March 13, 2021. It was time to practise night landings. To be able to carry passengers I have to have undertaken at least 3 take offs and landings by day in the previous 90 days. That’s not a problem with the regular flying I do. However if I want to take passengers at night I have to have completed at least 3 night landings in the previous 90 days at night. Now it’s not that I plan to fly at night but the reason I have a night rating is just in case we’re flying somewhere and are a bit late and have to arrive after last light. So I like to maintain my currency. I therefore try to fly the minimum of three circuits at night every 90 days.
I’m a bit of a rarity as I only have a night IFR rating and no night VFR. Most GA pilots have night VFR which is a bit less stringent regarding requirements to remain in contact with air traffic control. With night IFR I need to have radio contact with ATC from when I taxi out until when I’m back on the ground at the end of my flight. Some may see that as an inconvenience but I see it as an advantage. I have to set up my transponder and “squawk” a unique code that’s provided by ATC during taxiing and am then under surveillance from ATC while flying. Given that the circuits from Redcliffe are out over the bay, being under surveillance is a good thing, especially at night. Given that it’s not a usual thing to do (IFR circuits) I like to call up the ATC shift manager before I fly and tell him or her what I plan to do. That just helps avoid any misunderstandings while I’m flying.
Anyway it was a perfect day and the evening also looked fine so I started with a couple of daytime VFR circuits in C172 IVW to get a feel for the aircraft (which I only fly infrequently now) and then waited for last light. Switching to IFR I taxied out again obtained my transponder code from Brisbane Centre and told them I’d be staying in the circuit area at no higher than 1500ft AMSL. I then took off and once on downwind called up Brisbane Centre again and they advised that I’d been “identified” ie they saw me on their radar. I nominated an “ops normal” time of about 30 minutes later. This meant that if I hadn’t contacted them within 30 minutes they’d start trying to raise me and if they couldn’t they’d initiate the search and rescue procedures. Thirty minutes gave me ample time to do three circuits. There was still a bit of light in the sky and as I flew my circuits it gradually became darker. This is a good way of improving skills at night as you gradually have to deal with less and less light as the evening progresses. After three smooth landings I taxied back to the apron and cancelled my “sarwatch” with Brisbane Centre. Currency requirements satisfied for another 90 days.