Flying at night has its own rewards and challenges. On a clear winter night the view can be spectacular. At other times darkness and restricted visibility can increase pilot workload or cause disorientation. On this night we were treated to a spectacular view of Nashville Tennessee. Unfortunately video doesn’t capture the beauty that many pilots are treated to in the thin cold air at flight levels or flying over city lights on a clear winter night. This night we approached Nashville from the west just as the first bands of pink broke on the horizon. While on a wide downwind on the north side of the field Nashville approach cleared for the visual approach to runway 31. This route takes you over a large unlighted area to the east of the field which in the dark appears as a large void. The void is actually the J Percy Priest Reservoir. During night flights especially in poor visibility it’s easy to get disoriented or lose track of how high you are above the ground. In order to ensure adequate ground clearance the aircraft is flown at a minimum safe altitude(MSA) till its flight path intersects with a Visual approach slope indicator (VASI) or electronic glide path. This ensures that the airplane maintains a safe obstacle free flight all the way to the surface of the runway. On this flight there wasn’t a VASI so the ILS was used to back up the visual approach for terrain clearance. An ILS provides an electronic vertical path to the runway which displays on the pilots attitude indicator. Unfortunately, Controlled Flight Into Terrain (CFIT) accidents while avoidable have been happening since the dawn of powered flight. The FAA places great importance in CFIT training for pilots which is reflected in the training at pilot training centers Like FlightSafety. The best way to avoid CFIT is training, standard procedures, and good situational awareness.
Night flight over St. Louis in a Citation II (CE-550) business jet.
A Night flight over the St. Louisarea in a Cessna Citation II (CE-550) business jet. On a clear night the lights from large cities can often be seen by pilots up to 200 miles away.