We joined a nighttime training exercise in the “First Jet” Squadron and heard firsthand about the challenges the night brings, what it feels like to fly in the dark and how technology assists the aircrews
IAF fighter pilots are always prepared to fly, day and night and most of the IAF’s routine attack sorties are performed in the dark. Flying at night provides the aircrews with a significant advantage in their missions, from precise strikes to reconnaissance. “A large amount of our sorties are performed at night”, stated Lt. Ohad from the “First Jet” Squadron, which operates the “Barak” (F-16C/D). “It is important to us to maintain and develop our nighttime abilities. The current exercise allowed us to examine our abilities in attack and defense missions, all in the dark”.
The Technological Edge
“When flying during the daytime, you can simply stick to the formation leader in extreme scenarios but in night flights, your eyes are all but useless and your flying is based completely on your instruments. As a pilot, I lock my radar in order to maintain the connection between myself and the formation leader”, shared Lt. Ohad. “Israeli pilots love looking outside and not relying solely on instruments, but at night that isn’t an option.
The Dark Dimension
Night flights call for different procedures that deal with pre-flight tests. “When I launch an unguided bomb during the day, I can see the target with my eyes, but at night I rely only on coordinates”, said Lt. Ohad. “In accordance with the nature of night flights, we try to shorten processes and be exceedingly purposeful”.
“Night flights aren’t a natural thing”, explained Lt. Ohad. “There is an added dimension at night: darkness. The IAF operates at night at the same level it does in the day, but the way the missions are performed is slightly different at night. You cannot react properly to your environment because you see less, so you have to know the field and plan the flight before you take off”.
According to Lt. Ohad, “Beyond vertigo, that is the most extreme scenario possible in night flight, there is the danger of collision. Due to the limited visibility, the pilot can’t see his leader, so keeping your distance is crucial. The complexity of night flight is tangible in training and in operational sorties. When training you must be pay close attention to the aircraft’s location and in operational flight it is crucial to remain in your designated range in order to avoid collisions”.
Despite the difficulties of night flight, it turns out that the dark has its advantages as well. “Operationally speaking, the advantaged of night flights are clear”, asserted Lt. Ohad. “The jet is practically invisible and the enemy is less alert and prepared. Furthermore, it is much quieter at night and there are much less aircraft in the air. The aerial space is calmer and you can feel a sort of eerie stillness. The nightly atmosphere is unique in a way difficult to put into words”.