October 2009 Issue

Dark Horizon

Night VFR over a remote area can mean little or no natural horizon to help maintain aircraft control.

My most recent night flight involved a relatively short hop across the Florida peninsula. It was one of those humid, heavy summer nights when remnants of the dayís thunderstorms were still about, forcing FLIB and airliner alike to seek alternate routes and taxing controllers who just wanted a calm evening. Still, I had a few things going for me: Training, currency, experience and the occasional cluster of ground lights denoting a small town. I filed IFR at 8000 feet for this short hop, because I didnít want to try doing it at a level low enough to stay VFR-legal (there are way too many cellphone towers out there these days), and climbing high enough to get above the buildups wasnít practical. It was yet another case where having the instrument rating to spend maybe 90 seconds punching in and out of billowing clouds during a 45-minute flight meant all the operational difference in the world. This was one of those nights where the natural horizon wasnít all that apparent, due to the moist, summer haze over south Florida extending up to my altitude, plus the number and size of the buildups. Although I could see each buildup, and navigate around or through them, the natural horizon wasnít consistently visible.

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