Legal-ese: definitions night and cross-country, limitations on ultralights

Legal-ese: definitions of night and cross-country, limitations on ultralights

August 27 2005 edition
Steve Seibel
steve at


Definition of "night":


Night means the time between the end of evening civil twilight and the beginning of morning civil twilight (from FAR AIM61.57b)


Definition of "civil twilight":


Civil twilight is defined to begin in the morning, and to end in the evening when the center of the Sun is geometrically 6 degrees below the horizon. This is the limit at which twilight illumination is sufficient, under good weather conditions, for terrestrial objects to be clearly distinguished. At the beginning of morning civil twilight, or end of evening civil twilight, the horizon is clearly defined and the brightest stars are visible under good atmospheric conditions in the absence of moonlight or other illumination. In the morning before the beginning of civil twilight and in the evening after the end of civil twilight, artificial illumination is normally required to carry on ordinary outdoor activities. Complete darkness, however, ends sometime prior to the beginning of morning civil twilight and begins sometime after the end of evening civil twilight. (This paragraph was taken from the excellent website


Civil twilight calculator:


Takeoffs and landings that may be logged as "night", and that meet currency requirements:


Night takeoff and landing experience that is logable must 1 hour after sunset and 1 hour before sun rise. Landings must be to a full stop, and you must have done 3 take off and landings in the preceding 90 days to act as PIC to carry passengers, and you must be the sole manipulator of the flight controls and the aircraft must be the same category, class, type. (see FAR AIM61.57b)



Definition of "cross-country":


"You will find the definition of crosscountry flight is NOT to be found in the FARs unless you're talking about aeronautical experience for a rating. Is that airport 5 nm away and you landed at it? Then it's a crosscountry flight (you used pilotage to get there - in other words you saw it as a landmark and flew to it), but it doesn't count as aeronautical experience for a certificate or rating." (from a NAFI Master CFI on an on-line forum)


Cross-country flights that include a landing 50 nautical miles count toward fulfilling the aeronautical experience requirements for certain ratings. Any flight to a point 50 nautical miles away regardless of whether or not there was a landing counts toward fulfilling the aeronautical experience requirements of the ATP rating (see FAR 61.1b3).


But...what is the definition of a "flight"? If we stop and land and get out of the airplane at the 25 nautical mark, and then continue on, does a new "flight" begin? Not unless we want to log it that way. Ok, so if we've made a cross-country flight to a point 50 nautical miles away, and later in the day we do some pattern work, can we log that as part of the same "flight"? What if all our aeronautical experience has been in one particular airplane, can we log it all as one enormous "flight"? Food for thought...



Q: How does the FAA view hang gliders?


A: The FAA views hang gliders as ultralights. The regulations governing powered and unpowered ultralights are contained in FAR part 103.


Limitations on ultralights:


There are some places where general aviation aircraft are free to go without any special communications or transponder requirements, but ultralight vehicles are not permitted.


FAR 103.15 Operations over congested areas.


No person may operate an ultralight vehicle over any congested area of a city, town, or settlement, or over any open air assembly of persons.


FAR 103.17 Operations in certain airspace.


No person may operate an ultralight vehicle within...the lateral boundaries of the surface area of Class E airspace designated for an airport unless that person has prior authorization from the ATC facility having jurisdiction over that airspace.



VFR flight "on top" not allowed:


FAR 103.21 Visual reference with the surface.


No person may operate an ultralight vehicle except by visual reference with the surface.





FAR 103.13 Operation near aircraft; right-of-way rules.


(a) Each person operating an ultralight vehicle shall maintain vigilance so as to see and avoid aircraft and shall yield the right-of-way to all aircraft.


(b) No person may operate an ultralight vehicle in a manner that creates a collision hazard with respect to any aircraft.



Operations after sunset or before sunrise:


FAR 103.11 Daylight operations.


(a) No person may operate an ultralight vehicle except between the hours of sunrise and sunset.


(b) Notwithstanding paragraph (a) of this section, ultralight vehicles may be operated during the twilight periods 30 minutes before official sunrise and 30 minutes after official sunset or, in Alaska, during the period of civil twilight as defined in the Air Almanac, if:


(1) The vehicle is equipped with an operating anticollision light visible for at least 3 statute miles; and


(2) All operations are conducted in uncontrolled airspace.


(Click here for the full text of FAR 103 plus commentary)

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