Monday, September 29, 2014

Back up to Michigan - at night!

Plane: Cessna 172 
Route: 40I-OZW
Weather - 40I: Clear, 80 degrees, wind 290 degrees at 5 knots
Weather - OZW: Clear, 67 degrees, wind calm

It's getting to the point that 40I-OZW is a route I can traverse without a map. We had to head back up to Howell again to tend to my dad. Gina and I both worked all day so we planned a (partial) night flight. Good thing I've managed to maintain my currency most of this year!

There are reason one does the preflight inspection. Today I realized the landing light wasn't working. While not absolutely required, it seemed prudent to have one at my disposal for my first night landing at OZW. So our departure was delayed by a few minutes while Emerson grabbed a new bulb from the hangar and kindly installed it in the port wing.

Night flights don't produce much to see until short final... but the sunset sure was spectacular!

We were in the air by 6:30 and I quickly turned on course. The skies were CAVU near home, though a cold front was slowly moving southeast across Michigan. I knew from the forecasts that we'd make it up there with no issues. But I wasn't 100% sure if any clouds would necessitate an early descent from our 5,500 foot cruise altitude.

You could easily see 50 miles - away from the sun, at least

The evening haze was more apparent looking west at downtown Dayton

It was certainly a beautiful evening to fly. Night flying is wonderful - not just due to the sparkling view of towns and cities below, nor the ease of spotting traffic, but especially because of the smooth air. Trimmed out, I was able to fly mostly hands-off and enjoy the view of sun dipping below the horizon as we cruised northward.

That view and she's on her Nexus?! The pilot in me shakes his head... :)

By the time we crossed the Michigan-Ohio border, it was quite dark outside. I saw some clouds to the northwest accented against the last gasps of daylight; they were still safely above our altitude. Before long, however, it was time to begin our scheduled descent. I slowly let down to 2,000 feet at around 300 fpm.

I spotted Livingston County's rotating beacon 20-25 miles out and notified Detroit Approach. They cut me loose with a friendly "squawk VFR"  about 10 miles later. The pattern was empty and - at least at a somewhat unfamiliar airport - I prefer a slightly longer final at night, so I flew towards the final approach fix on the approach plate for Runway 31. That put me on a roughly two mile left base. I turned final, maintained the glideslope with the PAPI, and touched down really, really softly with nary a squeak precisely two hours after takeoff.

Taxiing into a tiedown spot onto the ramp at OZW

Since my sister was still on her way to pick us up and - admittedly, my primary reason - I try and take advantage of any opportunity to extend my night currency, we made three more circuits around the pattern. None of those landings were quite as good as the first one (quit while you're ahead and whatnot...) but all went well and, within minutes, I was  legal to carry passengers at night for another 90 days. Heavy rain moved in a few hours later as promised, but by then we were comfortably relaxing indoors. 

Flight Track: Google Earth KMZ File 
Today's Flight: 2.6 hours
Total Time: 319.4 hours


  1. So that's what night flying looks like...... :)

    I get the familiar route, who needs a map. A good video as always and it's nice to see Gina right seat. At least she stays awake to see the sunset, Mary would be asleep on climb out.

    Hope all is well with your Dad

    1. Yeah, I've managed to get in more this year than ever before! Excluding 2008 when I was doing all my training, at least.

      She didn't fall asleep the entire flight so you've got a point there... :)

      He's been improving; hopefully the trips will be a bit less frequent from this point forward.

  2. Ooof...nothing like a departure directly into the sun, eh? On our last flight to Michigan, we were pointed directly at the sun for the entire 2.5 hour flight. The sun FINALLY went below the horizon just as we arrived at PTK. It always amazes me how rapidly the sun appears to go below the horizon once it reaches the end. I know it's just the relative motion against the curve of the Earth, but my perception is that it actually speeds-up to close out the day.

    Good luck with your Dad.

    1. Yeah, I was quite glad to turn right ASAP post-takeoff! At least the wing blocked the sun for a while as we flew north until it was rather close to the horizon. I agree that it seems to accelerate; though it's hard to see in the video, it was gorgeous to see the red orb filter through the clouds before it totally dropped below the horizon.