VFR Cross-Country Flight


  • Cross country flight is defined as flying greater than 50 NM from the departure airport


  • Generally, night operations make it difficult to see clouds and restrictions to visibility, particularly on dark nights or under overcast
    • The pilot flying under VFR must exercise caution to avoid flying into clouds or a layer of fog
  • Usually, the first indication of flying into restricted visibility conditions is the gradual disappearance of lights on the ground
  • If the lights begin to take on an appearance of being surrounded by a halo or glow, the pilot should use caution in attempting further flight in that same direction
    • Such a halo or glow around lights on the ground is indicative of ground fog
  • Remember that if a descent must be made through fog, smoke, or haze in order to land, the horizontal visibility is considerably less when looking through the restriction than it is when looking straight down through it from above
  • Under no circumstances should a VFR night-flight be made during poor or marginal weather conditions unless both the pilot and aircraft are certificated and equipped for flight under instrument flight rules (IFR)

Airplane Flying Handbook. Figure 10-4, Use light patterns for orientation
Figure 1: Airplane Flying Handbook, Use light patterns for orientation


  • The pilot should practice and acquire competency in straight-and-level flight, climbs and descents, level turns, climbing and descending turns, and steep turns
  • Recovery from unusual attitudes should also be practiced, but only on dual flights with a flight instructor
  • The pilot should also practice these maneuvers with all the cockpit lights turned OFF, as blackout training is necessary, if an electrical or instrument light failure occurs
  • Training should also include using the navigation equipment and local NAVAIDs
  • In spite of fewer references or checkpoints, night cross-country flights do not present particular problems if pre-planning is adequate, and the pilot continues to monitor position, time estimates, and fuel consumed
  • NAVAIDs, if available, should be used to assist in monitoring en route progress
  • Crossing large bodies of water at night in single engine airplanes could be potentially hazardous, not only from the standpoint of landing (ditching) in the water, but also because with little or no lighting the horizon blends with the water, in which case, depth perception and orientation become difficult
    • During poor visibility conditions over water, the horizon will become obscure, and may result in a loss of orientation
  • Even on clear nights, the stars may be reflected on the water surface, which could appear as a continuous array of lights, thus making the horizon difficult to identify
  • At an altitude of 2,000', a group of lights on an object may be seen individually, while at 5,000' or higher, the same lights could appear to be one solid light mass
  • These illusions may become quite acute with altitude changes and if not overcome could present problems in respect to approaches to lighted runways