Since I had some free time tonight--and since the weather was perfect--I went out for a night flight.
First I changed another landing light. The last one cost me $28.00 and lasted two flights. The shop charges half an hour's labor to change one but I timed myself and I did it in nine minutes, three seconds, and that includes removing and re-installing 22 screws with a screwdriver, not a power drill with a screw tip. Then I took off into the darkness.
But where to go? I wasn't sure. I knew that the tower would ask me for my direction of flight on my departure so I flipped a mental coin and picked Winchester, Virginia as I was doing my mag checks at the hold-short line. Sure enough, they asked, I told them and I was approved for the required left turn out on take-off. It was a quick hop down to Winchester and I shot my first night landing there. But they were busy, with three other aircraft in the pattern, and I wanted more tonight, so I left there heading back east and set a course for Warrenton, VA on the other side of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Warrenton has a neat little airport nestled beneath Dulles International's Class B Airspace, but so long as I stayed below 4500 feet and didn't cross into Washington DC's nearby Special Flight Rules Area (SFRA), I'd be fine. I climbed to 4,000 to clear the mountain ridge that I knew was down there in the dark below me (Highest nearby peak: 1,980 ft.) and then set a gradual descent to ease down below Dulles' airspace. The sky was cloudless and clear and with the moon out I could still see the ground below once I'd dimmed all my essential cockpit lights and turned off the ones I didn't need. Warrenton had a bit of traffic too, but I slid straight in on a long final then taxied back via their taxiway for a departure to the southwest. What the heck, I figured. I'd hit Culpeper, too. It was only eight miles away.
So I headed down there. Unlike Warrenton, there was no one else flying there. It was all dark so I switched my radio over and clicked for the pilot-controlled lighting system. Nothing. I looked out into he dark where I was pretty sure Culpeper airport was and tried again, still with no joy. Re-checking the radio, I found the problem: It's 123.075, not 123.75. Once that frequency correction was made, I clicked my radio again and all sorts of red, yellow, white and blue lights came on in the middle of a big area that appeared vacant a few seconds ago. I love pilot-controlled lighting. I could turn whole airports on from my cockpit all night long.
Normally I just shoot touch-and-gos and get gone, but for some reason I just felt like doing a full stop and a U-turn at the end of the runway so that I could head back the way that I came in. I came down beautifully and settled right on the runway pavement numbers, just missing a couple of deer that chose that moment to run across the runway. Oh, man, I'm so glad that I came in with a full-stop landing in mind. I'f I'd kept my speed up for a touch-and-go and been rolling at 80kts instead of 40kts, I'm pretty sure that there'd have been shredded deer and a bent airplane on that runway this morning. Effing Bambi!
It was just such a nice night for flying that I really didn't want to stop. But tomorrow's got it's own agenda and I was getting hungry so with 2.3 more hours logged--night and cross-country time--I called it quits and put the plane away. It was a great flight and I retired to the Lair to grill a late-night steak...and this time I made sure not to take any proffered toys from Murphy (and yes, he did try the horse trick again).