Even if you do not intend to fly at night, winter is well underway in the Northern latitudes meaning the days are shorter and the nights are longer. Hence, a recent post written by Max Trescott for his Trends Aloft site is well worth reading.
He began his post by noting that night will increase the shortcomings of a pilot’s senses and perceptions – making flying at night different from flying during the day. He also noted that when flying at night, the sky will tend to blend in with the ground – thus obscuring the horizon. Therefore, it may be extremely difficult to almost impossible to safely fly at night without having solid instrument flying skills.
Max also wrote that from his informal surveys of general aviation pilots who attend his seminars, he estimates that 5% of their flight hours are logged at night while 21% of all fatal accidents in the USA occur at night. Moreover and in San Francisco where conditions are often foggy and the terrain is mountainous, almost 50% of all fatal accidents occur at night.
Max then pointed out that most night accidents will occur when descending for a landing as pilots will attempt to fly in a long and straight-in approach to the runway and instead end up flying a curved path that goes below the approach path – ultimately leading to a crash just short of the runway. To avoid this, Max recommends a pilot should maintain a safe altitude to the airport and once there, fly a normal traffic pattern.
In addition, Max noted that pilots will often and unknowingly descend and crash not long after takeoff. To avoid this, Max recommends to crosscheck your instruments often to make sure that you are actually climbing and not inadvertently descending.
At the end of his post, Max wrote that night flying can be safely done but it will require some planning and in the worst case scenario, a willingness to make a 180° turn.