight decision we make holds consequences. Not making decisions also holds consequences. The ideal would be that we be able to have the foresight to see living and night flying in terms of future consequences. We can't, so we do what we can to face the risks.
Fact is that we do have this predictive capability if we but know HOW to use it. The chances we take in life can be measured and controlled by the way we handle future events. Mathematicians and thinkers since 1654 have provided the probability theory needed to place a degree of certainty into our uncertainty, risk taking and decision making. A pilot must accept the presence of risk and the existence of fear. Both are present and accepted as part of the process. Being afraid makes you more careful. As time fades memory, we are apt to once again approach the risk fear situation but this time you will probably have more awareness and respect for the possible negative outcomes. Your fears are instance policies
Night flight risk analysis begins with finding causes that are influenced by indirect and subtle correlative events or conditions. The relationships are usually not clearly defined but more often summarized as being present. Whenever a kind of relationship does exist we have a correlation. If night accidents are caused by darkness, then primary correlative elements would be amount of natural and man created light. Additional correlative elements of area familiarity, experience, maintenance, equipment, weather and interior lighting come immediately to mind.
The FAA, NTSB, AOPA, and insurance companies have gathered and maintained the data base of night flying statistics compared to day flying statistics. The data, through statistical inference points to causality. Modern computers can crunch the numbers to find future probability. Without this gathering of data there would be no prediction of probability. Enough samples of night flying accidents with selected correlative elements gives us probability.
The ability to make a prediction of accident probability for a given night flight resulting in an accident results in a number. The number is a percentage that gives the probability of an accident occurring. With sufficient data transposed into percentages a person is able to compare, decide, and fly at night in given conditions with some assurance of a non-accident flight. It is a gamble on the odds of event probability. A pilots decision for making any flight, day or night, has to be based upon this theory of decision making because there is no certainty as to what will happen. This is a process that every pilot partakes from for every flight, night or otherwise.
We use risk analysis to evaluate the consequences of starting the engine, taking off, flight altitude, direction, and landing. To do otherwise is to be oblivious of probability as it can and does affect all our lives. Don't say that you don't gamble, take chances, and challenge probability. You do and it makes your life more worth living because certainty will destroy incentive, interest and curiosity.
40% of all night takeoff accidents have non-instrument pilots. Of all night accidents the darkness of the night was listed as a factor in 54%. 26% were judged to be caused by spatial disorientation. Most of the takeoff accidents occurred with in 3 miles and one minute of takeoff. More often than not the pilot was unaware of his unusual attitude. The darker the night the more important is instrument flight capability.
Hundreds of pilots before you have made the risk decision in favor of taking night flight. In the proper moonlight conditions you can see well enough to see clouds, water, some terrain and many lighted areas. A flight over familiar areas at night is a thing of beauty. Other aircraft can be detected far beyond daytime sighting distances. Night landings are acts of faith. You must believe that the lighting and surface delineate the airport and a safe place to touch the earth. Oddly, taxiing at night is a very difficult process. Many aircraft lights do not light your way. Flying at night is like the risks you take with a beautiful woman. You could wind up married (buried).
FAA 'Examiner Update'
Pilot operation 9 (FAR 61.107) Pilot must have SOME night instruction before being qualified to be eligible to take flight test. To be fully certified for night flight a student must have at least three hours of instruction at night with ten full-stop landings.
Night flight requires a more proficient instrument crosscheck than does day. In making maneuvers the horizon may be lost and spatial disorientation can occur. Night flight has more inherent dangers and potential problems. The obstacle you don't know about will kill you at night. More than ever, altitude at night is insurance. Your policy is an accurate altimeter set.
Physiology of Night
Read up on the physiology of night vision to better understand the operation of the eye. Over age 40, fatigue, and smoking affect visual acuity and adaptation to darkness. Do not look directly at an object at night because the optic nerve location may not let you see it. The decrease in oxygen above 4000' decreases visual efficiency. Air Force requires full oxygen from the surface at night. The light smoker is physiologically at 3000' before he gets into the plane. Above 8000' at night it is a good idea to have oxygen. Since we don't see as well as might be desired at night we must compensate using experience (brains) and technology.
The human eye performs poorly at night. Fatigue has greater influence on pilot skills at night. The retina is the first and fastest part of the body to react to reduction of blood oxygen. Cigarette smokers start out with an immediate night vision problem. Night vision can be improved by the use of oxygen. Night flying errors happen because of human lack of capability. Night vision is the key limiting factor. Without surface lights, it is hard to know your altitude above the ground, with surface lights it is difficult to locate the airport beacon.
Most night accidents occur on 'dark night' flights. Fatigue makes all of the safety factors involved to be more likely misjudged. Raise you personal safety parameters at night and raise them even more when fatigued. Skillful night flying is fragile, unused night flying skills must be polished regularly or they will be lost quickly. The eye is much like a video camera. A view is focused on the retina, converted electrically to data sent to the brain. Rods and cones make the visual to electrical conversion. Cones, near the focal center give colors, brightness and sharpness when light is good. Rods are the night-vision part of seeing. The peripheral region of the retina is rod territory. Rods make it so we can see at night but not in color. Complete night adaptation of the eye to darkness can take over 30 minutes and be destroyed in seconds.
The human eye is a dual system devoted to day vision or night vision. The duality has inherited abilities that vary with the individual. Some pilots just see better, day or night. Some eyes have retinal structure and nerve elements that are visually more efficient. Pigment and other factors such as pupil size allow eyes to respond to weak stimulus. Age affects the pupil's ability to change size. The wider the pupil the better the night vision. A pilot's ability to adjust to darkness deteriorates with age.
