RAF Typhoons at night

Night Flying

What is night-flying?

In aviation, ‘night’ has a specific definition. It is defined as beginning at 30 minutes after sunset. Pilots have to qualify to fly a particular aircraft at night. Once qualified, they have to fly often enough to maintain their currency to fly the aircraft at night. Night-flying is a perishable skill, if not occasionally practiced the skill level decreases and eventually withers to the point that extra sorties have to be made in order to re-establish proficiency.

Why do we operate at night?

Pilots need to be able to operate their aircraft in all weathers and 24 hours per day. In some circumstances during operations it is safer for aircrew to operate at night. We therefore have a responsibility to be prepared around the clock. Very occasionally we will have to launch aircraft at night with no notice to meet our Quick Reaction Alert obligation, this can happen at any time during the day or night.

Even if it gets dark at, for example 9:00 pm, why are you still flying at 11:00 pm?

We have a responsibility to ensure that we obtain maximum value from our sorties. If our pilots were to merely take off and then land again to fulfil the night-flying requirement; that would not be an efficient use of the aircraft. Therefore we will conduct sorties that may last up to a couple of hours in duration, depending on the profile of the sortie and what we are planning to achieve. In normal circumstances night-flying is finished before midnight, however, if there are operational requirements we may need to fly after this time.

RAF Typhoon at night

Why can’t you only carry out night flying training during the winter when night falls so much earlier?

We do night-flying in the winter months; naturally it doesn’t have the same impact on our neighbours as during the summer. The majority of pilots who undertake night-flying are students on 29 Squadron, the Typhoon conversion unit. These pilots are following a syllabus that has been designed to be as efficient as possible. Every few weeks there is a requirement to undertake night operations; therefore it is inevitable that some night-flying will occur during the summer months.

What do you do to mitigate the disturbance caused by night-flying?

In the first instance we only fly when it is essential. The simulators that we have are increasingly capable of providing an environment where pilots can learn the nuances of flying the aircraft without needing to use a live aircraft. We try wherever possible to synchronise flying programmes so that all the night-flying happens on the same evenings rather than causing disruption every night. We may modify our flying programme, for example aircraft may approach and land directly rather than conducting circuits around the airfield pattern, however night circuits are a requirement and therefore will sometimes happen.

When will you stop night-flying?

RAF Coningsby is likely to be an operating base for the Typhoon for many years to come. It is unlikely that there will be any decrease in the requirement to train pilots to fly at night in the near to medium future. It is possible that further advances in synthetic technologies (simulators) will reduce the amount of live aircraft movements at night.

Night-flying dates

Night-flying will usually last from Monday to Thursday. The night-flying period will often be for one week, but can be extended if required for operational or weather reasons.

Current expected dates for night flying are:

20-23rd November

11-14th December

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