Friday, July 1, 2011

After Dark

A while back, there was a question posted in the comments asking about visibility at night. At first glance, the average person would assume that an airport is well-lit, perhaps even brightly illuminated. Considering all the runway and taxiway lights, along with the approach light systems (and don't forget the airport beacon!), not to mention all the landing and position lights and flashing strobes on the airplanes themselves, that seems a reasonable assumption. Here's the reality:

This is a shot of the east end of the 25 complex, as seen from the tower at around midnight. To give you a better idea of what's in the picture, here's a shot of the ground radar taken at the same time*:

As you can now see, there is a departure on the roll, and about a dozen aircraft lined up on Taxiway Bravo, waiting for departure. This is what an airplane looks like on the taxiway as it passes the tower:

This Frontier Airbus has just turned out of the C-8 alley onto Taxiway B; this is about as good a look at it on the taxiway as we can get at night.

Here are more shots, but these show the traffic lined up on the 105 freeway last night.

While an airport seems to have a lot of lights, and it does, the reality is that in most places the airport is darker than the city surrounding it. Once upon a time, when the airports were out away from town, this wasn't the case. But nowadays, as one of my flight instructors once told me, to find the airport (as a pilot) look for the dark spot!

*- A bit of explanation is in order: It was about half-past midnight when this picture of the ground radar was taken, and we were in the over-ocean configuration, which is standard procedure when wind and weather allow. In this configuration, arrivals come in from over the ocean and land on Runway 6 Right, while departures take off Runway 25 Right over the ocean and make an immediate turn to the south away from the arrivals. Thus all the departures are on one side of the airport, while the other side appears (at this particular moment) to be ghost town. All the areas marked in red are closed, including Runway 25 Left. If you look just above the really red closed area (Taxiway C between P and C-12), you'll see AWE1448 and JBU480, both of whom park on the north side but are on their way to Runway 25 Right for departure. Behind them is UAL925, who has landed on Runway 6 Right and is now on his way to Gate 81. Slightly funny story: In front of them (by about a half-mile) is QFA26, who, when he called for taxi, said that he was sorry but that they needed to hold somewhere for about five minutes to burn fuel. Looking at the line, I told him that it wouldn't be a problem, as he was number seventeen for departure.

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