The rods and cones adapt to night conditions. The cones are centered in the eye but are slow to adapt and then only by a factor of x 100. Rods spread to the sides in the back of the eye. They are more sensitive at night by a factor of x 100,000. Rods take 30 minutes to recover from a bright light shock.
--There is an oval shaped region of the retina known as the blind spot. It cannot see light.
--Binocular vision compensates for this in daytime.
--At night we often are unable to see objects if we look directly at them.
-- To see at night we cannot look directly at what we want to see.
--Your central vision is inoperative at night..
--Looking off center at night uses peripheral vision.
--Peripheral vision is 100,000 times more sensitive than central vision at night.
--Your eyes can be adapted to night vision by wearing red glasses, patching one eye and using dimmed lighting.
--No matter how well you do this one flash of a strobe taxiing out destroys it all.
--It the lighted airports of today I prefer to work in a lighted cockpit.
--I like to see my strange charts clearly with all obstacle heights known and avoided.
--90% of our orientation is visual even in the cockpit.
--NASA has proven that there is less oxygen at night than during the day.
--The eye is quite susceptible to oxygen deficiency.
--Vision at night at 9000' gives the visual acuity that you would have at 15000' during the day.
Your visual adaptability to light/darkness is reduced 50% every eleven years of your life. Experience and frequency of night flight is the best compensation for this loss. Any bright light effectively reduces night vision. You might try protecting one eye from light until airborne. Try wearing sunglasses at dusk.
The use of colors other than red in the cockpit has become more common in the 1990's. Light-emitting diodes are more efficient than other systems and will be in all cockpits of the future. Blue lighting such as is common in military aircraft requires much more lighting than white lighting. Vitamin A is a vital element for night vision and adaptation. Vitamin A deficiency will make a significant difference in night vision. However excessive intake of Vitamin A will not give an apparent improvement.
Ample oxygen is necessary for adequate night vision more so than day vision. Above 4000 feet supplemental oxygen will improve night vision. There will be an initial decrease of 5% in night vision and the deficiency is accumulative over time. At 8000 feet the initial effect is about 15% and will become worse with time. The most dangerous aspect of this is that the pilot has no way of knowing that he is not seeing as well.
The wearing of sunglasses during the day is one way to improve your night vision. Neutral gray glasses seem best in their ability to absorb ultraviolet light. At night, red lenses will absorb blue light and aid dark adaptation. Limit your use of bright lights at night since even a momentary flash can destroy your night vision.
Should blur interfere with the things you see at night, it may be indicative of night myopia. Squinting will help some or the use of glasses. If the eye is unable to focus on anything at a distance at night it may be having space myopia. Keeping the eyes moving can help limit these effects that are made worse by staring.
Objects are harder to see at night just because they are less well defined around the edges. This makes things appear farther away than they actually are. The requirement for glasses at night is much greater than during daylight.
Night Sight Skills
The ability to judge distances and heights at night is difficult at night. The absence of haze or its presence can cause illusions at night. Lights will vary in intensity and cause illusion effects. A misidentified light source can cause total confusion. A single light gives no altitude information. Multiple lights may be in different geometric visual planes. Freeways become visible while country roads disappear. Aircraft and lighted towers become visible for miles. Airports have beacons. The most common illusion is a narrow runway that appears to be longer than it is. the narrow runway may make you think that you are too high. Have a set procedure; allow an extra wide downwind at night. Know the length of your destination runway. Required FAR knowledge on all flights! All illusions are made worse at night.
Preparation for night flight must be more intensive and comprehensive. Make your initial night flight preflight during the day. Check all the lights and carry a spare bulb. Visual checkpoints are much closer. Fuel reserves are doubled. Charts are marked with black felt tip pens. Frequencies are written large. Terrain altitudes are noted and crossing extra altitude added. Weather makes a big difference. At night you can't see weather unless there is a moon. We get very used to seeing weather change during the day. Weather changes much the same way at night but quicker. You must expect weather changes at night to occur suddenly simply because we cannot see the changes occurring as we can in daytime. VFR to IFR at night by non-IFR pilots is usually fatale. 100 to 200 hour pilots have most such accidents.
One flashlight is not enough. One big flashlight for preflight, a small one for reading sectional etc., and one backup. Night flying is safest when there are no clouds, a good dewpoint-spread and minimum winds. Don't fly at night into areas where you are not very familiar in daylight. Have the legally required landings and carry another more experienced pilot (instructor) for cheap insurance.
Make an an honest assessment of skill and limitations. Routes, frequencies, weather, moon phase, airport information, terrain heights, FAR's related to night flight, night flight checklist
1. Take a blindfold test of the cockpit
2. Older pilots need more light
3. Limit night flying to familiar aircraft.
4. An organized cockpit,
5. Charts in order and folded for use, no red lines but well marked
6. Closer checkpoints selected by time between and for night visibility
7. Obstructions marked, ground routes/terrain studied
8. Higher than normal altitude for terrain clearance
9. Plan a what if...non-electronic flight possibility
10. Airport, city-lights proximity route with VASI, PAPI runways
11. Minute VFR fuel reserve required
12. Reduce range 1/3 keep track of wind direction and speeds
13. No straight-in to strange airport, make high/steep approach
14. Phone day before to an unfamiliar field for suggestions
15. Extra careful preflight checking lights and spare fuse
16. Always plan to get fuel before FBO's close for the day
17. Weather notes on temperature/dew point spread
PRE-FLIGHT for Night Flight
Have current sectional and area charts, flashlights, pens, radio backup? Check all lighting.
