Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Think we were kidding about Night Flying?

Lest there be any nagging doubts or denial about the different risks of night flying without proper qualification or competency, consider this little squib from Aero-News.Net on the NTSB preliminary on last month's non-fatal crash of a Thorpedo LSA near Denton, Texas:

NTSB Issues Prelim On North TX Thorpedo Accident

Mon, 05 Nov '07

Sport Pilot Tried To Land At Wrong Airport... At Night

The National Transportation Safety Board recently released its Preliminary Report into the October 4 downing of a T-211 Thorpedo near Denton, TX.

According to the report, the aircraft crashed while on approach to land at Denton Municipal Airport (DTO) just before 2000 CDT, approximately 20 minutes past the end of civil twilight. The pilot, who was flying under a sport-pilot license -- and, thus, not trained or cleared for nighttime flying -- told the agency he became disoriented on a flight back from Granbury Municipal Airport (GDJ), located southwest of the Dallas/Fort Worth metroplex, to Grand Prairie Municipal (GPM).

The pilot and his passenger departed GPM at 1751 CDT. After landing at Granbury, the aircraft departed under VFR conditions at 1905 intending to return to GPM. The pilot -- who admitted he had never flown at night -- told the agency he began to "follow the highway" back to GPM.

The pilot told the NTSB he saw a lake that resembled a body of water near Grand Prairie, with an airport nearby. He entered the traffic pattern at the airport, believing it to be GPM, and attempted to activate the pilot-activated runway lights on the GPM frequency. When the lights did not come on, he said, he realized he was at the wrong airport.

Knowing he had to set down due to darkness, the pilot attempted to land at Denton, located on the northwest end of the DFW metroplex -- 31 nautical miles from Grand Prairie, which lies south of D/FW International Airport.

There's more, but the important thing to note is the pilot's admission that he became disoriented in terms of his location -- over a huge, light-intensive urban landscape. LSA pilots are not provided with night privileges under the limitations of the pilot certificate, though properly equipped Light Sport Aircraft may be flown at night by private pilots. Even though the pilot kept the shiny side up, he didn't know which way was which.

So now that Standard Time is in effect and the hours of light are getting shorter by a few minutes a day, let's be careful up there -- and brush up on night skills, even if you don't think you'll need them. Our accident pilot didn't plan on his brush with night flight, either -- otherwise, it's not hard to imagine him making a different decision.


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