The Essence of Aircraft Luminescence

Aircraft come equipped with a myriad of lights that are designed to perform different functions. Whether it be navigation, safety, improving visibility, or signaling, the lights on an aircraft are essential to its signaling communications. An aircraft’s external lighting includes navigation lights, anti-collision lights, landing lights, taxi lights, and wing lights.

Navigation lights signal your location and relative direction of travel to other aircraft flying close by. When another pilot sees a green light, they know that the other aircraft is flying in front of them and to the right. A red light also signifies that the other aircraft is located in front of them, but they are flying to the left. If a pilot sees white lights, that signifies being behind the aircraft. Navigation lights must be utilized between sunset and sunrise; during all hours within that window. Poor weather is another condition that requires the pilot to turn on the navigation lights.

Anti-collision lights come in two variations: red beacons and white strobes. These are mandatory to use at night and recommended to use during the day. The red beacon is a warning to other pilots that the engine will soon be activated. High intensity white strobes serve the purpose of increasing a plane’s visibility. These lights can adversely affect another pilot’s vision, so they should only be used when entering and exiting the runway.

Landing lights are used to illuminate runways. These are high powered lights that increase aircraft visibility and improve safety. They typically generate a substantial amount of heat and are easily damaged; using them for prolonged periods of time can shorten their longevity. A commercial pilot typically activates the landing lights upon takeoff and when they are preparing to land (below 10,000 feet).

Taxi lights share a strong similarity to landing lights—minus the power requirement. When a plane is maneuvering through an airport, the taxi lights should always be illuminated. Some smaller planes are constructed with a single landing light, which doubles as a taxi light. Runway turnoff lights support the functions of taxi lights in that they illuminate runway turnoffs. On departure, they’re used for taxiing. On arrival, they’re turned on to supplement the landing lights.

Wing lights are designed to outline the edges of each wing. Some airports require them to be turned on when pilots are entering the runway—for better visibility of the plane. Pilots can also use wing lights to signal other aircraft.


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