1. Night reference to instruments takes longer than in day light.
2. Look outside more than inside
3. Set all lights at lowest intensity that can be seen without effort.
4. White lights increase mental alertness
5. Clean windows
6. Use landing light when near airports.
7. Limit landing light use on ground due to over-heating of bulbs.
8. Run-up creep is more likely to be undetected at night
9. Use caution in proportion to darkness
10. Lighting should be limited to preserve night vision
11. Practice taxiing using navigational lights
12. Tower can use light-gun to light center line of taxiway
13. Know where you are at all times and know the nearest landing spot.
14. If confused get assistance---CCCC
15. Moonlit waters and freeways make good checkpoints
16. Cloudy, moonless, windy nights are most difficult
17. CAVU weather with full moon is best
18. Recommend 1/4 moon as minimum unless IFR capable
19. Keep altitude 'insurance' in force at all times. Know your terrain.
20. Check heading indicator/compass at checkpoints
21. Be prepared to go on instruments and make 180 if you fly unexpectedly into a cloud. Major cause of night flying accidents.
22. Review causes of vertigo and disorientation
23. Try not to pass a checkpoint without being oriented to next one
24. Report your positions with extreme accuracy
25. Night flight requires your highest level of precision and skill.
26. Extreme levels of flying skill may be required all at once.
27. Reference the A/FD to get frequency and procedure for turning on airport lights.
28. Black hole takeoff and landing occurs in regions of few lights such as toward the ocean or a mountain. You must be .....instrument competent or lucky to fly these. Call me lucky.
29. VASI or PAPI runways help you to avoid night landing illusions.
Be IFR rated
Trust your instruments
Coordinate your turns
Hold your head still
Don't fly alone
Use electronic aids
Fly the airport pattern
Night and Age
Colors are not as clear and sharp
More light is required
Recognition takes longer
Pupil size is smaller
Focus range and speed decreases
Visual accommodation may take several seconds
Night taxiing is more difficult than any taxiing other than zero-zero conditions. Night conditions are also difficult for the controller. the controller may not know where your are any more than you do. Be as specific as your can as to your last known location, your compass heading (you may not have set your HI) and the color of the line over your nose. At night, don't do anything except taxi and keep track of your position. The more experienced you are the more willing you seem to be to admit a problem of ignorance and a need for help. When in doubt, stop.
Many aircraft have inadequate taxi lights and even lighted airports have unlighted areas. A tower signal light can be used to show the center taxi line. As age enters the picture, night vision fails. A year or so ago I taxied the nosewheel into the mud while showing a student how to taxi without lights. It was a good lesson, for the instructor. When taxiing use as much lighting as you can and get any available assistance from ATC. Being totally lost on your home airport is not uncommon.
I have had controllers use a light gun to show the taxiway centerlines when I had no taxi/landing light. I have been at Sacramento Executive so far from the tower in the dark and fog that Airport Security had to show me to tiedown and later escort me to the active runway. When you need help, get it.
Night ground operations are more difficult. You may be able to follow the taxiway with a nose light while a wing-tip light makes it difficult to see the yellow line. Be considerate of other pilots and don't use strobes while on the ground daytime and especially at night.
FAR Night Flight Requirements (instructor)
--Night currency requires three full stop landings within past 90 days.
--Landings must take place one hour after sunset to count towards currency.
--Navigational lights must go on at sunset.
--FAR 91.209 requires that position lights and anti-collision lights be used from sunset to sunrise. For logging purposes, night is the time between sunset and sunrise, for currency purposes night is from one-hour after sunset to one-hour before sunrise.
--SVFR at night is not allowed unless IFR current for both pilot and plane. 45-minute fuel reserve is required at night.
--Night visibility must be 3 miles except when remaining within 1/2 mile of airport while doing pattern work. Cloud clearances are 500, 1000, and 2000 feet.
--FAR Part 1 defines official "night" so pilots can log the conditions of flight, day or night required by FAR 61.51 (b)(3)(i). Twilight is the time of incomplete darkness after sunset or before sunrise. FAR 6157(d) defines pilot proficiency requirement that must be complied with before the pilot can be pilot in command of an aircraft carrying passengers at night. This is the time one hour after sunset and one hour before sunrise. This more restrictive "night" is designed to assure pilot proficiency. The less restrictive requirement can be used for meeting certificate requirements.
--Nothing in FAR Part 91 requires lights for takeoff or landing at night at either controlled or uncontrolled airports. However ATC cannot clear you to land at an unlighted runway. They can say that any landing is at your own risk. Most obstructions do not appear on ATC radar. Obstruction clearance and avoidance is a pilot responsibility and the eyeball is best supplemented by a sectional chart. ATC will not issue a clearance that does not provide standard terrain clearance. Pilot agreement to a given clearance is required only in non-tower operations. Terrain avoidance remains totally the pilot responsibility until minimum instrument altitude (MIA) is reached. ATC cannot issue a clearance requiring pilot concurrence unless the pilot says that he can maintain obstacle and terrain clearance. Pilot concurrence does not mean that the flight must be or will be flown in VFR conditions.
Taking off into dark terrain may give an illusion that causes the pilot to make a bank or shallow descent. Dark-terrain takeoffs should be made on instruments. Night takeoffs should rely heavily on instruments until altitude is sufficient to allow for any monetary disorientation that is likely to occur using visual reference.
