A sample private pilot knowledge test question pulled from a recently released batch on the FAA Training and Testing website asks: “The Aeronautical Information Manual specifically encourages pilots to turn on their landing lights when operating below 10,000 feet, day or night, and especially when operating
A. in Class B airspace.
B. in conditions of reduced visibility.
C. within 15 miles of a towered airport.”
The correct, if incomplete, answer is B.
Answer B, as it appears full length in Chapter 4 of the Aeronautical Information Manual, says, “Pilots are further encouraged to turn on their landing lights when operating below 10,000 feet, day or night, especially when operating within 10 miles of any airport, or in conditions of reduced visibility and in areas where flocks of birds may be expected, i.e., coastal areas, lake areas, around refuse dumps, etc.”
Imperfections aside, the sample question illuminates the idea that aircraft landing lights play a larger flight safety role than just spotlighting a runway for takeoffs and landings. They are one of the best collision-avoidance systems aboard; the discussion of night flight on page 11-8 of the Airplane Flying Handbook reminds pilots that “all airplane lights should be checked for operation by turning them on momentarily during the preflight inspection” at night.
The chapter also discusses a safety exception to the lights-on recommendation: Once the light beam no longer reaches the surface during the after-takeoff climb, turn it off to avoid distracting reflections from smoke, haze, or clouds unless it is still needed for collision avoidance.
Given the on-again, off-again nature of landing light use, it is not uncommon for a pilot to discover that the landing light is off and won’t come back on. Flipping the rocker switch and recycling the circuit breaker might help; if not, you may be faced with a so-called blackout landing—something to simulate in your (minimum) three hours of night flight training.
Normally, two cues to begin a roundout for night landing are seeing the landing light’s beam reflect off the runway, and clearly observing aircraft tire marks below.
Without landing lights, “the round out may be started when the runway lights at the far end of the runway first appear to be rising higher than the nose of the airplane”—a delicate operation that “requires that the pilot feel for the runway surface using power and pitch changes, as necessary” to complete the landing, the Airplane Flying Handbook notes.