Wednesday, September 04, 2013

Finding Things in the Dark

I'm on another VFR night flight, but there's no fog this time and lots of bright lights around for most of the flight. I'm on the destination arrival frequency for a while before I descend to land. I hear there's a last minute rush of traffic at twenty to midnight, and then peace on the frequency. There's probably a curfew for jets here. I know I'm allowed to land here twenty-four hours a day.

Eventually approach transfers me to tower. The final approach here will be over darkness, no houses or roads, so I'm briefing myself on precautions against black hole effect, but that doesn't turn out to be my problem. While I'm on right downwind, tower asks me to keep my base in close. That means I won't have as long a final to get set up, but I can descend more rapidly than usual to meet ATC needs, so I turn base at a distance out that is safe for me and still keeping it in close. As I drop the right wing into the turn to base leg I lose sight of the runway lights. There's cloud between me and the runway. I try to get my bearings by looking further around, spotting clues beyond the perimeter of the airport to help me align, but I really need to see this runway in order to descend for it, and to turn final in the right place. I can see the constellation Orion above me out the left, as clearly as if it were outlined with little arrows in a planetarium, but the constellation defined by two parallel lines of lights about a mile away eludes me.

I confess to tower about not having the runway in sight anymore and am given vectors, plus clearance to land long. The vector brings me out where I can see the runway lights and I plummet onto the welcoming strip of three parallel bright lines. My approach briefing to myself didn't include the fact that this runway has centreline lighting, not that I would have found it any more easily had I been looking for three parallel lines instead of two. Someone is cleared into position behind me as I roll out, my nosewheel juddering slightly as it rolls over the inset centreline lights. They're ever so slightly off centre, but so am I. I think the other crew silent apologies for their delay, and they probably laugh at the ditzy aviatrix who can't find a runway on a fine night. I probably snuck behind the only cloud in the sky.


Colin said...

I felt better after reading your post, since I lost the runway at night this month. I wrote about it here.

You lost yours behind a cloud and in the dark and I lost mine in a huge field of similar lights, but it does make me feel a little bit better that it happens to professional, high time pilots.

Cedarglen said...

Good One. Thanks.

Unknown said...
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Frank Van Haste said...

Dear Trix:

Stop me if you know this one. You have a GNS-530, right? Set up "direct" to destination, hit the OBS button and spin the HSI to the runway heading. The 530 will display a nice magenta line approximating the extended runway centerline to give you nice situational awareness for your base-to-final turn.



Aviatrix said...

Obly works if runway runs through centre of airport, or you have waypoint on runway. Othewise could parallel runway aligned with tower, taxiway or parking lot.

Anonymous said...

Ywg? I noticed the centreline lights there were off centre the other night. I thought it was weird.