52

I don't care how good the pilot's eyes were; there was zero visibility outside that airplane. That fog we were in was the metaphorical "pea soup", and he could not possibly have landed visually. What you see from a passenger window has little relationship to what the pilot is looking for and can see out his windshield. The pilot is looking for lead-in ...


47

Short answer: they do have front lights! Longer answer: There's lots of stuff for a ground vehicle (such as a car) to hit, because there's lots of stuff close to the ground. There's not much in the air for an aircraft to hit, besides other aircraft. Lights on an aircraft in flight are to help the airplane be seen, not to help the airplane see. On landing,...


30

Pretty much anything you want to avoid in the air is (or should be) lit. Other airplanes, radio towers, that sort of thing. If it's not lit, then either you couldn't have done much to avoid it anyway (bird), or you should be able to anticipate it (terrain). Airplanes do have landing lights, which are quite bright and point forward. In the US, commercial ...


25

The visibility is measured alongside the runway, usually at various positions, and is called the Runway Visual Range (RVR). RVR is defined as the range over which the pilot of an aircraft on the centre line of a runway can see the runway surface markings or the lights delineating the runway or identifying its centre line. RVR is measured using so called ...


18

That beacon lens (and most of the strobe lenses shaped like it) are actually Fresnel lenses. They are optically designed to produce a specific plane & intensity of coverage, and tinted for a specific color. (The color, intensity, and plane are specified in the FARs & applicable Technical Standard Orders if you want to go hunt down the requirements.) ...


16

The system that allows planes to land in low visibility is the Instrument Landing System (ILS). Using ILS, a plane can know its position relative to the runway, either as a reference while manually flying, or to allow the autopilot to fly the approach to the runway, or even land the plane. There are different categories of ILS depending on the aircraft and ...


16

Other's have explained what ILS is, but if you were wondering what the pilot may have seen, it would be something like this. The vertical red box on the right side indicates whether the plane is correctly following the proper slope into the runway. If the plane drifts lower, the magenta diamond would go higher and vice versa. The horizontal red box ...


14

Your assumption that all are round is faulty, plenty are teardrop shaped. You'll see round ones on many slower aircraft where streamlining isn't as big an issue, however on faster aircraft they are almost always aerodynamic.


12

But if he was capable of making a perfect instrument landing at that runway all along, why was the fog reducing visibility ever a concern in the first place? Any technology, including the instrument landing system (ILS), can fail. Since life depends on it, there have to be methods in place to detect the failure and abort the approach. The final method for ...


11

Such landing is safe, reasonable and completely standard business. The ILS transmitter is rather simple, so there is not that much that can go wrong. But to qualify as category III, only which can be used with no decision height, it additionally needs monitoring circuits that check whether the correct signal is being transmitted and shut it down if it ...


11

Autoland exists at least in part because a pilot can't safely hit (the right part of) the runway (at the right speed and attitude) without visual references, so a lot of precision electronic guidance equipment is needed, and then even more equipment to ensure the first equipment is working correctly. In contrast, the sky is much bigger than the runway. It's ...


10

Buildings and their lights can be very useful to aircraft in VFR conditions at night to orient themselves regardless of the type of aircraft. Three building lighting examples that I often used were: When flying Metroliners for a commuter airline that operated to Walla Walla, WA, I would call for a visual approach to the airport when I saw the Washington ...


9

It's essentially a combination of the capabilities of FLIR and NVG's, although built into the aircraft and displayed in the HUD rather than worn as goggles. FLIR, short for Forward Looking Infra Red, uses far-IR to see the heat of terrain, and essentially turns the night into day, at least for the field of view that it "sees." NVG's (Night Vision Goggles) ...


9

Taking a look to the photograph you are showing not only the lights are not very aerodynamic, you can see as well that the fairing on the tail could have a softer transition, the rivets used are not the ones used in commercial het airplanes and transition between plates is also not smooth. You can see that the aerodynamics is open to improvements. The ...


9

Using a HUD, an airliner can take off with visibility as low as 300’, and land with visibility as low as 600’. Without a HUD, you need 500’ (and appropriate runway lights/markings, plus regulatory approval) for takeoff, and whatever your autopilot Cat III autoland system (along with the landing runway) is approved to for landing. (Or 1800’ for cases of no ...


