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Night Flight to Reading (not Night boat to Cairo!)

I had an early morning flight from Heathrow on Sunday but I wasn’t able to organise any sensibly timed connecting flights from\ to Manchester. This isn’t too much of a problem when you own a Jet Ranger so I decided that I would fly down south myself. My only slight concern was whether I would encounter early morning fog or some other poor weather on the morning of my transatlantic flight. Travelling down the day before and staying over night was to be the safest solution, but as I had loaned out the JetBox for the day, I was going to have to fly down at night.

I was quite pleased about this as it would give me a chance to excersise my night privileges. My plan was also to execute some approaches and landings at other sites on the way down for training purposes. The weather forecast was excellent with a high cloud base and great visibility. Before departing I made sure I was full of fuel and that all navigation lights were operational, including a complete check of the Night Scanner. I also ensured that all my luggage was together because when you land at night it usually is pitch black and it’s easy to forget something that you need, especially if you can’t see it!

I had been to all the sites before so I was comfortable with their general layout, but at night things take on a very different perspective not least of which is that you can’t usually see anything – and I mean anything. I had been taught to identify a suitable IP (Initial Point) which is approximately 2 NM downwind of the intended landing sight. This point is used to set up for the run in to the landing site and to create a profile where I an reduce the height and speed the chopper to a point 1 NM away where I would be at 500’AGL and 50kts ground speed.

My intention was to land at 4 sites altogether (the last being my final destination). I.P.’s were identified for each site and I keyed the Lat/Long into my 695 aiming for these initially. Once I arrived at these I turned the machine back into wind and commenced the descent into each site. I had arranged for a strobe light to be placed in the first field that was to be used and this was a great help. I was able to identify it from about 0.5NM away and this provided a visual reference for me. The JetBox effectively has 3 landing lights. Two which are fixed (and standard equipment) and a Night Scanner which has a very powerful directional beam. I traditionally switch my forward landing light on at about 0.5NM, my second landing light at approximately 0.25 NM and I save the Night Scanner for finals. I will sometimes use it to accurately identify the site if I am slightly unsure but the beam can sometimes obscure what I’m trying to see so, whilst it’s very bright, it’s not always effective. Even though I know the site very well, even I was surprised at how difficult it was to see trees that I knew to be there until I was almost on top of them. The landing went well and I set up for an immediate departure.

The procedure used here is to turn the heli into wind and then using the night scanner look ahead and to the sides to scan for any obstructions. Once satisfied that there are none I executed a towering take off before transitioning away. Once in the climb and happy that I have a positive climb rate with all other indications where they should be (T’s and P’s, warning lights etc) I position the scanner so that it’s beam is placed in the most appropriate place for if I have an engine failure i.e. it will illuminate the ground ahead and just to the right of my position. Finally, I turn all lights off (but I don’t stow the Night Scanner for obvious reasons)

Site number two would prove to be interesting in that it was owned by another chopper enthusiast with an R44. He has installed landing lights at his home that can be operated by transmitting on a particular VHF frequency. I was really looking forward to using these and they didn’t disappoint. The HLS is owned by a pal Russell Harrisson and he had given permission for me to use it. The trip to the I.P. was to be about 40 minutes and the journey en route was very uneventful. The Sky was clear with a visible horizon (mostly) and before long I was turning towards the HLS. The landing light frequency was selected and I transmitted the appropriate sequence to activate them. All of a sudden, “Heathrow Airports”runway lights became visible and (O.K. not really but it felt like it!!). The landing system has an approach system which indicates whether you are too high or low on the approach. It’s a fantastic system and really assists with the approach and landing at night.

After completing this HLS I decided to skip the 3rd site due to time constraints and went onto the final site. This was the home of a friend of mine and has a very, very large garden which I have landed in before. As I executed the run in, I skipped passed the I.P. as I thought I had successfully identified my final site )which in fact I had), but as the site was surrounded in complete darkness I overshot the site and returned to the I.P. executing the run in from there. This provided a greater comfort factor and as I knew there to be cables around the perimeter of the garden I wanted to be comfortable that I had missed them. The owners of the house had switched on outside lights and some upstairs bedroom lights also to aid with identification of their house and again this was a simple, but effective method of assisting me.

All in all the trip went off without a hitch and was a great evenings flying. It’s well worth flying at night and extremely satisfying too.

One Response

  1. Hi Joel
    Sounds like fun! I fly about 200 private hours p.a. in my 44 and as i fly to work, night flying is de rigeur in the winter. I was very interested in this: ” He has installed landing lights at his home that can be operated by transmitting on a particular VHF frequency.” Do you (or Russell) have more details? BTW If you ever need a HLS in Thames Valley, just ping me. I’m a few miles west of White Waltham, but 2 minutes from a train station that will take you to London in 30 mins or Reading in 10.
    cheers
    Roy

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