We have all memorized the helpful triangle, but now this paragraph:

(2) Airplane, powered parachute, or weight-shift-control aircraft. If the visibility is less than 3 statute miles but not less than 1 statute mile during night hours and you are operating in an airport traffic pattern within 1⁄2 mile of the runway, you may operate an airplane, powered parachute, or weight-shift-control aircraft clear of clouds.

... is mucking up the works. When was flying below 1200 AGL in a traffic pattern no farther away than 1/2 a NM in Class G at night and only needing to see 1 NM away & staying clear of clouds deemed a good (legal) idea?


1 Answer 1


The basic content (without references to powered parachute or weight-shift-control aircraft) was already present in the 1991 Final Rule "Airspace Reclassification", as can be seen by clicking on the first reference link at the bottom of the page for the link that you include in your question. See page 65660 on this PDF from the Federal Register.

But the rule is older than that--

I have a copy of the 1978 FARs, and at that time, FAR 91.105 governed basic VFR weather minimums. Only 1 mile visibility was required for VFR airplane operations in "uncontrolled airspace"-- with no distinctions at all between daytime and night requirements.

The FAA increased the basic VFR visibility requirements for nighttime airplane operations in "uncontrolled airspace" in a Final Rule entitled "Night-Visual Flight Rules Visibility and Distance From Clouds Minimums", effective November 13, 1989, issued September 25 1989, and published on pp. 40234-40327 of the September 29 1989 Federal Register (PDF downloadable here). FAR 91.105(a), on p. 40326, requires 3 miles visibility for airplane night VFR operations in uncontrolled airspace. FAR 91.105 (b)(2), on pp. 40326-40327, contains the exception allowing airplanes operating under VFR in uncontrolled airspace in a traffic pattern within 1/2 mile of the runway to operate with visibility of less than 3 miles, so long as the visibility is greater than 1 mile.

In the discussion section on p. 40325 of this document, you can read about the AOPA's support for allowing operations at night in uncontrolled airspace "under the provisions of the current rule", e.g. with visibility as low as one mile in uncontrolled airspace, as long as those operations are conducted in a closed traffic pattern, to "allow pilots to maintain currency and proficiency in night takeoffs and landings per § 61.57(d)." FAR 91.105(b)(2) was essentially an accommodation of this viewpoint, and today's FAR 91.115(b)(2) is the direct descendent of that.

  • $\begingroup$ Folks' typical idea of the appropriate size of a traffic pattern for closed-circuit night VFR operations has perhaps increased a bit since 1989? $\endgroup$ Mar 21, 2022 at 17:55

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