Get ready for night flight

With various regulation changes taking effect in March and April, including one that will soon allow remote pilots to fly at night without a waiver, there’s no better time than now for a refresher.

I’ve been a public safety drone pilot since 2014, and I have learned that rules and expectations constantly change. The industry is still young, and a lot is still being sorted out. Looking back now on the first drone operations I flew in 2014 makes me cringe when I consider compliance with the current rules and regulations.

Part of growing our skills is to take a fresh look at some assumptions and update our memories. All pilots suffer from a natural phenomenon known as the forgetting curve. (My wife will attest to this.) First hypothesized by German psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus in 1885, it’s basically a math formula that describes how memory fades over time.

If you want to be a good pilot, strive to be a great pilot. If you want to be a great pilot, make a habit of refreshing your recollection on a regular basis, not just when it’s time to prepare to take a test.

I teach and advise public safety operators who operate under Part 107, under a certificate of authorization (COA) for public aircraft operations, or both. One nice thing about teaching is that you learn a lot while you’re at it, and a seemingly innocent question from a police department pulled a thread that unraveled into a deep dive on what the rules really say, and what they don’t.

Read on to reap the rewards and pick up a few fresh facts for your brain go-bag:

Light it up for civil twilight

Now that remote pilots will be allowed to fly at night without a waiver (after completing the updated Part 107 remote pilot knowledge test that the FAA will make available April 6), the definition of civil twilight is worth revisiting.

You might be used to seeing the local sunrise and sunset times in your favorite weather app, but that’s not civil twilight in the eyes of the FAA. Civil twilight starts when the geometric center of the sun is just below the horizon, and ends when the center of the sun is 6 degrees below the horizon. (For Part 61 pilots, civil twilight is relevant to both currency requirements and logging flight experience as “day” or “night.”)

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