If you are cautious during the day, be doubly cautious at night.
If your strobes sparkle it indicates rain.
Lack of lighting over final approach gives too high illusion.
Greater attention to instruments at night.
Select altitude and airspeed and keep it
Abrupt power reduction gives nose down illusion. (somatogravic)
Biological clock problem
If solo use ATC services
Experience and training
Don't activate lighting too early while taxiing out for takeoff or too early when arriving for landing.
Very dangerous to takeoff into total darkness like toward the ocean--you are IFR,
Check heading indicator to correspond to runway prior to takeoff.
Make no turns until at safe altitude.
Remember scattered lights on a mountain can be confused with stars if there is no horizon.
1. Use your landing light.
2. Avoid turns when cockpit workload is high.
3. Don't hesitate to ask tower to turn up lights
4. Pre-select an early go-around point and use it.
5. Use a slightly longer/steeper final than normal.
6. Know how to get lights at an uncontrolled field.
7. Flare level and don't try for full stall landing.
8. Maintain constant airspeed on final with power on.
9. Remember distances can be very deceiving at night.
10. Practice landings with and without landing lights.
11. Practice landings with and without landing lights.
12. Undershooting at night is greatest cause of accidents.
13. Avoid long shallow approaches. The steeper the better.
14. Down slope lights cause high approaches and long landings.
15. Up slope lights cause low approaches and landing short of runway.
16. If flight takes place at night with 25% of the accidents--either fly a lot or NOT.
17.If you are insecure flying at night, consider limiting bank angles to half of normal.
18. Straight in approaches are most dangerous unless VASI or glide slope available, make high steep approach.
19. If moisture reflects from landing light beam do not use for landing since it usually causes you to flare high.
You must know critical information (heights of terrain), that which can be seen Vs unseen at night, (freeways Vs country roads), situational awareness becomes vital, willingness and ability to communicate to ATC. and knowing the performance parameters of the aircraft cold (without interior lighting) is beyond the just "nice to know" requirements of daytime flight.
The descent to the airport should be planned well before the actual occurrence. Do what it takes to raise your level of mental alertness. The safe performance of night landings depends on your ability to control approach speed and altitude. If your daytime landing procedures are based upon a stabilized approach the transfer to night landings will be easier. The stabilized approach gives you a reference from which to evaluate night landing illusions. Your depth perception, visual cues, and runway perspective will change at night. The desire to remain high and fast can overcome your training. A high fast landing at night will be hard long and dangerous. Like day landings a good night landing begins with a good approach but it is not exactly the same. Avoid excess airspeed, use your instruments to confirm visual impressions, especially the altimeter and airspeed indicator. Set your configuration of power, flaps, and airspeed as though doing a soft field landing.
Once you become aware of the many illusions that often occur at night. You will see the advantage of flying a pre-selected approach pattern. Runway lighting gives you an impression of runway area. There is an illusion as to the runway length-to-width ratio. The vertical-position illusion occurs when there is no visible horizon. It makes lights and visible objects to appear higher than they actually are. The false-horizon illusion makes lights and stars appear to blend so that you cannot be certain as to where the horizon is. The foreground-occlusion illusion occurs when something ahead makes a light disappear. Climb immediately.
Keep power on during a night landing. The terrain cues needed for flight path correction are meager and undetectable at night. Look at the lights toward the far end of the runway. When these lights begin to flatten out you should enter your flare. Do not try to make a full stall landing. Your visual ability to determine altitude at night is seriously degraded. Make your flare using the runway lights at the far end of the runway. raise the nose until they are covered, but no more. Hold some power on as the plane gradually descends. You don't want to hit the nose wheel first but a relatively flat landing at night is acceptable.
You need to be an active night flyer if you expect to make consistently good night landings. I would recommend doing at least 1/4 of your flying at night to retain proficiency. With experience a pilot can become consciously aware of the visual cues that are available and use them to improve night landing accuracy.
Likely faults by those whose proficiencies are due to lack of practice will be:
1. Approach speed too fast due to poor airspeed control.
2. Unable to detect/correct wind drift
3. Hard touchdown due to over-reactions during flare.
4. Likely to be below pattern altitude
THIS INSTRUCTOR WILL NOT AUTHORIZE STUDENT NIGHT FLIGHTS
The introductory night flight should begin at sunset and end just after total darkness. The transition from day- time visual cues to a landing to those available at dusk and in darkness is a valuable lesson. Under crosswind conditions the lesson is even more important. Future night flights should include a well lighted urban area airport, a small airport adjacent to a city, and an isolated field that is difficult to find at night. The required FAA three hours is a minimum and not really enough for proficiency.
The normal tendency to get too close on downwind at a small runway is much worse at night. It is not unusual to have a pilot confuse street lights with runway lights. Be extra careful not to get confused by nearby airports. It is not all that unusual to have a pilot communicating with one airport while landing at another.
Destination airports are difficult to find at night. Once found, it is difficult to keep the airport in sight while planning your approach to a specific runway. Use your heading indicator and get all the help you can from radar, tower, passengers, and other planes. VFR radar advisories are provided only as ATC workload allows. See and be seen applies.
If a runway has a down slope do not level off horizontally. A three-degree approaches glide will cause a one-degree upslope runway to give the ILLUSION that your approach is much too steep. The same approach at a one-degree down slope runway will give the ILLUSION of too flat approach. Find out the slope of any runway you expect to use at night. Don't fly into a marginal field at night without first having been there in daylight.
