Beyond the PPL: EASA Night Rating

To become night rated (at least in the EASA countries in Europe), one must follow theoretical knowledge instruction, and have at least 5 hours of flight time in the appropriate aircraft category at night, including at least 3 hours of dual instruction, including at least 1 hour of cross-country navigation with at least one dual cross-country flight of at least 50 km (27 NM) and 5 solo take-offs and 5 solo full-stop landings.

After sitting through five hours of theoretical briefing, I had an additional one-hour simulator session to go over some basic instrument flying principles in a controlled environment, including – for example – recovery from unusual attitudes in IFR conditions without external visual references, and some more advanced VOR flying. Nothing special if you remember what you did during your PPL training, especially when you have some flight simulator experience under your belt.

Since that went very well, we immediately proceeded with flying patterns at night at Charleroi over two consecutive evenings, which is the main topic of the first video. During the first flight, we covered the differences in ground procedures (especially checking that all lights are operational), the night landing, and some emergencies with stress on unusual runway and aircraft light configurations/availability. I will quickly go through these, but I have to apologise for the video quality, as recording at night is not easy, and the necessary longer exposure times do not play well with the airframe vibrations (by the time of the 2nd flight I decided to hang the camera from the canopy again, which proved to be a more stable platform).

Fast forward to the second flight, we started with one more circuit to cover the one remaining special situation: landing without instrument lights – this is the main reason why you must always have a flashlight (for each crew member) available in the cockpit. Then I went on to complete the solo requirements of the night rating. There was a significant crosswind, but it helped a lot that I had the track also displayed on the HSI thanks to the digital Garmin (GI 275) instruments which are available in the two new planes (OO-NCE and OO-NCF) that I have flown with during these flights.

The third night out of the NVFR training meant that it was time to leave the safe haven of Charleroi, and do our first navigation in the dark. The original plan was flying VOR to VOR across the TMA of Brussles, but we somehow missed a NOTAM which meant that this was not possible, so we had to improvise (OK, not really, as we discussed a Plan B in advance already) a flight to Liège instead, involving an undeniably cool low pass, following the longest straight-in approach (until the following flight) of my short flying carrier.

It was a very cold flight in freezing conditions, with an unusually high amount of time-sharing, meaning that while I was flying, my instructor was often on radio-duty. I wish the GoPro cameras were more sensitive in the dark, in real life this flight looked so much better than on video, with very good visibility all around us. Note: the light levels in these videos approximate quite well how things look and feel in real life, but they cannot show the dimmest details which are still perceivable with the naked eye. The airport at night is in general a dark place, but the general feeling of visibility – especially at altitude – is better in real life.

Between Christmas and New Year’s Eve the weather Gods surprised me with a perfectly clear evening, so it was time to fly the remaining 1.6 hours of the night rating. I prepared two complete navigations, so we could choose on the spot from these options according to the weather conditions. Plan A was slightly shorter, but it headed into France to LFAV and would have included some experience with Pilot Controlled Lights (PCL), which I even specially requested to be available for the night, while Plan B was a pretty straightforward VOR to VOR navigation in the TMA and CTA of Brussels, staying in controlled airspace for 100% of the flight (so still resulting in some new experience).

On the evening of the flight the weather forecast suggested a 30-40% chance of a low broken cloud layer to the Southwest, so we cancelled our PCL request (because flying to an airfield with a good chance of not being able to land is a bit silly) and filed the flight plan for the VOR bonanza around Brussels. I love flying with VOR stations anyway – if you have watched my previous videos, chances are that you know this already.

We started the engine just when the civil twilight ended (this is when the aviation night starts), so we could still enjoy some post-sunset colours over the Western horizon during and shortly after departure, with the crescent Moon taking center stage on the celestial canvas. The flight itself was pretty straightforward and uneventful (which is not a bad thing in aviation), this time I did all the talking too unlike during the first night navigation, so now I am not afraid of the TMA controllers either anymore :D On the other hand we (or rather I) have somehow completely missed turning on the position lights – I only noticed it after editing the video that they were off during the whole flight… At least the strobe lights were on. This happens when you record and re-watch your flights, you notice all the mistakes… Annoying, but educational.

On the way back to Charleroi we were given the option of flying a 10 mile long final, so we simulated a proper ILS approach too, which is unlikely to ever happen again in a small plane with a VFR flight plan at EBCI. We were lucky with the traffic, and it is always good if the controller knows you from YouTube ;) Thanks again for the experience!

So now I am night rated (or will be as soon as my paperwork gets processed), and I can fly as long as the conditions are VFR, no matter the time of the day. Cool! Staying with the subject of ratings, probably the relatively new BIR – Basic Instrument Rating – will be the next proper one for me, but definitely not in 2023. And for qualifications, the Diamond DA 40 will happen this year for sure. Likely in the first half of it. Maybe even the first quarter. We will see ;)

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