The problem of lack of sleep for pilots and night flying

Sleep Wake Cycle Night-time departures, early morning arrivals, and adjusting to several time zones in a matter of days can rattle circadian rhythms, compromise attention and challenge vigilance. And yet, these are the very conditions many pilots face as they contend with a technically challenging job in which potentially hundreds of lives are at stake. In an article to be published in a forthcoming issue of Current Directions in Psychological Sciencea journal of the Association for Psychological ScienceJohn A Caldwell, a psychologist and senior scientist at Fatigue Science, a Honolulu business focusing on fatigue assessment, examines the problem of sleep deprived pilots by teasing out the complex interplay of inadequate sleep and circadian rhythms.

The problem of lack of sleep for pilots and night flying

Back in the day when I was young and stupid I'm now much older and still…long before I discovered I could make even less money in aviation, I was determined to become one of the world's great trumpet players.

To that end, I studied with one of Hollywood's hardest-working studio lead trumpet players, Bud Brisbois. Mancini was in great demand at cities with symphony orchestras to conduct a program of his music.

Like many musicians, Mancini didn't enjoy being on the road, and he accepted the dates on the condition that he be flown in by corporate jet with four of his favorite soloists; typically, Bud on trumpet, Bud Shank on sax, Shelley Mann on drums and I think Milt Bernhart on trombone.

The musicians would typically depart in one of Clay Lacy's Learjet 35s early on a Saturday morning, arrive in Kansas City or Dallas or New Orleans in time for a rehearsal, play the job and fly home immediately after the concert.

Bud said they were always treated like royalty, made great money, and he was usually back at his home in Encino by 2 a. Bud wasn't a pilot and didn't know much about airplanes, but he always felt that was one of the great fringe benefits of working with Mancini, even if he did have to fly in the middle of the night.

Under some circumstances, night can be an enjoyable time to fly. We may not all fly Learjets halfway across the country in the dark, but night can still be a seductress.

The problem of lack of sleep for pilots and night flying

The weather is usually better, the temperature improves aircraft performance, the air can be almost glycerin smooth and, as the haze of the day settles out, the visibility becomes so good, you could see Hawaii if the Earth were flat.

Less than a dozen years after earning my license, I began ferrying airplanes internationally, and nearly all of my first 40 trips across the North Atlantic from Canada nonstop to Ireland were at night. The time change between Gander, Newfoundland, and Shannon, Ireland, is three hours, so if we departed at, say, 6 p.

In those days, I was taught that night was the best time to fly the ocean. Weather was usually better, HF signals carried further, the airplane was happier, and we pilots got to take 36 hours off rather than 24 in Ireland.

If the worst did happen and we had to ditch, an emergency strobe could be visible for 30 to 40 miles provided you survived the landing, got your raft deployed, succeeded in climbing aboard, didn't suffer hypothermia or get eaten by sharks.

Some advantages to flying at night include airports that are easier to find with lighted runways, and instruments that are easier to scan with well-illuminated dials.

One tip when in the pattern is to use square patterns with a relatively wide base. This will give you time to judge the final turn and landing approach. I've since learned better, but there's no question night has its attractions—and its detractions. There's less traffic and more visibility, no glare from the sun, instrument scanning is easier with well-illuminated dials, cities stand out from surrounding terrain, and airports and traffic are easier to locate with their telltale beacons.

After way too many trips, I don't do too many Atlantic crossings—my West Coast domicile favors Pacific trips—but I still do my share of night flying, primarily because it's often difficult to get everything done in daylight.

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Why sleep when you could be flying? That attitude can get some pilots into trouble, and it does exactly that every year. That suggests night flying must be inherently more dangerous than aviating when the sun is up.

The rules for night flying are more stringent in many countries than they are in the U. In Mexico, all night flights must be conducted IFR.

Several African countries forbid ANY general aviation flights at night. Airlines aren't so constrained. Of course, just as with flying over water, the airplane doesn't know it's dark, so the problems of night flying are more related to pilots than airplanes.

Here's a short list of considerations for flying at night.

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There's no logical reason for more mechanical malfunctions at night, but any problem may be compounded by the difficulty of executing emergency checklists and spotting reasonable landing sites. Accordingly, many pilots will plot a course that zig-zags between airports rather than simply punching "Go To" on the Garmin and flying GPS-direct.

The distance will be slightly greater, but not as much as you might imagine. For fans of pilotage, the old trick of picking a prominent point on the far horizon, flying to it, and picking another and then another, may be a challenge when you can't see a horizon. The difference between cruise at 8, and 10, feet may not seem like much until you have to glide back to Earth at fpm without power.

That extra 2, feet represents an additional two-plus minutes of time to make important decisions. It's easier to become disoriented in the dark, so there's a slightly higher risk of "temporary disorientation," as the military calls it.

We call it lost. Also, pilots flying at night have a greater sense of get-there-itis, and that may mean decisions they wouldn't make in daylight when things are actually visible.

Even if the problem is only one of being a little short on fuel and needing to stop for a few gallons, not every airport offers fuel sales in the wee small hours. That can encourage dumb decisions.

Consider using a wide-point pencil or pen, perhaps even a Sharpie, for your flight track line and flight log. Don't use a highlighter, as the color may appear as a solid-black line under red light.

I use a hands-free miner's or camp light that straps to my forehead and shines wherever I'm looking, plus two or three Maglites of various sizes for other tasks.Ever-changing shift schedules, long hours, and short rest periods put pilots and other airline professionals at high risk for sleep deprivation, sleep disorders, and the health risks associated with chronic sleep problems, including .

It looks like you've lost connection to our server. Please check your internet connection or reload this page. The pilot needed about 10 more hours of rest to be considered fully rested, and his lack of sleep was a direct result of working at his civilian job during the day and flying training missions at night, according to the report.

That lack of sleep resulted in the pilot having the same level of impairment as someone with a blood alcohol level of, the report says. Sep 10,  · Lack of Sleep Is Ruled Factor in UPS Plane Crash.

regarding fatigue related to night flying when the pilot had not flown in 10 days and the first officer was off eight of the previous During normal sleep, you cycle through REM and four stages of non-REM (NREM) sleep numerous times a night.

Stage 1 of NREM sleep is the lightest, while stage 4 . In one study, F pilots were deprived of one night of sleep and then were tested on precision instruments. Not only did pilot errors on those instruments double after one night of sleep loss, pilots reported feeling depressed and confused.

Top 20 Tips For Night Flying - Plane & Pilot Magazine