IAF pilots must take off at night as well The IAF never sleeps, and even new pilots are prepared for long nights and moonlit takeoffs. What are the dangers of nighttime flying? How do you deal with darkness? In honor of Hanukkah, the IAF Magazine headed out to find out how to diminish the darkness
Mai Resh and Michal Khayut
Humans rely on their sense of sight for even the most basic actions, which makes most of us helpless against darkness. Usually, when faced with lack of light, you’d be able to switch on a light. But when flying thousands of meters up in the skies, things become a bit more complicated. “You can barely see a thing. Not the route or the targets,” says Captain Ori, a “First Jet Squadron” combat pilot. “Taking off and landing is different but even maneuvering on ground feels different”.
A Little Flare
Regardless of the obvious difficulties, when the sun goes down the IAF cannot call it a day just yet, and since it is impossible to carry Hanukkah torches into the cockpit, many technological alternatives give an answer to the problem. The “Journal”, for example, is a surveillance device that’s implanted on the pilots head piece and strengthens light produced by the stars–it provides aerial crew members better sight. There is also another system called “The Flare”: a special camera implanted on the first of most combat helicopters and swivels toward where the pilots look to scan the area.
These devices might assist pilots with their nighttime vision issues, but night flights, as well equipped as may be, are always difficult. “During your first flights it’s much harder”, shares First Lieutenant Ben, a cobra pilot of the “First Helicopter” squadron. “It all looks completely different, and even feels different: You have to mainly rely on aviation equipment and it gives the whole scenario a surreal feel. I flew a lot at night, and I’m still getting used to it”.
Vertigo, which is caused by the loss of orientation while flying, can lead pilots into dangerous situations: For instance, a pilot may dive into the ground, while seemingly to him he is flying into the clouds. Vertigo effects become more common during night flights, since the darkness surrounds the aircrafts from all around. It is without a doubt one of the prominent fears of a pilot before night flights. Aside of technological assistance and the many night flying training sessions, First Lieutenant Ben says that what helps him is having another pilot in the cockpit. “It helps when there is someone else along with you. Another pair of eyes that can observe and comment when needed”.
Apparently there are a few advantages to darkness aside from the challenges. “It’s much more quiet at night, the atmosphere is mellow and you feel the strangest silence”, says First Lieutenant Ben. “There are a lot less aircrafts”, adds Captain Ori, “The night is calm and unique”.