Night flight/lights etc

Bill Allen

Having seen lots of chat on night flying. Position of lights, type of lights etc on recent threads, I thought it might be useful to post Mike Melvills’ post from CP65 Oct 1990.


LIGHTING. CP65 Oct 1990

<< Why does the Long-EZ have its landing light where it is? Initially, the prototype Long-EZ had no landing light. It also had no navigation

or strobe lights. When Dick Rutan wanted to try for the Closed Course Distance Record in the C1B class, it was obvious that night lighting would be required. Dick and Mike hurriedly designed, built and installed a "fold out" type landing light under the right thigh support which was somewhat similar to

the present plans call-out for a Long-EZ. The light worked quite well, but due to its design, it was difficult to extend and it took up storage space under the thigh support. This led directly to the present landing light design. While there are probably a lot of EZ drivers who have landed their EZ's at night, there are probably a lot more who have not.

There are several requirements for an effective landing light on an EZ. One of the most important is that it have the capability to be correctly pointed for landing and then re-positioned for taxiing. An EZ approaches to land, nose high. The Cessnas and Pipers that many of us learned to fly in, do not. Due

to their flaps, they normally approach nosedown. This means that a landing light on an EZ must point down to a much greater degree than the light in a Cessna. Once this angle is determined (by trial and error), it will be

immediately obvious that this light is now essentially unusable for taxiing since it points at the ground directly in front of the nose of the aircraft and the pilot can only see forward for about 6 to 8 feet. If this light is adjusted to make taxiing possible, it becomes useless for a landing light. That is why it is adjustable and must be adjustable at least to

these two positions.

This pretty well eliminated using the nose mounted landing light that Burt had called out for the VariViggen back in the early '70s.

Some VariEze builders did use this type of light but not many used it to actually land at night. Those who use it regularly found theyneeded to have a two position adjustment, usually a cable driven, difficult-to-design

and-build device.

A number of EZ's have the landing/taxi light mounted in the leading edge of the outboard fuel strakes. We rejected this idea very early on because we were concerned about these lights reflecting on the canard, lighting up the

canard and blinding, or at least hurting, the pilots night vision. This editor would welcome constructive comments based on actual experience using this type of landing/taxi lights. One definite advantage would be to make it easier to flash a landing light while flying at cruise speed.

Using the Long-EZ plans landing light requires some practice and a couple of little tricks only learned by experience. If you have never used your landing light at night, you are in for a surprise! The first time you turn it on and extend it, it will probably light up the interior of the front cockpit! It will tend to blind you by glaring off the nose gear strut into the little plexiglas window between your legs. Here are a few ideas to help you

with these problems.

First of all, you should paint the inside of the nose wheel well flat black. Also, the inside of the trough where the nose gear strut fits while the gear is retracted should be painted flat black. The aft face and both sides of the nose gear strut itself, including any nose gear doors or covers should be flat black. Make a small cover (a piece of engine baffle rubber works quite well) that can quickly and easily be installed over the plexiglas window through the lower instrument panel. Velcro works really well here. Do not permanently cover this window. For daytime and night flying, this window can save your butt by allowing the pilot to verify that the gear is indeed down. Extend the nose gear, extend the landing light, verify that the gear is down,

then install the window cover to completely block any light. With the landing light on, you should get no reflected light through the plexiglas window or through the fiberglass wheel well. If you do, take whatever steps it

requires to correct this.

The above evaluation should be conducted on the ground, at night. Before you go flying at night, you should address all of the above suggestions and satisfy yourself that you are comfortable with the landing light's effectiveness. Focus the light to an optimum taxi position and practice taxiing at night.

Keep in mind that you will have to depress the light considerably from the optimum taxi position to the optimum approach-to-land position.

This editor has logged over 300 hours of night flight, many of those hours in a Long-EZ. The way I use the landing light is as follows: I slow to about lOOkts on base and extend the landing light to what I feel is about the correct position. Once established on final, I fine-tune the landing light until I can plainly see the runway numbers illuminated by the landing light. (Mine is a 250 watt light and, as such, easily lights up the approach end of

the runway). I continue to slow to reach touchdown speed just above the runway. I use a small amount of power right to touch down and I drive it on, rather than, flare for a "greaser" type landing. This avoids the problem of dropping it in and it also helps keep the landing light focused on the runway

and not up in the sky (as it might be with a very nose high, fully flared touchdown). Once the nose wheel is rolling on the ground, I readjust the landing light to clearly illuminate the runway/taxiway in the 3 point

position. So much for the landing light - if you have only a 100 watt light and you do actually fly at night, you should replace the 100 watt with a 250 watt. 14v 250w #4313, 28v 250w #4587.

Now to address the instrument panel lighting.

An airplane with a canopy rather than a windshield presents a rather more difficult cockpit lighting problem due to the "fish bowl" affect. This is the result of all the panel light being reflected in the bowl shaped canopy and making it difficult to see outside.

In this editor's opinion, the very best form of instrument lighting (to help cut down the fish bowl affect) is internal lighting in each instrument. Unfortunately, this is not available on most aircraft instruments but you

should use it where possible such as VOR heads, engine instruments, etc.

The next best lights, I feel, are post lights.

The least desirable form of lighting would be a flood light. A good dimmer switch is important, particularly when you are taking off or landing and need to maximize your ability to see outside. Dim the instrument panel lights down as much as possible while still being able to read the critical instruments. With post lights, there should be two to each critical flight instrument -

airspeed, attitude, altimeter and rate of climb.

These post lights can be turned to focus their small red glow to best illuminate each instrument.

Now, sit in your airplane at night with the canopy closed. You may be surprised to see just how much reflection you have in the canopy. You should obtain a piece of cardboard or fairly stiff paper, painted flat black, and cut it to closely fit into the forward end of the plexiglas canopy at the bottom edge of the plexiglas (where the plexiglas is retained in the canopy frame by

fiberglass). You should ideally be able to secure this stiff paper in place with velcro or something similar. While seated in the normal position in the seat with the canopy closed, your eye should see only the aft edge of this cardboard or paper. It must not restrict your view of the instrument panel or your view outside through the canopy. You should now have zero glare or "fish bowl" affect on the canopy. Cut the aft edge of the flat black cardboard away as much as you can to give you more physical room but not so much that you get the glare on the canopy.

This must be done at night with the cockpit lights on. You should experiment, by trial and error, until you get it right.

All this may seem like a lot of trouble to go to but, believe me, if you plan on flying your creation at night, you will be very glad you

took the time. Just be sure that this paper glareshield does not restrict your visibility of the instruments or of the outside. It should be soft enough to collapse out of the way in the unfortunate event of an abrupt stop or accident.

One other point. Flying at night can be a beautiful experience. It can also become a terrifying and dangerous experience if anything at all goes wrong. Flying a single engine at night is considered by many to be an unacceptable risk. Away from an airport, an engine or prop failure at night will almost certainly result in an accident and the chances of surviving an off-field landing at night are so small as to be essentially non-existent. This is a decision you, the pilot,

must make. The information in this article is to assist you should you decide to fly at night.

It is absolutely not intended to encourage you

to do so.>>