Use the landing light on every other landing to maintain proficiency in case it should burn out. Use the landing light to signal other aircraft that you see them. With light shock occurring all the time in urban areas, my preference is to use cockpit lights all the time and rely on aircraft and airport lighting. In x-country flying I reduce cockpit lighting to a minimum and try to preserve my night vision in at least one eye.
My initial night lesson begins just about sunset and continues until just before night one hour later. During this time I teach students to learn the visual transitions that are required. The reference gradually change to airport lighting references. Left and right patterns are flown. Just before official night, we make a full stop and I then go up and make my required three full stop night landings for currency.
The next night flight, probably with intervening day dual
and solo flight, takes place at night where we fly to three neighboring
fields and do two full-stop taxiback landings at each one. Finally,
we make the required 100 mile flight at night. I have the student
fly using ded reckoning. By flying only with course and time
as the controlling factors, the student can learn to appreciate
the inherent difficulties.
I try to fly to the darkest hole airport I can find beyond the fifty-mile range. It is important that a student learn how difficult it can be to judge airport patterns at night. Coming in with a shallow approach is to be avoided. Runway slope presents visual illusions that make go-arounds likely. With pilot controlled lighting, GPS, and radar the finding of airports is not nearly as difficult as in former days.
I have found that a very practical night instructional program is possible. However, remember that FAA requirements are minimums. Prior to these minimums I gave at least ten hours of night instruction including a tour of foothill airports in the Sierras.
Runway illusions are magnified at night. Airplanes are easier to see at night but determining distance and orientation are difficult. It would be possible to give the three hours, 100 miles, and ten ‘stop and go’ landings with all but one of them at your home airport the other at an airport about an hour away. That is not the way I teach it.
---First, I give a landing lesson beginning shortly after sunset. As the amount of light changes we transition into landings that carry some power into the flare. Night affects your ability to make the landing decisions required. The natural inclination is to stay closer to the runway at night. The more nearly normal you can keep your pattern size, altitude and airspeed the better. It usually better to stay a bit high, make more steep approach and land longer.
---Second, I take my students into as many airports inside a fifty-mile circle as I can in the course of our pre-cross country training. I have three 50-mile airports in different directions, one of which will be our required minimum 100-mile night flight along with one night landing.
---Third, we plan a flight inside the fifty miles that will give a wide variety of landing situations and learning opportunities. As much as possible I avoid two landings at the same airport but in every case each landing is a full stop and taxi back..
---Fourth, On every flight we include flights that determine the minimum safe altitude that applies to every arrival and departure from our home field. On a no moon night flight we won’t have time to get this information off a chart.
---I want at least a ¼ -moon for the flight and preferably a full moon. Every other landing will be without a landing light. A taxi light is a must whereas a landing light is optional.
---Making the flight during a time of year where towers are open and closed and opportunities to use pilot controlled lighting and a refueling facility are sought. Night airport operation differences and pattern restrictions are an important knowledge area.
---Without a moon clouds become a major problem. Fog can completely change the sight picture of your local area. A pilot who goes aloft at night must be aware of the significance changing weather.
---My last point about night flight is that you should plan to do a lot of it or none. Anything in between increases the risk. Avoid a flight at night that you have not made in daylight. 4% of all the flying takes place at night accomplishing 25% of the accidents.
The factors that kill both good and poor pilots are both unpredictable and impartial. There are risks in everything
we do. Flying has several added dimensions to these risks. The worst flying risk is the needless risk. The needles risk is most likely to occur when you are 'hurried' to do something.
The other night, I was taking a student on a late night cross-country. We had the flight all planned out for each leg, the course, departure and arrival procedures for five different airports. I make a practice of having my students make a full clearing turn to final and base prior to departure. Just as we were taxiing into our clearing turn before contacting tower, ATC cleared us for an immediate takeoff.
Adding to the problem was that ATC was transmitting and receiving on two frequencies at once. We were on ground frequency and cleared for takeoff. We had not heard any of the arrival traffic communications. My student had not yet had a chance to request her right 270, give the route or direction of departure.
To make matters worse this was a second flight in an unfamiliar airplane. Instead of refusing the clearance, the student took the runway without being ready. The student was being hurried and made insecure by the unusual situation. As the student sorted things out for this first leg the student came to fully realize the problem was in allowing ATC to take over as PIC. It was an excellent "what not to do' lesson made all the better when the planning and procedures at the next four airports went as expected.
As PIC you must avoid any hurry to comply since they usually include a needless risk. The fact that we had made a complete cockpit briefing of what we were going to do and how it would be done, made the precipitous departure all the more transparent in its deficiencies. The differences between a prepared departure and an unprepared departure can be measures in time. Pilots must learn not to chase minutes by hurrying, because your limits of experience are being exceeded. If this should happen to you, speak up, slow down and join those pilots who stress being good over being lucky.
Doing It at Night
PTS night requirements are three hours, one total distance cross country of 100 nautical miles and ten landings. Before the FAA jumped in I nearly doubled these requirements. I included a night-mountain flight into the Sierras. One local FBO has eight of the night landings done at the home airport in one flight with the remaining two possible in a fifty mile round robin. Personally, until I became an instructor I made a point that 1/4 of all my flying took place at night. Training and proficiency at night will be what you make it.
