As many may know, the cockpit windshield of an aircraft is an essential element for flight, allowing pilots to maintain visuals outside of the vehicle for the means of effectively managing the flight path and attitude of the aircraft while also avoiding any potential hazards. With this importance, many systems are implemented on a typical aircraft windshield to keep it clear, though this is fairly ineffective during low-light conditions, such as when flying in night hours. As pilots may have little to no visuals outside of the cockpit during these hours, one may wonder how so many night flights are carried out safely and with ease.
While visuals are indeed crucial for safety, there are other options available to pilots. The main alternative is to utilize aircraft instruments, those of which may supply flight data ranging from airspeed and altitude to the aircraft’s attitude. Pilots utilizing instrumentation instead of visuals will follow Instrument Flight Rules (IFR). Instrument Flight Rules can be used regardless of the time of day, such as when a large storm obscures visual during an afternoon flight. While takeoff and landing may still be carried out with visual aids, such as runway lights, airborne operations will require constant monitoring of instruments and communication with Air Traffic Control (ATC).
The opposite of IFR is Visual Flight Rules (VFR), and as you may surmise, it is when visual references are relied on. Despite the ease of VFR, IFR has become much more commonplace in the aviation industry as a result of advanced instrumentation and autopilot systems that have made flight much easier during day and night hours alike. Even when landing and using runway lights, pilots will still rely on their instruments for assistance and safety.
Despite the availability of instrumentation for such endeavors, one may wonder if there are options to enhance visuals during night hours. While one’s eyes may adjust to low-light conditions or one may take advantage of city lights, these options are not always perfect or very effective. Depending on the application and area of operation, night vision goggles may be a good option to maintain VFR when it is dark. As goggles can be very expensive, they are most often used by military operators and those who fly in remote areas. Despite aircraft being fitted with headlights, anti-collision lights, and position lights, these fixtures are not suitable or useful for VFR while airborne.
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