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VFR into IMC


In flying, I have learned that carelessness and overconfidence are usually far more dangerous than deliberately accepted risks. Wilbur Wright in a letter to his father, September 1900

Night Flying - General Sources
A excellent source of information on Night Flying is the Air Safety Foundation's website.  Click on "Safety HotSpot," go to the bottom and select "Safety Hotspot Archive."  The hotspot on "Night" features an excellent VFR Night Checkup that you can print out in kneeboard format and carry with you when flying. 

I highly recommend that you read Into the Night which is an excellent 16 page article that the FAA has on their website.  Print it out and keep it around for review from time to time

Approach to Land - Beware Black Hole Airports
Black Hole airports are those with few ground lights under the final approach to the airport. Simulator studies have proven that a common illusion at night leads pilots to fly lower than normal approaches and often crash short of the runway--even if the pilot is aware of the illusion!  Airports that might be considered black hole airports in northern California include King City,  Half Moon Bay, Harris Ranch, Pine Mountain Lake, Little River and Frazier Lake airports.  

Excellent articles on Black Hole Approaches can be found at

Descent While returning to the S.F. Bay Area 
General Aviation pilots do most of their flying in the daytime.  When I surveyed pilots at safety seminars, only a small percentage of pilots indicated that more than 5% of their total flying was at night.   It's very hard to see terrain at night, so it's important that you use IFR-like procedures, and maintain a safe altitude over all terrain.  If in doubt, stay at least 500 feet above the MEF figure (the large number in each quadrangle of your VFR Sectional Charts) to assure terrain clearance.   Also, if there are common routes that you fly at night, fly them in the daytime to determine a personal minimum safe altitude for flying the route at night.  For many S.F. Bay area pilots, this might be over some of the local passes such as the Hayward and Sunol passes in the East bay, and the Altamont pass just west of the Tracy & Stockton area.  As the picture to the left shows, Sunol Pass can often be blocked by clouds.

Try to plan your flight to arrive back in the Bay area before darkness, particularly in the winter months when days are short. If you're unable to get through any of the passes, make a 180 degree turn early, and land at Livermore, Stockton or other airports where it is still clear.  Rent a car, call a friend to get you, or stay overnight in a motel.  Alternatively, you may be able to get above the marine layer, cross the bay area, and then descend in open areas near your destinations, if the local ATIS or FSS suggest that there are still cloud openings near your destination airport.  In any case, choose an alternative that guarantees that you won't end up on a mountain ridge where you'll become another statistic!

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Attention Bay Area pilots:  Max Trescott recently completed an analysis of fatal accidents in the Bay Area for the past ten years. The key results are that fatal accidents are twice as likely to occur at night as compared to the rest of the U.S. Also, VFR into IMC accidents are up to 6 times more likely than in the rest of the U.S. Register at faasafety.gov  to receive email notification of the next seminar detailing Bay area accident analysis.