Finally EASA NVFR!

For being able to obtain the EASA Instrument Rating an applicant have to meet some criteria. The full list can be found in Part-FCL 610. Summary is the following:

  • hold at least a PPL;
  • have 50 XC hours as a PIC (and for EASA cross-country time is not required to be more than 50 miles from the point of origin);
  • pass written exams at least for the Instrument Rating level; usually it’s better to pass all ATPL subjects – they are good for both instrument and commercial, and they are not that harder to study.

Night rating is technically not required if Instrument privileges will not be used at night, but my school policy includes it as a prerequisite. I completed my CB-IR curriculum more than a month ago, but I already mentioned that it is not so easy to get night rating in summer or early autumn.

Due to weather we started from a cross country flight, and today I completed the circuits part.

Today the weather was nice at the airport. Slight crosswind and rather calm air allowed to concentrate on proper flaring and basic orientation at night.

It is not so easy to find a grass runway at night. The lights are unidirectional: they are very well visible from the approach, but not from other directions. I remembered my first confusion some years ago when I struggled to find grass runways during the daytime: without experience it’s harder than one can think ๐Ÿ™‚

I felt pretty confident, my flying was predictable, and I was very comfortable with our diesel Cessna 172, so I soloed after about 1h flying with the instructor.

Even in the US we flew under supervision of a safety pilot. So today was my first night solo! And I got my EASA night rating. One more achievement ๐Ÿ™‚ Now ready for the Instrument checkride!

EASA Night Rating (NVFR): Navigation/Cross-Country Flight

Night rating in essential for having the Instrument Rating checkride according to my school curriculum. Usually students just obtain it in spring or autumn (because of early sunset) after their PPL, but I came for the EASA Competency-Based IR after getting a FAA CPL, and somehow started my instrument training before getting a night rating.

EASA night rating requires 5 hours of training at night without any checkride from the authorities. Single-Engine night flying is more dangerous and require better skills, so there are not so many instructors willing to do that. Additionally, in summer there are a lot of students, and instructors are flying all day, so they are tired to fly at night. Moreover, the sunset is very late, and the weather is not so perfect for night VFR – we have at most 2 flyable nights in a week.

As a result, the queue of students waiting for their Night VFR accumulated pretty quickly, and I’ve been waiting for my night training more than a month. And without NVFR rating I was not able to schedule an instrument checkride and start commercial training. Literally, I’ve spent more than a month for fly less than 5 hours!

I really started to consider going to Ostrava for some days to get it with another flight school (it’s about 400 km driving one-way and about 1.5x more expensive than in my school), but finally just a day before I supposed to go I got a call that my training can be done tonight.

Our Cessna at the ramp

The weather was great: clear sky, steady wind, almost no turbulence. It as a little cold though. The forecast for tomorrow and the day after tomorrow was not so good: light rain and clouds. We decided that today is better to fly cross-country, since we can’t tell when it would be possible again.

Usually our school students fly night cross-countries to Brno: the airport is controlled, there is always somewhere on the tower, the approach is rather simple, and the airport is certified for night flights. It is not so far as Ostrava, and far enough to meet the night cross country requirements.

It is essential in Czech Republic to file a flight plan for night VFR. And, of course, it’s necessary to have the convenient relevant VFR maps. In other words, it’s time to activate ForeFlight Europe subscription. Finally we have a good popular EFB (Electronic Flight Bag)for flying in Europe. We did have a SkyDemon before, it is good enough and it is a de-facto standard EFB for VFR flights in Czech Republic, but ForeFlight is still way better. I am happy that they finally added Europe.

Night flying is simply beautiful. It’s amazing! The air is calm, the traffic is rare, and the scenery is astonishing.

It’s safer to fly higher at night since the altitude buys some time in case of something unpredictable. We’ve chosen FL070 to fly there and FL080 on the way back. It’s about 2 km above the ground.

Brno tower – sorry for the photo quality

The Brno airport looked pretty much like Gainesville (rather small regional airport in Florida). It is one of the largest and busiest in Czech Republic though. The ATC was nervous somehow, and asked to fly below the TMA (Terminal Control Area – class D controlled airspace) even though there were no other traffic. I made some photos of smartwings’ boeing after landing ๐Ÿ™‚

Jet airplanes in Brno

On the way back we asked to overfly Prague, and got a clearance. It’s marvelous to fly over a big city in a small plane!

I remember that I did not see any significant difference between day and night landings in the US: with good landing lights and wide concrete/asphalt runway it looked very similar. And now I finally understood what’s the problem. The difference becomes obvious on a grass runway with not-so-powerful landing lights. Even for a concrete runway you clearly see the advantage of LED ๐Ÿ™‚

Grass runway landing at night initially looks like a “black hole landing” – like seaplane landing on a glassy water, when you cannot perceive height very well. Actually it is not so bad, and after 2-3 landings with an instructor you can do it rather well, but initially the difference with a day landing is huge.

Night flying is rather close to instrument flying. You cannot always see the horizon, you cannot always see the obstacles, and you must trust your instruments. I believe it can be very challenging after day VFR only, but after some instrument experience it is not so surprising. It is not actually my first night flight too – I had some training in the US for my commercial license.

Finally, my night cross country is done. I still need some circuits time, but the most weather-critical part is done. And night flying is really beautiful.

Night Flight

FAA CPL applicant should meet some requirements in aeronautical experience specified in 14 CFR ยง 61.129. For example, it requires a night cross-country flight and 10 night landings at the controlled airport. I have some days before returning to Moscow, so I decided to obtain some night experience.

Flying at night is really cool. Wind is often calm, and the airplane is very stable and predictable. I had a very similar feeling in Czech Republic at 5 am.

The landscape is very different too: a lot of lights, clearly identifiable highways and towns, airport lights. Landing at night does not differ a lot from a daytime one, but the approach seems more challenging.

I believe that after instrument experience it’s easier to fly at night since the procedures are the same: trust your instruments, don’t rely on your feelings.

Another very important thing at night is proper using of airplane lights, especially enabling and disabling landing lights at the appropriate time. Probably it is not a very big deal to forget about them at the daytime, but at night it’s critical.