How Can Pilots See At Night?

If you have ever traveled on a plane during the night, you may be wondering how the pilots see. After all, if you cannot see your surroundings when glancing out of your window, your pilot isn’t going to be able to see either.

It is important to differentiate between the different types of flights because some will require the pilot to see out of the windows whilst others will not. 

Flights are separated into the two following categories; IFR and VFR. The aforementioned flies at higher altitudes and does not require the pilot to see the ground below them in order to fly the aircraft successfully. Instead, they use the cockpit instruments to navigate the plane and depend on instructional guidance provided by the air traffic controllers and surveillance systems.

The latter flies at lower altitudes so the pilots are provided with more visual clues from the ground below. They will also receive less guidance from the air traffic controllers. There are several ways of making the view clearer.

For example, the pilot may wear night-vision goggles to compensate for the poor visibility. They will also be aided by the aircraft lighting and the strobes of other flights which will make them stand out. The illumination from landmarks and objects situated on the ground below are also helpful.

Preparation is the key to flying at night. Not only is it important to inspect the flight to ensure that it is safe to take off, but you must also give your eyes some time to adjust to the darkness.

Following your inspection of the aircraft, you may wish to spend some time outside looking into the darkness because this will help your eyes to adapt to the difference in light and changes from a light environment. 

Do airlines fly at night?

Many airlines offer nighttime flights as they are a great option for those embarking on a long-haul journey.

Most airlines also try to fly as many planes throughout the day as possible, however nighttime traveling for domestic purposes has decreased in popularity. This does not mean that nighttime flights do not go ahead, in fact, some people find the whole concept rather exciting.

Night flights are also more prone to delays than those that take off during the earlier stages of the day. This is because early flights do not have as much air traffic to contend with but this becomes more problematic as the day progresses. Of course, this doesn’t present a risk to your safety should you choose to fly at night but it is worth being cautious of this issue. 

The regulations for flying at night can differ between countries, with some having stricter rules in place than others. For example, in some countries, night flights must be done following IFR. 

Do pilots prefer flying at night?

Flying at night is preferred by many pilots, however, others prefer to fly during the day. Ultimately, your favored time to fly is going to be decided by personal preference.

Some find nighttime flying easier and therefore more enjoyable. Of course, during the night there is less air traffic and some would suggest that it is easier to identify planes that are traveling towards you because their strobe lights are much easier to see. 

On the other hand, some pilots dislike flying at night due to challenges when it comes to landing the plane. If the runway is poorly lit, it can be difficult to gauge the distance between the plane and the ground that you are approaching.

The lack of lighting can depend on the airport. Some will be very well lit whilst others will not be and because of this, some pilots may have less confidence when trying to land the plane at night compared to the day.

Day time flying also tends to be a preferred option amongst pilots who struggle with fatigue as some may find it difficult to rest during the day so their sleep schedule suffers as a result. 

Ultimately, a pilot's preference towards night flying or daytime flying can differ between individuals.  While some may enjoy the task of flying the aircraft at night due to the quieter skies and reduction in air traffic, others may find that the lack of visibility makes it too challenging. 

Is flying at night smoother?

During the night, the air tends to be much smoother. This is because the winds tend to be weaker and so you are less likely to encounter as much turbulence. While it isn’t possible to completely avoid turbulence, there are certain points of the day and night where it doesn’t present as much of a problem.

At night, there tends to be more of a cool breeze, rather than harsh winds and this isn’t going to create as much friction upon contact with the aircraft's wings.

The lack of turbulence is due to atmospheric heating. Essentially, during the night or early morning, the air is smoother because the sun is yet to heat up the surface. Another reason why night flights are considered to be smoother is due to the reduced amount of air traffic and obstacles.

Is flying more dangerous at night?

For some passengers, particularly those who are not familiar with night flying, the thought of boarding a plane in darkness can be very daunting. According to statistics, around 10% of aviation accidents occur during the night.

On occasions, the conditions that pilots are faced with maybe a little more challenging and alleviated by the lack of visibility. However, do not let this deter you from flying because on the whole, planes are said to be 19% safer than a car and there are many other methods of transport that are considered to have a higher safety risk than flying.

As mentioned previously, night flights tend to encounter much less turbulence too. If you have any hesitations about flying at night, you may prefer to take a daytime flight instead.