Flight secrets: Pilot reveals this one scary truth about landing a plane at night
Flights at night are much harder for pilots than passengers might think, a pilot has revealed.
He explained that sometimes it’s hard to even work out where the airport is in the dark.
Author Mark Vanhoenacker wrote in his book ‘How to Land a Plane’: “Most of us think of airports as quite well-lit places, and it’s true that the apron areas around the terminal buildings are often brightly illuminated.”
“But taxiways and runways are so subtly lit that picking out an airfield at night, especially in an urban landscape often involves looking for a particularly dark spot. Close in, thankfully the approach and runway lights are unmistakable.”
Taxiways and runways are so subtly lit that picking out an airfield at night, especially in an urban landscape often involves looking for a particularly dark spot
Pilots rely on flight instruments, navigation sensors and weather sensors (primarily radar) instead of normal vision when flying at night or passing through cloud.
The aircraft itself has multiple lights on its exterior to help pilots land when it’s dark (and to help others spot the plane).
Landing lights can be found in different positions depending on the aircraft, from the wing to the fuselage.
Pilots will flash these when they deploy landing gear to alert traffic control. They will also flash the landing lights on final approach.
Other lights on a plane include red and green LEDS on each wing which identity which direction the plane is facing when flying at night. Green is on the right, red on the left.
Anti-collision lights can be found on the top and bottom of the fuselage. These orange-coloured lights rotate and produce a flashing effect and are switched on for as long as the plane’s engine is running.
Flight secrets: Sometimes it’s hard to even work out where the airport is in the dark
If pilots cannot see anything from the flight deck they are trained to perform “instrument landings.”
This is when they carry out an approach and touch-down in minimal visibility.
In this instance – often in extreme weather – pilots will use the information and positioning on their screens in the cockpit.
Airports will also provide an Instrument Landing System (ILS) which emits a landing beam from the runway for pilots to lock onto.
Passengers also have to put their window blinds up during landing, although fliers are often unaware of the reason why.
Flight secrets: Pilots rely on flight instruments, navigation sensors and weather sensors at night
One reason confirms passengers have much more control on an aircraft than many realise.
With the window blinds up, travellers act as an extra source for crew if something does go wrong with the plane.
Aviation Safety Officer Saran Udayakumar said: “Passengers are curious; hence they are perfect extra eyes to see if something goes wrong out there. Usually, passengers report stuff right away.”
Another reason the shades must be up is to assist crew if something goes wrong. Udayakumar said: “In case of sudden emergencies, every second counts.
“Therefore if shades are open crew can easily see outside conditions to help them in planning the evacuation – which doors to use for evacuation.”
Open shades also help passengers more easily adjust to a darker environment.