The Night the Lights Went Out

The other night I took a friend for a tour of Tampa Bay. We went south over the bay, southwest over the Sunshine Skyway Bridge, and then west and north up the Pinellas County coast. I try to make my flights cross country, but since we were sort of flying in a circle, we never got far enough to land 50 miles away. We followed the coast past Pasco County, and turned east over Hernando County to I-75, then back home. It was after 10 pm when we got back.

Previously when I got home after dark, the runway lights were on since there had been other traffic recently. This time they were off. I circled the airport several times, clicking the mike to turn on the lights with no luck. I knew my mike worked because other people responded to my calls, but no other traffic was in the area. I thought my technique was the problem and hoped somebody else might be nearby that could turn the lights on.

Circling the airport, I could see the runway since there was a full moon. I decided to try an approach and see if I was comfortable enough to land. I got close to the runway and could see the blue taxiway lights on my left and the canal on my right. Aiming right between them, once I got down below 100 feet, I could see the runway surface.

When landing at night it helps to look farther down the runway than normal, but without the edge lights I didn’t have that option. The landing was OK, and less challenging than it might sound, but if I’d known the lights weren’t working, I would have returned before dark, or not flown. My flight instructor told me he wouldn’t have tried it.

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