The one key reason, I couldn’t finish my commercial rating back in 2006 was that I couldn’t complete the required night solo flight time requirements. FAR requires 5 hours of night VFR solo flying with at least 10 take-offs and landings at an airport with an operating control tower. Official night time is defined as the time between the evening civil twilight and morning civil twilight. During summertime this can be as late as 10:00 pm or as early as 4:00 am. The best time always seems to be when the clocks are moved forward during daylight savings time when winter is upon us and it gets dark rather early in the evening.
I have said this many times, I am essentially a day, VFR pilot. I love to see where I am going. Granted night flying on smooth, full moon days can be fun. I can count the number of night cross country flights on my fingertips. There has never been a reason for me to be in the air during the night, other than to satisfy the requirements of the private pilot license. I tried to do some night cross country flying with my instructor (cross country to Fresno, CA) after I obtained my private pilot license, to determine if I liked it.
The second attempt was when I started to think about obtaining my commercial rating and the need arose to actually log night solo flight time. During a routine flight review I scheduled an incredible session with my favorite instructor, Lee Jaykell, that also applied towards my wings certification (see BFR: It can be fun and Night and Actual)
The third attempt was when I realized doing touch-goes to obtain 5 hours of solo night flight time were tedious and boring, and that I could achieve this time so much faster if I could fly cross country. While it is easy to achieve the 10 take-offs and landings, it barely adds an hour of solo night time. This realization arrived when I lost the opportunity to complete my commercial rating with my favorite instructor back in 2006. So I planned my one and only solo night cross country in 2009 and believe it or not to South County Airport. How ironic is it that this is the airport I flew to for my first long solo cross country?
Those days, my home base was Palo Alto Airport. How difficult would it be to fly down south, tracing the 101 freeway to the ever reliable South County airport? Since I am loathe to try this during summer, when I have to attempt it rather late, after the tower closed. So it was a crisp, and clear January night when I set off to achieve my night solo time. It did not worry me that it took me three attempts, the last time I was here 🙂
And I am happy to report, that I took one attempt to find and land at this airport, before taxing back and departing to arrive at PAO, all during official night time and before the PAO tower closed. This one trip helped bump my solo night time that much closer to the required time.
There is one other night time I cherish. It was not solo time. And I definitely wasn’t PIC. But it was the one and only time I flew a multi-engine: Beech Baron. See From the Right Side for that incredible adventure.
Although I loved night flying during training (so calm, so quiet), nothing beats being able to see where you’re going. Especially if you have the opportunity to fly in your part of California which seems particularly scenic…
Although every place has it’s own beauty…
Good story, especially since I know all the players and locations.