Thursday 23 May 2013 15:30 UTC
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This was a long time ago but it still gives me the creeps. I had flown 3hrs north to a Scottish fly-in with a pilot friend. It was a glorious day and they put on a small display which (of course) went on longer than expected. We spent much of it looking at the forecast for the journey home which was pretty poor but flyable. Sunset was 2055A, so a 1500 departure seemed acceptable. When the display finished there was a PFA Rally style rush to emplane and take-off by 1520. Still plenty of time.
I flew as P1 the first leg to Durham where it was still fine, but then somewhere around York with my friend as P1 it got really poor ahead and we diverted to a small Yorkshire airfield. This was a mistake as we stayed there too long for a coffee; frankly we would have been better leaving as soon as we had arrived. Then it was on south still with my friend as P1. Near Nottinghamshire he said that he had had enough and decided to land. They were closed but we landed anyway; he was going to call his wife for a lift but I said that (a) it was only 2000 so there was lots of time for a 30 minute flight before sunset at 2055, (b) we knew the route like the back of our hand, (c) there were plenty of possible diversion airfields and (d) it didn’t look that bad anyway . So off we went with me as P1, never above 1000ft and pushing it as hard as I dared…
Suffice it to say that it got dark pretty quickly, and then it started to rain and the viz was crap. It was true that I did know the route very well (“follow the A1”), but I’d never done it that low before. I found that the cockpit lighting was really pretty poor and I had trouble seeing the instruments clearly but hey, I had 200hrs in this aircraft (although I’d never tried the internal lights before!). Then we got through the front and we could see for miles – all the towns, street lights, main roads and cars. Just a night landing on a very wet, narrow, unlit strip and we were home, 45 minutes after my unwise take-off.
What did I learn? Well, for starters, sunset is later in Scotland than East Anglia, in our case about 30 minutes later…
Only time I have had anything similar, as an even lower houred NPPL, I got back to Fairoaks just as the sun dipped below the horizon. Whilst I was glad to free of the glare it did suddenly seem very much darker, heaven knows how much darker thirty minutes later.
Just because it is legal to land 30 mins after sunset doesn't of itself, mean that it is both safe and sensible, is the lesson I took from that.
Suiting the action to the words
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