More night circuits

On Monday December 13, 2021 it was time to practise night circuits yet again. Another three months had passed so I had to do at least three take offs and landings after last light to be qualified to carry passengers at night. This time I decided to take Cessna 172 VH-IVW as it’s cheaper to hire than the Cirrus and easier to deal with on completion. The Cirrus has to be physically pushed back into the hangar, a bit of a tricky thing to do on your own in the dark. With IVW I can just tie it down on the apron outside the Aero Club so no physical work is involved.

As usual, I submitted an IFR flight plan for my circuits (I only have a night IFR rating), nominating Archerfield as the alternate (just in case Redcliffe’s runway lights failed while I was up in the air) and rang up the Brisbane Centre shift manager to explain what I was planning so there’d be no surprises for the controllers when I gave them my taxi call. Most pilots have a night VFR rating so don’t need to call up on the radio to do circuits at Redcliffe so I like to explain my situation to them beforehand. All good.

While it was still light I did three circuits to familiarise myself with handling of the plane again then parked on the apron and ate a sandwich out the front of the clubhouse while the light faded. It was a great evening. Blue sky, almost no wind and the sun sinking slowly in the west. Redcliffe has PAL (pilot actuated lights) for the runway and these have to be turned on by pushing the “press to talk” switch three times on a particular radio frequency. They automatically extinguish after about 30 minutes if you don’t switch them on again so you have to be ready for them. There are lights around the wind sock too so you can see the wind speed and direction at night. These lights flash for the final 5 minutes before the runway lights turn off so warn you that it’s time to switch them on again. The lights were on as another pilot was already doing circuits but I switched them on again anyway, first to test my radio was working and I had the correct frequency, and second so I’d have at least another 30 minutes until I’d need to switch them on again.

By then it was almost last light so fired up IVW and taxied out. It wasn’t quite last light yet so I could legally use the (unlit) taxiway to RWY07.

On return to the apron

After last light you have to backtrack the runway as there are no lights on the taxiway. Given that there was one other aircraft already in the circuit it would have been a pain to backtrack all the way in between his landings so it was good to be able to use the taxiway instead.

After completing the pre-takeoff checks and the runups ATC gave me a transponder code and, after allowing for the other guy to land, I took off just before last light. On downwind at 1000ft AGL the controller identified me and asked whether I’d like an “ops normal time”. This is a time the pilot nominates for search and rescue purposes. If they haven’t heard from my by the nominated time they try to call me. If they can’t raise me on the radio they try to phone me on the mobile and if they still don’t have any luck they raise the alarm and the search and rescue process is initiated. This system is particularly comforting when you’re doing circuits at night over the sea, as is the case at Redcliffe. It was just on 7pm so I nominated 7:30. I calculated that should give me time for 4 circuits. The other guy in the circuit landed as I was on downwind and called a full stop. He can’t have been night rated. The clock ticked over to last light as I was on final and I completed a nice touch and go landing, climbing out on instruments over the bay. Four more equally smooth touch and goes followed as the night sky grew darker and the lights of Brisbane sparkled off to the south. It was an ideal evening with clear sky, almost no wind and very smooth flying. Satisfied with the standard of the five landings I taxied back to the apron, cancelled my Sarwatch with Brisbane Centre, and tied the plane down. Night circuits done for another 90 days.

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