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How does a pilot know where he is flying when it is dark outside?

In good weather, the visibility at night is as good or better than in the daytime. Lights on highways and lit-up towns and cities make it easy to fly with visual flight rules at night. Aircraft are required to have navigation lights and strobes or beacons and they can be seen miles away at night. Many airports have rotating beacons that are visible fifty miles out on a clear night.

There’s a 500 watt light on the Air National Guard hangar at our fair city’s International Flying Field, RIC, that aligns with V-157 and can be seen over Fredericksburg, 70 miles away, before the rotating beacon.

It’s beautiful flying at night. I’d rather fly at night or in weather than on a bright, clear day.

In instrument weather pilots use the instruments to fly on airways and make approaches to land on instrument equipped runways. They might not see anything but the insides of clouds, or a cloud deck under them, when flying IFR whether it’s day or night.

Pilots know where they are by using VOR stations. On this ‘low altitude enroute chart’ the VORs are the compass roses, the airways are marked with V-numbers, named intersections are the little triangles, and the little race-tracks are holding patterns. There’s a similar chart with ‘Jet Routes’ on it, ‘high altitude enroute’, that’s less cluttered and has airways usable up past 18,000 feet.

Most airplanes have a pair of VOR receivers and a pilot can quickly ‘triangulate’ their position with them. They also have DME-Distance Measuring Equipment that shows the distance from a VOR. More modern aircraft have a ‘flight director’ and ‘moving map display’ that constantly shows where they are using VORs and GPS. GPS is convenient, but is not required for navigation.

You set the desired ‘radial’ with the OBS knob, and the VOR head shows if that heading is to or from the station, and the needle shows if the desired radial is left, right, on under the aircraft. It’s easy to see when you fly directly over a VOR station because the TO/FROM indicator flips, and you can see when you’re at an intersection because both needles are centered. Pilots learn to fly ‘holding patterns’ at intersections if air traffic control requests it.

Every pilot, except sport pilots and ultralights, learns to navigate with VOR and gets experience flying cross-country at night.

The IFR enroute charts have few ground or terrain references shown on them, only a minimum enroute altitude to avoid terrain.

Pilots flying VFR at night need to be aware of restricted airspace, avoid it or get clearance through it, and in congested areas like the East or West Coasts it’s easier to file an IFR flight plan, follow airways, and be in contact with air traffic control for the whole flight.

A ‘sectional chart’ used for VFR navigation is cluttered with details. Here, the VORs are shown as big compass roses and the airways as blue lines, airports are shown in miniature. The other magenta and blue borders define restricted airspace…

Source: Quora

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