On a recent night flight I pushed the envelope a bit far. We had planned a 100-mile review day VFR flight with a return to include the two remaining 'required' night landings. With a series of unexpected delays much of the day flight turned into night so our first night landing occurred at our destination and our second at home.
Weather was forecast to be clear but fog was coming in over the field when we departed so we could not climb to cruise altitude until our second checkpoint. All the VFR day checkpoints disappeared at the 50-mile mark and we were forced to use VOR radials and NDB bearings. Flight went well with only an initial off-course correction required early on.
Thirty miles out of CCR I could see that we had several options. We could continue and file IFR. I had my plates and had confirmed that the plane was IFR. I did not like this option mostly because several conditions. The suction gauge was zero until power was at cruise. The cockpit lighting left much to be desired. The localizer frequency CDI did not seem to respond, as it should. I was unfamiliar with the aircraft both at night and in actual conditions. I informed ATC and my student that I preferred to go it VFR.
One option was to fly over the stratus layer with tops at about 1500 and bases from 1000 to 1200 feet with wide areas of clear skies as I later discovered. This approach, had I known of the clear areas would have been the best choice. Instead, I instructed the student to ask ATC repeatedly for lower until finally ATC cleared us through Travis Class D with the only restriction to maintain VFR. I took the controls at this point. We were able to maintain VFR close to 1000' AGL and maintain visual with the CCR shoreline some 15 to 20 miles away.
On leaving Travis' airspace we were able to climb a bit higher and had wide areas of clear skies and very bright moonlight. With a frequency change on having CCR in sight we picked up the VASI some ten miles out and the student proceeded to land for night landing # 10. Although a part of the IFR procedure has an intermediate altitude of 1000', it is not, in my opinion an advisable procedure to fly this low VFR art night even if with full knowledge that there are no obstructions and we were tracking the VOR as though on approach. In hindsight the better option would have been to come in over the top.
Perhaps my memory of a night flight from Oakland to CCR (before Class B airspace) which required an altitude of 8000' to get over the top influenced my option selection. My spiraling descent over CCR so disoriented me that I had to ask the tower to tell me when to straighten out on the downwind. Optical illusions can threaten your orientation especially at night. I seem to prefer the visual certainty below the ceiling to the uncertainty above the deck. Had the tower been open my choice would have been different.
The rotating beacons all carry vital information:
--Civil land: alternating white and green
--Beacon operates daytime when field below VFR minimums.
--Military land: two quick white flashes and a green
--Heliports: rapid flashes of green, white, or yellow
--Lighted water: alternating white and yellow
--Pilot controlled on CTAF frequency:
--Low-intensity takes three clicks of mike switch
--Medium-intensity takes five clicks.
--High-intensity takes seven clicks.
VASI (visual approach slope indicator
Have two for G.A. aircraft or three bars for 747 types.
"Red over White, you're all right."
Three bar VASIs will have two red over white for G.A. aircraft.
PAPI has four lights in a row on left side of runway
On glide path gives two reds and two whites
High gives three or four white
Low gives three or four red
What to do if...
Night, good VFR, moon, no terrain problem, non-emergency
1. Maintain aircraft control, avoid descent, trim.
2. Self orientation
Maintain VFR and extra altitude
Check sectional for terrain altitude minimums
Orient sectional to flight direction
Use VORs to determine position
Select course-turn and fly
Intercept VOR radial and fly to destination
Fly to city lights over 3000'
3. ATC assistance
Contact FSS-request DF steer
Contact Approach- request assistance.
4. Second Pilot
If you have doubts as to your experience
Good way to extend experience and lower cost
Lowers cockpit load
# 2 SITUATION:
Night, clouds, poor visibility, lost, fuel low
For any one of the three...
Declare EMERGENCY 121.5/7700||
# 3 SITUATION:
First of all I would not recommend any aircraft with less than 180 h.p. in mountains. Never approach a ridge at 90 degrees. A 45 degree approach gives a quicker get-away. Try to have 2000' clearance if possible. You may need the extra altitude if you hit a 2000' per minute downdraft in 40 kt winds. It is important to get out of the downdraft quickly. Instinctive desire to climb at Vx or Vy is wrong. Slow down in an updraft full power and speed in a downdraft.
Try some night airwork without cockpit lights. It will make you listen more closely to the sounds of the aircraft. Runway and approach light illusions will always be a problem if you are in an unfamiliar area. For this reason it is always desirable to make a daylight familiarization flight to an airport before a first time night arrival. If there is no VASI or VAPI for vertical guidance if you get too low the runway lights will begin to disappear.
A steep approach is always better at night. If there is a strong crosswind and you are crabbing to the runway instead of slipping you will get the illusion of being inverted. If the airport is well lighted in a surrounding dark area you will have an illusion of being higher than you actually are. Again a steep approach has much advantage. Rain on the windshield will give the illusion of being higher than you are. An arrival at an airport with and approach lighting system (ALS) tends to be lower and at a shallower angle than otherwise. If you are low and pitch the nose up as a correction or through the use of flaps, the illusion will indicate that you are rising. Any reduction of power will cause you to land short.
At night, banking into or away from a line of lights will give the illusion that a dive or a climb is occurring. The same dive or climb illusion can happen by a change in aircraft pitch occurs while flying toward a light. Lights that appear dim, as seen through haze, will be reported as more distant than they are. Example: I once reported an airport as in sight from twelve miles when the tower had me on radar at only five miles.
