Orientation and Navigation

Generally, at night, it is difficult to see clouds and restrictions to visibility, particularly on dark nights or under overcast. When flying under VFR, pilots must exercise caution to avoid flying into clouds. Usually, the first indication of flying into restricted visibility conditions is the gradual disappearance of lights on the ground. If the lights begin to take on an appearance of being surrounded by a halo or glow, use caution in attempting further flight in that same direction. Such a halo or glow around lights on the ground is indicative of ground fog. Remember that if a descent must be made through clouds, smoke, or haze in order to land, the horizontal visibility is considerably less when looking through the restriction than it is when looking straight down through it from above. Under no circumstances should a VFR night flight be made during poor or marginal weather conditions unless both the pilot and aircraft are certificated and equipped for flight under instrument flight rules (IFR).

Crossing large bodies of water at night in single-engine airplanes could be potentially hazardous, in the event of an engine failure, the pilot may not have any option than to land (ditch) the airplane in the water. Another hazard faced by pilots of all aircraft, due to limited or no lighting, is that the horizon blends with the water. During poor visibility conditions over water, the horizon becomes obscure and may result in a loss of orientation. Even on clear nights, the stars may be reflected on the water surface, which could appear as a continuous array of lights, thus making the horizon difficult to identify.

Lighted runways, buildings, or other objects may cause illusions to the pilot when seen from different altitudes. At an altitude of 2,000 feet, a group of lights on an object may be seen individually, while at 5,000 feet or higher, the same lights could appear to be one solid light mass. These illusions may become quite acute with altitude changes and, if not overcome, could present problems in respect to approaches to lighted runways.