The Folly of Night VFR
We can find some of the seeds of Kennedy’s tragic death in FAA regulations that allow relatively inexperienced pilots to fly under rules that permit visual flying at night, also called night VFR.
In essence, the FAA permits a private pilot with only a smattering of experience with instrument flying to fly at night as long as the sky is relatively free of clouds.
Never mind the fact that in some parts of this country, as in the John F. Kennedy Jr.’s case, there are times when weather conditions that are technically acceptable are, in practice, daunting even to a trained instrument pilot.
Regulations in many nations throughout Europe and the rest of the world ground a private pilot at night—a rule that encourages many to get the extra training they need to be a safer instrument- rated pilot. Perhaps adopting similar guidelines would cause American amateur pilots to seek the extra training they need and take the difficulties of nighttime flying more seriously.
The Deceptive Sense of Balance
The accident that took the lives of Kennedy and his passengers was the result of some or all the factors we’ve previously described. We’ve talked a little about the graveyard spiral, and how pilots are susceptible to false sensations when flying in low visibility conditions at night. How, exactly, are these false sensations produced?