Pilots unconsciously make extensive use of their peripheral vision. Level flight, banks, climbs, and descents all rely 80% on peripheral vision. (See downwind turns) At low levels our peripheral vision gives us a sense of speed. Over time we develop a peripheral sense as to what "normal" low-level speeds are. Add a tailwind, low altitude, a bank to final approach, and a peripheral sense of a "high" speed. We now have an illusion causing a pilot response that says to pull back on the yoke to reduce the speed. The pull merely makes the bank steeper and initiates a low-level stall spin. Recovery is not possible.
A final approach over high terrain leading to the runway gives an illusion of a low fast approach. An approach over terrain that makes the runway seem like an aircraft carrier will give an illusion of too high and too slow.
Night has its own illusions that are covered in the night flight lessons. The distance of lights is greatly affected by the relative clearness and haze existing. A region of no lights such as might exist off the end of a runway toward the ocean can cause disorientation because of IFR illusions. The best solution is to go on instruments until established inland at altitude.
Black Hole Approaches
The black hole illusion is that you are too high on the approach. The deceived pilot will descend into danger. The night focus of your eyes is in the far distance. Again, the illusion is that you are overshooting and you will again descend. Because of visual changes with age the older you are the more likely you are to be fooled by the black hole illusion. Glasses can be fitted to compensate for this difficulty.
1. Use charts
2. Use glide slope aids
3. Use published routes
4. Hang on to radar help
5. Never descend if uncertain
6. Know MSA for area
7. Have personal minimum altitude
8. Remain above VASI slope (91.129)
VFR Night with IFR Help
Since the VFR pilot at night is subject to illusions that can lead to controlled flight into terrain, the use of instrument approach facilities can provide you with help in terrain avoidance. Pilots tend to add speed when flying in insecure or uncertain situations. Most runway overruns occur at night as do most IFR approach accidents. Night and low visibility VFR approaches should be flown at appropriate airspeeds. Use whatever IFR guidance is available.
No Light Landings at Night (Emergency)
Landing in darkness techniques under emergency conditions. Select a long runway. Use Localizer or ILS approach if available. Find a long runway if available. Set power for slow descent with nose high, minimum flaps, At 100' hold nose high but do not flare. Fly into the ground. This method will work when flying into the sun and having difficulty seeing runway.
I have found in the 'hilly' S.F. Bay Area that flying my day flights are a good time to feel out the nighttime minimums. I will fly relatively close to the hilltops and ridges with the intent of setting my night minimums for the route.
My preferred night arrival at any unfamiliar airport is relatively steep with power on. Before the FAA came up with its three hours of night and 100 miles, I would take my students into the Sierra Foothills and do all the airports from Mariposa (Yosemite) to Grass Valley at night and that was before they improved the airports.
General recommendation is not to go into an airport at night that you haven't scoped out in the daytime.
--Preflight before dark when possible.
--Reference your charts, plates and AF/D before getting aboard.
--Mark your chart and obstacles so that it can be seen at night.
--Carry several different sized flashlights.
--Use a night passenger-briefing card.
--Locate all spare fuses and switches you might use at night.
--Allow extra taxiing clearances to other aircraft at night.
--Reset the timing clock for the runway lights.
--Use only airspeed indicator for rotation speed. Night gives a speed illusion.
--At rotation focus on attitude indicator for pitch attitude.
--Maintain runway heading or wind correction using heading indicator.
--One degree of correction for every knot of crosswind component.
--Every night flying pilot should have basic instrument flying skills.
--Tests show that a non-instrument capable pilot will have control for only 22 seconds.
--Night flight compounds all the hazards that exist at all other times.
--The dearth of visual cues is what makes night flying different and more dangerous.
--Only regular practice at night will deliver the required proficiency in flare and attitude selection for landing.
--An unfamiliar airport at night compounds the difficulty and hazards.
--Use of the AFD can warn of night landing hazards and obstacles.
--Remain current on instruments because the same skills are required on dark nights.
--A flight that ends after dark will probably include fatigue as a potential hazard.
--Poor cockpit lighting in small aircraft increases the hazards of night flight.
--Set personal minimums such as 1/4 moon, light winds and long familiar runways.
Common Night Accident Factors:
--VFR into IMC
--Descent below IFR minimums without airport in sight
--CFIT on approach, takeoff or during go-around
--CFIT into terrain or water
--Improperly set navaids
--Night greatly increases the hazard and likelihood of a weather related accident.
--66.7 of instrument approach accidents happen at night.
- -Only 2% of general aviation flying takes place at night.
- -11.5 of accidents occur at night
--19.4 of accidents occur in weather at night
--22.9 Occur on approach before reaching the runway.
--46.7 Occur on an instrument approach at night.
'Blind" Clearance at OAK
Oakland, CA has two towers and effectively two runway areas. The South tower is open 24 hours. The North tower closes at 10 p.m. local. The South Tower controls all operations on the north field even though they cannot see the takeoff and landing areas (first 1000') of 27R or L.
The ATIS has this information when the tower closes and pilots are also advised by the South Tower. You will be cleared for landings and departures by the South Tower but you must acknowledge that you are aware of their visibility restrictions. Your clearance will include the words such as, "at pilots discretion".
Knowing Night From Day
Wherever one is located on or near the Earth's surface, the Earth is perceived as essentially flat and, therefore, as a plane. The sky resembles one-half of a sphere or dome centered at the observer. If there are no visual obstructions, the apparent intersection of the sky with the Earth's (plane) surface is the horizon, which appears as a circle centered at the observer. For rise/set computations, the observer's eye is considered to be on the surface of the Earth, so that the horizon is geometrically exactly 90 degrees from the local vertical direction.
