Modern aircraft are designed to effectively operate in a wide range of unfavorable environments, including high-trafficked and low-visibility states. In order to help pilots navigate through such conditions without collision, aircraft are equipped with a series of lights. These multi-color lights, which are uniform across planes of all variations, play a critical role in safety. In this blog, we will discuss the nuances associated with airplane lights, highlighting the recommended configuration for color coordination and location.
The aircraft lighting system closely resembles that used on marine vessels. After a growing number of night-time collisions, operators decided to implement a multi-color light system to help aid in navigation and identification of other ships. This color scheme, which is comprised of red, green, and white lights, makes up the navigation lighting system. The modern system implements a green light on the right wingtip, red light on the left wingtip, and one or more white lights on the aircraft's tail. Given its universality, any pilot should be able to recognize that a plane with a green-to-red series of lights is flying directly toward them. Alternatively, if a pilot were to only see a single colored or white light, they could conclude that the vessel is passing them. Although navigation lights are only required to remain on during night operations, most pilots elect to leave them on during the daytime to help ensure increased visibility.
The anti-collision system comprises a pair of beacon lights and strobe lights. Like navigation lights, these help increase aircraft visibility in order to decrease the likelihood of mid-air collisions. Beacon lights are found on the top and bottom of the fuselage and are only turned on after the engines have been started. In this way, beacon lights also serve as a warning to ground crew members that the aircraft is in operation and to proceed with caution. Although some older aircraft still implement a rotating light design, most switched to an on-off configuration. Meanwhile, strobe lights may be found on the far ends of the wingtips. This pair of blinking lights is one of the brightest on the aircraft and is generally only turned on once the plane has entered the runway.
In addition to providing visibility to other vessels, the external aircraft lighting system must also provide illumination to help pilots see in front of them. Taxi lights, which are the dimmest in this category, help illuminate the ground in front of the aircraft to help it navigate during taxiing. While most taxi lights are standalone components that attach to the nose gear strut, some are combined with the landing light system. Runway turnoff lights are similar in brightness and placement to taxi lights but are angled to the sides to help pilots accomplish tight turns in the dark. Meanwhile, wing inspection lights aid the ground crew in visualizing the wing for any ice or other debris.
Landing lights are the brightest and most prominent on all aircraft. Although their primary role is to illuminate the sky, terrain, and runway in front of the plane, landing lights also serve as anti-collision lights due to their intense visibility. When engaged, landing lights are typically visible up to 100 miles away. While they are notably helpful during takeoff and landing, landing lights are commonly turned off once the aircraft has reached its cruising altitude. This helps save energy and avoid light reflection on clouds, which in turn reduces visibility.
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