July 2006 I took a Friday night flight with Jeff Swain, the famous Schofields Friday night 3 circuit musical chairs and dinner. I only vaguely remember it. That was the official start of my NVFR rating. I'm actually surprised it was so long ago. Turned up at the club, got a quick back of the envelope briefing on night circuits from Jeff and off we went with two other pilots, each of us taking a turn in the left seat before making a full stop and switching places until we had all done 3 circuits, retiring to the clubhouse for BBQ chicken. Only the last two years have I been earnest in getting my Night VFR rating to allow me to fly at night. The first 3 years I either had not enough time, not enough money, or not enough of either. Last year I had 6 flight tests booked, and all cancelled due to the uncharacteristically bad weather, La Nina or El Nino, or whatever. This year the weather started to turn in my favour.
I arrived at the club, planned up and ready to visit Cessnock, first taking SFM up for a couple of circuits to get warmed up and familiar. It was more a case of getting use to the cockpit and choosing appropriate power settings for different legs of the circuit. Satisfied, I returned to the clubhouse and cooled my heels a short while, getting my paperwork in order for the flight.
Bill Cooper, the CFI, found me and we went out to the aeroplane, having already filled the tanks and checked the lights were in working order. Not quite dark yet, but almost sun at down we taxied out and headed north to the GA lane, Bill carefully programming the Garmin 430 with our proposed flight plan. Still being light Bill put me under the hood and I flew on instruments until it was obvious I wasn't going to fall out of the sky.
We chatted the light banter of examiner and examined while the sky grew darker and more lights appeared in the suburbs below us, ships off shore decorated like Christmas trees, lines of red taillights snaking their way northwards. The moon hung low on the horizon, haze painting it a vivid scarlet.
The area frequency went silent, suspiciously so. Tuned the CTAF which was also ominously silent. Used both radios and could not hear a squeak out of anyone. Found Cessnock eventually and joined the circuit. Another aeroplane joined after us and made a call, completely relieving my fears of a radio failure.
"One normal landing and one flapless and then we'll head back to Bankstown." A decent circuit and a pretty landing, even if I do say so myself. Power up and round again, the circuit being wide this time as I hadn't accounted for the Nor-Westerly blowing me away from the runway on downwind. Another decent landing, if a little flat, the back we go to Bankstown via Mt McQuoid, Bill Cooper being much relieved of his fears of the likelihood of me balling us both up on the runway at Cessnock. We chatted away again, more naturally now as it was clear my skills were up to par for the NVFR. Held height and heading OK, even if the DI precessed more quickly than you'd expect. Bill at one point mentioned that the engine was performing well, at which point I remarked he was a less superstitious man than I, tempting the fates so.
To Bankstown, and joined a close downwind to land on 29. Thought I had overcooked it and said so, doubting my ability to touch down after the tight circuit entry. Bill had faith and said so, we followed the two red and two white down the slope for another neat landing, even if I have no proof but my own recollection.
I felt confident and very relaxed and I think it reflected in my flying that night. Soft hands and lots of time to think and plan. I'm now qualified to fly at night which will enhance my ability to depart early and arrive late and is also a prerequisite for the flight instructors rating.
We taxied back to parking, the yellow taxi line clearly visible in the bright moonlight, Bill noting we had lost our red moon.
"Communist moon," he said.