Regaining night currency with a short flight to Oxford

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The 90 day passenger rule

Pilot regulations require that pilots who carry passengers at night must have made one take-off and landing at night within the previous 90 days. Once out of currency, this must either be done with an instructor or solo. Now that I’m based at an airport with lights, with the winter nights drawing in and the clocks going back, it was time to regain my night currency.

With the aircraft becoming available at short notice, I decided to make a short flight to Oxford late afternoon, returning after dark but before Gloucester closed. Oxford has very reasonable landing fees at the weekend, which are waived if uploading fuel. However, the aircraft was very low on fuel and needed refuelling before departure, leaving too little time to do so away from base, so I topped up first.

Straightforward flight both ways

Both flights were short – about 20 minutes each way – extended by the time for the engine to warm up in the cold weather, the run-ups and long taxi-ing at both airports. My only real difficulty was with the GTN650 which I setup with a single leg flight plan. On nearing Oxford, I activated vectors to the ILS approach, thinking I might get a right base join for runway 19. When instructed to make a standard overhead join, I tried to cancel that and the map display no longer showed the magenta line to my destination or distance to run. By that time I was visual with the airfield and also running SkyDemon on the iPad, but could see it would confuse me if it happened in IMC and I was entirely reliant on it for situational awareness.

Oxford Airport

Oxford airport is very well equipped, but on a quiet late Saturday afternoon the tower and approach frequencies were combined. On landing, I parked on the apron directly opposite the tower. After walking througha security gate towards the main Oxford Aviation training building, I squeezed through the side and along to the main passenger terminal, where they took my landing fee and sorted out my booking out for departure. The facilities are pretty upmarket here, very clean and spacious. The cafe was closed at that time of day, but the airport remains open until 10:30pm every night. There’s also an AFE pilot shop.

Parked up on the main apron at Oxford in the dark
Parked up on the main apron at Oxford in the dark

With time pressing, I was let out through the passenger terminal exit back on to the apron and walked back to the aircraft around 5:10pm, watching a business jet landing. Gloucester closes at 6pm on winter weekends, so I couldn’t hang about. I requested permission to start, and the tower asked where I was – right in front of them, but with no lights on. After setting the panel and overhead lights, plus wearing a head-torch, I ran through the checklist and was ready to taxi. It’s quite a long way to taxi, and it helped to use SkyDemon tracking my progress on the actual airfield plate. This is something I had not quite managed to get working in the past, but having read the manual (at long last), I realised I needed to press on the yellow aircraft icon when selecting the airfield plate. This superimposes it onto the map display and you can watch your aircraft move around the taxiways in real-time. It was certainly very helpful at a not very famiiar airport in the dark.

A student followed behind me, the instructor having left after the previous sortie presumably so he could go solo. After the long taxi-ing and power checks, I called ready for departure and saw the bright row of red stop bar lights extinguish before being radioed my take-off clearance.

Dashboard lights pretty important at night
Dashboard lights pretty important at night – Something amiss with the DME display though

Firecrackers on the way back

Turning sharply right once gaining height after departure, I avoided the Brize zone and made my way back at around 3000 feet for a straight in arrival to Gloucester. Being shortly after Nov 5th fireworks night, there were a few displays going on below me which brightened up the view. My first landing at night for over 2 years was quite reasonable. It was quite hard to spot the yellow taxiway line to turn off the runway at the end. By the time I’d got back to the hangar and powered off, the airport was about to close. My head torch was handy when putting the aircraft away.

Flightpath Gloucester to Oxford
Flightpath Gloucester to Oxford
Flightpath Oxford to Gloucester
Flightpath Oxford to Gloucester

Current once again, and another milestone reached

So I’m now night current once again, and don’t have to worry quite so much about getting back before sunset+30 on future trips. The limitation is more likely to be the airport closing hours. This keeps me valid until mid-February and be extended should I make any further flights (with both night take off and landing) before then.

With 300 hours under my belt, I would now be able to start training as a CRI (Class Rating Instructor). The course takes a few days, has a minimum of 5 hours flying and lots of ground school. You can’t teach ab-initio students, only those already with PPLs. Typically, CRIs would provide the one hour every two years instruction, differences training and “rust removal”. There’s no change with the transition to EASA, although CRIs can now legally be paid for their instruction. I’ve no plans to do this at present, but it’s a possibilty for the future.

Flight time today: 1:05
Total PIC: 198:10
Total Flight Time: 300:35

One comment

  1. Hello David

    Yet another fabulous posting!

    I visited Oxford a few months back to get my fingerprints taken for my American VISA (which I’ve not yet been able to use!) – very plush facilities indeed.

    Safe flying

    Russell

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