Misjudging altitude on night landings


New Member
Hey guys,

I just wanted to describe something that was happening on a night flight I was on last night, and see if anyone has had a similar experience. Upon returning to my home airport (FNL) from a night cross country (VFR), I was, for some reason, constantly misjudging my altitude on landing. Basically, I went around the pattern and ended up being way too high on final to make a normal landing, and had to go around. The second time around I was also high, but, not so high that I had to do another go around. For some reason, I was just having these illusions of being closer to the ground than I really was. Is it normal to have illusions like these sometimes? I've never had this happen to me while landing in the day. Also, most night landings I've done recently have been after shooting instrument approaches. Last night was the first night in ages that I ever just tried pulling it all off visual, so I figure it might be a currency issue in that regard.

Anyone have any thoughts? Thanks...
Yeap - it just takes experience to overcome that. When I was a student pilot I had a similar problem one night, I think I went around 3 times too. My best advise is if you are having problems getting down on the ground at night, fly the pattern and keep monitoring your altidude and to make sure you are on target when turning base, turning final, over the fence - if you do that you should be fine.
I had the same problem when I was learning.

One thing that helped me is to treat a night landing like a soft field. Use power to feel your way down. Also use the landing light and realize that it won't shine on the runway until you are very low.
If there's a VASI, etc. trust it. Put red over white and you'll do fine. The problem with practicing coming in high (during the day, in a single) is that you don't know "how" high you are unless its a four light system and even those once they're all white you don't know.

The VASI will keep you out of the junk. Just trust it.

Also, in the flare - especially at night - remember to look at the end of the runway!
I agree with Davetheflyer. The key for me was patience. Don't be so eager to flare and get the wheels on the pavement...I learned my leason by flaring WAY too high once. Plan on using a little more runway than usual. On some planes, turn the taxi light on as it tends to point down a little more. During the cruise portion of the flight progressively dim the panel and interior lights throughout the flight. You'll be surprised how good your night vision can get which will only help once it's time to touch down.
Also, in the flare - especially at night - remember to look at the end of the runway!

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This is excellent advice- the trouble with night landings is purely a question of perspective. My trouble when learning night landings came from fixating on where my landing/taxi lights were shining, which is way too close. Also, try glancing out of the side of the aircraft to get a better idea of your height.
Thanks for the tips guys... Unfortunately, the VASI was inoperative last night, and so was the instrument approach lighting, so I had to rely entirely on just the white runway edge lights

Thanks to whoever mentioned the tip of gradually dimming the cockpit lights. Interestingly enough, I was flying our '03 172R which had a bright white pannel light. I could have dimmed it, and should have, but I'll remember to next time. Make me wonder what Cessna was thinking though. Isn't red lighting supposed to be what interfears with your night vision the least?