My first night trip

Its a trip not a flight because I didn't do any of the flying. I was at the Aero Club to go over the Navigation syllabus with Greg before I re-take the exam when Jonathan, one of the Clubs commercial students asked me if I wanted to fly over to Tauranga and back with him and Greg. Tauranga is roughly 38nm NE from Hamilton. Jonathan just needed this dual night flight to make up the minimum he needs to exercise commercial privileges at night.

The day has been like most days this month. New Zealand has been blessed with a large anticyclone sitting proudly over the country which doesn't seem to be going anywhere soon. As a result the atmosphere is rather hazy due to the lack of winds to carry airborne particles away. The met forecast was for winds 040@6kts at 2000 feet so I expected a smooth ride. I was also going up for the first time in one of the clubs Piper Archers (not the one pictured but its sister ship ZK-UFS). It certainly handles differently from a Cessna, and the controls are in completely different places from what I am used to. For instance, there is no electronic flap switch, instead there is this big lever (I think they call it a johnson bar) that looks like a cars handbrake lever. You raise it to lower the flaps and vice versa. I found the room in the back of the plane fairly comfortable except my head kept banging on the ceiling which got quite annoying. I wouldn't want to be sitting back there in moderate to severe turbulence!

At 0618 UTC we got underway (thats ECT for NZ on Aug 31) and started our climb to altitude. We eventually climbed above the haze by about 4000 and we reached our cruise altitude of 5500 and levelled off. Greg and Jonathan played with the VOR and DME while I had a look at the surrounding countryside, which looked shrouded in mist but wasn't. It what seemed like no time we were starting our descent and were cleared for a descent right through the Tauranga CTA into the airport CTR. Jonathan had miscalculated his descent profile and we ended up 1000 feet higher than we should have been turning to final. We were cleared for a low approach and overshoot (saving Jonathan the landing fee) and were recleared back to 4500 for the return to Hamilton.

With about 20nm showing on the Hamilton DME Greg decided to spice the trip up by simulating a lighting failure and dimmed all the instrument panel lights. Jonathan had to break out his torch for the rest of the trip. Things had gotten rather busy in the Hamilton CTR while we had been away. CTC had 5 planes in the active circuit and a light passenger twin had reported in at 25nm DME. The poor ATC guy in the tower had 3 planes doing orbits as he tried to sequence everyone in. Some how Jonathan managed to grow an extra arm and held the torch while he completed the landing checks and got us onto final after the twin had landed. We were on short final when I noticed that Greg had decided that our battery had died and turned off the landing light. Sitting in the back I could not see clearly ahead but it must have been quite stressful for Jonathan who was effectively landing the plane on an inky black nothing. Funnily enough once the nose wheel hit the ground the landing light came back on. :)

I didn't actually fly but I got a taste of night flying and learnt a great deal from the experience. I highly recommend a night flight in a light aircraft because it really is a magical experience. It is completely unlike flying during the day, I think its because of the lack of visual cues means you get a sort of spacial disassociation. You can't tell if you are 10 feet or 10000 feet above the ground. Some people might find the sensation frightening but I didn't.