Night cross-country

I usually take my private pilot students to Apple Valley (KAPV) for their night dual cross country flight (after having done a day dual cross-country flight, as well as their first night flight). It meets the 50nm requirement from El Monte and helps give a perspective on how night flight outside of the Los Angeles basin can be a very different feeling from flying around Los Angeles. In preparation for the flight, students should make sure they have a current LA Sectional chart, prepare a navigation log for the flight there, and be able to answer the questions listed below. Just prior to the flight, students should get a standard weather briefing and be able to make a go/no-go decision and discuss any challenges the weather may present.

  1. What route will we take? Ensure the visual checkpoints you choose will identifiable at night.
  2. What cruise altitude should we fly in order to ensure terrain and obstacle clearance along the route and by what point in the flight do we need to reach that altitude for safety? Confirm it is an appropriate VFR cruising altitude for the direction of flight.
  3. Is there any airspace we need to stay clear of along the route? We will plan to get flight following, but how would your plan have to be modified if we can’t get flight following?
  4. How do we find APV in the dark? What is APV near that might help you locate it at night?
  5. What runway are we likely to use when we get to APV, considering forecast winds and available runways; are all the runways usable at night? Which direction is the pattern for that runway and which direction from the runway does that put you? What is the “calm wind” runway at APV?
  6. How will we plan to enter the pattern for that runway (or alternate runways) from the direction we’ll be approaching?
  7. When approaching APV, entering and flying the pattern, are there obstacles or terrain which we need to be concerned with? If so, how close to pattern altitude and/or how close to the airport?
  8. Before departing for APV, can we get detailed weather information for the APV airport?
  9. When approaching APV in the air, can we get detailed weather information for the APV airport?
  10. How long will it take us to get there (take into account climb and descent, not just cruise speed)
  11. How much fuel to get there and back and get the necessary landings (you need a total of 10 including what was done on any previous night flights)?
  12. During your research of APV, have you come across a reference to Automated Unicom? What is that?
  13. If were were worried about clouds moving in prior to our return to EMT, how could we get an update on weather information in the air, after departing APV, but before we cross the mountains (no, you won’t be able to hear ATIS/AWOS)?

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