Common sense suggests it's much easier to do an off-field landing at day than at night, curious to know how it's accomplished at night.

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    $\begingroup$ What aircraft type are you interested in? Helicopter? Glider? etc. $\endgroup$
    – Sanchises
    Dec 7, 2020 at 9:50
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    $\begingroup$ Joke: The procedure is as follows; descend to 50ft. Switch on your landing lights, if you like what you see, land, if not switch off landing light. $\endgroup$
    – Jamiec
    Dec 7, 2020 at 10:49
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    $\begingroup$ Aim for a dark patch and hope there are no trees, power lines etc. $\endgroup$ Dec 7, 2020 at 11:09
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    $\begingroup$ Just make sure the highway is well-lit: newyork.cbslocal.com/video/… $\endgroup$
    – Hot Licks
    Dec 7, 2020 at 17:58
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    $\begingroup$ It's much easier to do an off-field landing at night. Harder to use the aircraft again though... $\endgroup$
    – fectin
    Dec 7, 2020 at 18:53

2 Answers 2


Off-field landings at night are inherently more difficult and hazardous than in the day because depending on conditions you may have no way to tell what is down there. Unless you have decently strong moonlight all unlit terrain will be completely black, and you won't be able to tell forest from field. This is why it's critical to protect your night vision, it gives you a chance to see what's below you. If there's a highway down there that may be your best option, but if you're in a sparse area on a dark night you have to pick a spot that's into wind and hope it's not badlands. Even then it's still survivable if you have good technique, keep positive control of the airplane and reduce the airspeed as much as you can before impact, without stalling of course.

Aiming for clusters of lights sounds good at first, but that usually means buildings or parking lots which are not good choices.

The best way to de-risk this is through good flight planning. Choose a flight path that goes over friendly terrain: adding 15 minutes of flying time is worth it if it means you are over fields rather than rough terrain or water. Study the terrain using google earth or a similar tool. If you have a GPS you could even put good off-airport landing sites on your map. Give yourself extra altitude, and keep practicing your forced landing technique.

  • $\begingroup$ Ditto the flying at a higher altitude part. It will give you more time to reach a suitable landing area. Maybe even an airfield. In addition to careful flight planning, and protecting your night vision, I would add carrying supplemental oxygen to combat the increased oxygen requirements of your eyes at night. $\endgroup$
    – Dean F.
    Dec 7, 2020 at 16:24
  • $\begingroup$ That may be over the top, but worth considering if flying at higher altitudes. It's also dependent on health, age, physical fitness and whether someone's a smoker. $\endgroup$
    – GdD
    Dec 7, 2020 at 16:26
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    $\begingroup$ The FAA recommends supplemental oxygen above 5,000 feet MSL at night for that very reason. Depending on your Maximum Elevation Figure, you may have to consider flying as high as 10,000 feet (or at least the Minimum IFR Altitude) even when flying VFR at night. For the most part, this would still be below the FAA regulation required maximum without supp O2. But, it is still recommended that O2 is used. $\endgroup$
    – Dean F.
    Dec 7, 2020 at 16:32
  • $\begingroup$ I didn't know that @DeanF. Something to keep in mind for sure. I know there's small disposables you can get, given I live in the southeast of England where the highest point is about 1000ft it's not something I've given much thought about. $\endgroup$
    – GdD
    Dec 7, 2020 at 16:35
  • $\begingroup$ Then there's golf courses (just ask Harrison Ford). Large, open field, mostly flat, few trees, not likely to be many people, often well-lit if they're used for tournaments. (We're talking about small planes here, right? Don't think a 747 could safely land in such a location.) $\endgroup$ Dec 8, 2020 at 16:19

Chapter 10 of the FAA's Airplane Flying Handbook covers night emergency landings, here are some of the points it suggests (p. 10-9):

  • Maintain positive control of the airplane and establish the best glide configuration and airspeed. Turn the airplane towards an airport or away from congested areas.
  • If the condition of the nearby terrain is known and is suitable for a forced landing, turn towards an unlighted portion of the area and plan an emergency forced landing to an unlighted portion.
  • Consider an emergency landing area close to public access if possible. This may facilitate rescue or help, if needed.
  • Complete the before landing checklist, and check the landing lights for operation at altitude and turn ON in sufficient time to illuminate the terrain or obstacles along the flightpath. The landing should be completed in the normal landing attitude at the slowest possible airspeed. If the landing lights are unusable and outside visual references are not available, the airplane should be held in level-landing attitude until the ground is contacted.

Having said all that, every situation is different. Checklists cover the 'mechanical' steps required to make an emergency landing but they can't tell you where to land. The pilot will always have to make that decision and it's a debate that comes up periodically on aviation discussion forums, especially about how close (or not) you should land to lights.

  • $\begingroup$ >The landing should be completed in the normal landing attitude at the slowest possible airspeed. What's the lowest possible airspeed on jet/turboprop having to do emergency landing considering reasonable issues for off-field landing? $\endgroup$ Dec 8, 2020 at 0:27
  • $\begingroup$ @CupOfGreenTea I guess they mean "just above stall speed", and that depends on the aircraft type and configuration. A Cessna Caravan is a turboprop and stalls at a little over 60 knots, an airliner's stall speed would most likely be over 100 knots. $\endgroup$
    – Pondlife
    Dec 8, 2020 at 1:01
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    $\begingroup$ you have to love the ", if needed." - ! $\endgroup$
    – Fattie
    Dec 8, 2020 at 12:00

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