During the course of a day the Earth rotates once on its axis causing the phenomena of rising and setting. All celestial bodies, stars and planets included, seem to appear in the sky at the horizon to the East of any particular place, then to cross the sky and again disappear at the horizon to the West. The most noticeable of these events, and the most significant in regard to ordinary affairs, are the rising and setting of the Sun and Moon. Because the Sun and Moon appear as circular disks and not as points of light, a definition of rise or set must be very specific, for not all of either body is seen to rise or set at once.
Before sunrise and again after sunset there are intervals of time, twilight, during which there is natural light provided by the upper atmosphere, which does receive direct sunlight and reflects part of it toward the Earth's surface. Some outdoor activities may be conducted without artificial illumination during these intervals, and it is useful to have some means to set limits beyond which a certain activity should be assisted by artificial lighting. The major determinants of the amount of natural light during twilight are the state of the atmosphere generally and local weather conditions in particular. Atmospheric conditions are best determined at the actual time and place of events. Nevertheless, it is possible to establish useful, though necessarily approximate, limits applicable to large classes of activities by considering only the position of the Sun below the local horizon. Reasonable and convenient definitions have evolved.
Civil twilight is defined to begin in the morning, and to end in the evening when the center of the Sun is geometrically 6 degrees below the horizon. This is the limit at which twilight illumination is sufficient, under good weather conditions, for terrestrial objects to be clearly distinguished. At the beginning of morning civil twilight, or end of evening civil twilight, the horizon is clearly defined and the brightest stars are visible under good atmospheric conditions in the absence of moonlight or other illumination. In the morning before the beginning of civil twilight and in the evening after the end of civil twilight, artificial illumination is normally required to carry on ordinary outdoor activities. Complete darkness, however, ends sometime prior to the beginning of morning civil twilight and begins sometime after the end of evening civil twilight.
Prepared for Night Emergency
--Everything must be in reach
--Both fresh and extra batteries
--Hand-helds GPS and Nav Com, phone
--Know your systems
--Know your fuse and breaker positions
--Practice operation of cockpit while blindfolded
--Have chemical light sticks within reach.
Night Flight Requirements
You might be interested as to how I get my students all PP night requirements in one flight.
First I introduce night landings on a flight that ends before the one-hour
after sunset just teaching the hazards of the full stall landing at night.
Full stall landings at night can be disastrous.
The next flight begins before night and we fly to an airport that is over fifty miles from our departure point but late enough to make our arrival a legal night landing. We land and taxi back at every airport because taxiing is the most difficult part of night operations. On our take off we stay at the airport for a stop and go landing before departing for another airport. We have completed our 100 mile requirement when we get home.
We fly to a selection of four airports doing the same full-stop taxi-back
procedure with a stop and go and then we go home for number eleven. One more
than the requirements and much more experience that is available just making
nine landings at the same airport. The actual flying is less than two hours
but when combined with the taxiing it makes the three-hour night flight
requirements in the most economical .balance of distance, time and experience.
For your information we depart Concord CA to Modesto, (over 50nm); then to Tracy with pilot controlled lighting; then to Livermore, Oakland Class C airport, then to Napa and home to CCR.
There are noise abatement rules at CCR preventing a series of night
In the years before FAA requirement of only 3-hours night proficiency I always taught at least three hours of night landings in the Sierra foothills. Never had a student or one of my night trained pilots get into difficulty at night.
Night Total Electrical Failure
I do believe my 'real' total electrical failure situation deserves mention. Situation: Flew a 180 h.p. Yankee Trainer with a 14 gallon fuel tank into Nut Tree, Vacaville CA. just as it got dark. Needed a ride to CCR a distance of about 30 miles. While I tied down the Yankee the other pilot got his Grumman Tiger preflighted nearby.
We took off and at about 600' we had a total electrical failure. At that moment before I even had a chance to ask for his flashlight, the pilot told me that the batteries had died during the preflight.
So I learned how to fly without any instruments at all. It was a clear night so I had no difficulty returning to the airport with a good safe landing judging speed and power by air and engine sounds alone.
Surprise of the night was that on clearing the runway I crossed right in front of a taxiing twin heading out for takeoff. I have always wondered just what was said in that cockpit.
---Bring your own flashlights.
---Learn to 'index' your power settings by feel and sound.
---Learn to 'index' your airport patterns for some standards
---Get Lucky if you want to be an old pilot.
---I was able to hitchhike a ride to CCR by telling my story.
I wrote this little proggy to get the local conditions at my airport quickly. I thought some you might be interested in checking it out. It's a little rough but I thought if you guys are game, it would be nice to have some feedback. It's free. No commercial aspirations....
Night Fright Solution
Advice: Avoid fly into a strange airport at night. Try to go daytime and talk to the locals about area night flying. When you fly daytime it is a good idea to scope the minimum safe altitudes and obstacles so you can fly safely at night. My pilot was completely 'spooked' on the flight last night by the 2000' high TV towers and the military jets off Travis. All he had to be told was to turn away. Night taxiing is the most difficult part of night flight. Plan accordingly.
You will learn far more if you make full stop and facility visits at every airport. Try to find a pilot on the field to 'milk' for ideas and suggestions. Phoning ahead to a destination airport is cheap insurance and an easy way to avoid possible mistakes especially on the ground.
You may not be able to phone an AWOS or ASOS from a flight altitude but you can contact a FSS and ask them to phone for you and relay the information. Works!
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