8

All my quotes for this post comes from FAA Order 7900.5C, the Surface Weather Observing Guide. Visibility is defined as "Visibility is a measure of the horizontal opacity of the atmosphere at the point of observation and is expressed in terms of the horizontal distance at which a person should be able to see and identify specific objects." All METARs ...


8

The FAA gives the definition for "Flight Visibility" in 14 CFR 1.1: Flight visibility means the average forward horizontal distance, from the cockpit of an aircraft in flight, at which prominent unlighted objects may be seen and identified by day and prominent lighted objects may be seen and identified by night. According to that definition, any mountain,...


8

Though your question does not explicitly say so, it implies that you're talking about flights that are carrying passengers or cargo for hire, and other answers address that. However, taking your question as explicitly stated, in other words not just air carrier operations, and applying it to U.S. operations, the phrase: cannot take off without a minimum ...


7

They don't really need to. Hills and other man-made static obstacles are mapped and lit and height limitations are published to which the pilot can follow to stay safe as long as he knows were he is. Landing strips will be lit up for them. Other planes will be lit up with navigation lights (red and green) and a pulsing beacon to draw the eye. Also during ...


7

Pilots are required to operate by two separate sets of regulations, protocols, and procedures when flying an aircraft. They are Visual Flight Rules (VFR) and Instrument Flight Rules (IFR). The rules are dependent upon what type of airspace you are flying in as well as cloud ceilings and visibilities outside the aircraft. Most commercial flights, including ...


6

This is not implemented anywhere in the world. Wikipedia: As of 2012 this category is not yet in operation anywhere in the world as it requires guidance to taxi in zero visibility as well. Category IIIc is not mentioned in EU-OPS. Airliners: As far as I know NO airport in the world currently offers catIIIc as it has the most ridiculous minima ...


6

Aircraft can be certified to fly coupled approaches all the way to touchdown, and even landing roll out. CATIII ILS approaches, coupled with auto land, allow the computer to fly the jet all the way to the ground, while the pilot just monitors the systems and makes sure that nothing out of the ordinary is happening. If the weather is below certain minimums ...


6

Practically there are no zero visibility landings. There is reduced visibility of varying levels. Reduced visibility landings are only allowed when the appropriate ILS equipment is operational. The practical issues are actually not the landing itself but separation from aircraft landing afterwards. On the ground the runway lights are bright enough and ...


5

A completely blind landing using instrumentation is classified as a category IIIc and requires appropriate equipment both on the ground and on the aircraft. Only a handful of runways around the world support this level of landing because it is expensive and not many aircraft/pilots are rated to perform such landings. Just the lighting arrangements alone are ...


5

Many other answers have covered lights for seeing on the ground, which are invaluable during taxiing, takeoff and landing. They've also covered how most obstacles (like other planes) should be illuminated to be seen (according to Advisory Circular 70/7460-1L in the US). I'm going to cover the other ways that an aircraft can "see" what's around it. IFR ...


5

Reflective materials cut down the amount of light let into the cockpit, which is useful in very bright sunlight, but would be undesirable at night. At night these materials could potentially blind the pilot, so you would have to make these materials retractable somehow, which would add complexity and weight. Over time these coating would be damaged by ...


5

No, in a remote area on a moonless night, it’s a black hole. It’s the blackest darkness you can imagine with a few pinpricks of light from remote settlements on the ground or vehicles. I have heard a few stories from pilots flying at higher altitudes on moonless nights, such as Maj Brian Shul who did this over the Arctic Ocean in an SR-71, where they shut ...


4

It's unclear exactly which lights you're referring to (none of the example pictures you linked to are red), but the FAA AC on obstruction lighting says that only structures over 200ft are required to be lighted: Any temporary or permanent structure, including all appurtenances, that exceeds an overall height of 200 feet (61m) above ground level (AGL)...


4

There would still need to be a missed approach procedure, since plenty of things besides "not seeing the runway/lights" can cause the need for a go-around: equipment malfunction, traffic on the runway, winds shifting out of limits, etc. So no matter how "good" the approach is, it still has to have a defined missed approach procedure. That procedure might ...


4

For civil aviation, planes are lit to make them visible, not so much to illuminate obstacles. Military aviation is (or was) another matter, in WWII operations were sometimes conducted at night with upwards of a thousand unlit planes. Moonlit nights were to be avoided where possible, because moonlight made it rather too easy for pilots to see other aircraft,...


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