In-Flight Emergencies and Night Time Operations
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Author:  rhino [ Thu Dec 21, 2017 6:43 am ]
Post subject:  In-Flight Emergencies and Night Time Operations

As pilots, we routinely practice in flight emergencies and keep those checklists handy (right?). But have you considered the difficulties encountered when the emergency occurs during night time operations?

Last night, Mr. Murphy and his confounded law showed up during a night IFR training flight. Nothing out of the ordinary - an alternator warning light. Recurrent training kicks in... confirm alt. switch ON, check breakers, check amperes draw, restart alternator if possible, if unsuccessful, leave breaker out and shed bus loads, land and investigate. We've all done this countless times.

The situation grew more serious when my safety pilot said, "do you smell something burning - like electrical insulation?"

As we debriefed later, the following thoughts crossed my mind. 1) I know where my hand held radio (both for comm. and turning on the PCL) is located in my flight bag and how to operate it. My safety pilot did not. 2) The fire extinguisher is between the seats, right? And I did check the pressure guage in preflight, right? Note to self: I need to see how to unlatch the thing using one hand should I have the unfortunate situation where I'm alone AND in the dark. 3) Our having flown together for many hours clearly showed in the CRM for the eventual approach and landing. For example, the right seater, using his flashlight called out (yelled out, actually - no power, no intercom, no headsets), airspeed, flap configuration, traffic, trim, fuel selector, etc. as I had instinctively switched off the master (possibility of electrical fire still being fed by the battery) and landed.

I do not believe the risks are any greater in nighttime flying than at any other time. They are just different. A dropped pen or flashlight in the cockpit, searching for something casually thrown into the back seat, retrieving something from a flight bag, operating NORDO, an inability to activate PCL, during nighttime operations takes on a whole new importance in the dark.

So, make it a point to continuously include emergency procedures review, night operations considerations and currency in your flying. As very senior pilot once told me, "training pays, not training will cost you." I couldn't agree more.


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