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Aircraft Exterior Lighting – Explained

Every component on an aircraft holds vital importance whether it is a small landing light or a vertical stabilizer. Lights are often shadowed by the sheer brilliance of other parts of an aircraft but do not be mistaken. Without lights, an aircraft would barely be recognizable. Recognizable in the sense that it would be difficult to judge whether an aircraft is crossing the runway, waiting for takeoff, taxiing or the aircraft is moving away or coming towards you. The main purpose of exterior lighting is to provide visibility for pilots and guide them through the sky. However, there exist different types of exterior lights that can be found on aircraft. Let’s take a look at each different type of light and its importance.

Photo Credits: Pinterest

Beacon Light

A red flashlight, known as the “beacon,” is one of the most essential lighting fixtures on the floor. The beacon is activated as soon as the aircraft is put into motion, whether by being towed or by starting the engines. A red floodlight shines both above and below the fuselage, signaling to everyone in the area that something is about to happen! A certain amount of separation is essential.

Strobe Light

Strobe lights are flashing white lights on an airplane’s far left, right, and, on bigger and some smaller aircraft, back points. They are the aircraft’s brightest lights, and they are used to indicate when an aircraft is arriving or approaching an active runway, as well as for visibility in a dark, clear sky. They are sometimes switched off in clouds or fog because water particles can further obstruct the pilot’s view outside the aircraft.


Navigation Light

Navigation lights are the red and green lights located on the wingtips of airplanes. They’re made to make the plane more visible to other pilots and air traffic controllers on the ground, reducing the likelihood of a collision. There are no signals emitted by navigation lights. Instead, they just illuminate the plane during the night so that other pilots and air traffic controllers can see it better. The majority of commercial airplanes have a green light on one wing and a red light on the other. The red light is positioned on the left-wing of the airplane, while the green light is positioned on the right-wing. To improve the plane’s visibility, both lights will flash at the same time.

Photo Credits: Reddit
Photo Credits: Airbus

Take-off and Landing Light

“Takeoff and landing lights” are utilized near the runway and below 10,000 feet to help with visibility at night. As soon as take-off permission is provided, the pilot activates them. During take-off and landing, the runway is illuminated by a wide beam angle and a higher power of over 600 watts. These lights are turned off when taxiing or when an oncoming aircraft is on the ground, as they can easily dazzle other participants. Similar to a car’s high beam. Because the landing lights are not built into the front edge of the wings or landing gear, some aircraft can even fold them out and back in (e.g. Airbus A320).

Landing lights on an Airbus A330
(Photo Credits: Wikimedia)
Take off lights switched on
(Photo Credits: USA Today)

Logo Light

These lights are located on the tail of the aircraft. These are illuminated at night for the tail to stand out and be visible. Even if you assume the tail unit lighting with the “logo light” is just a brilliant marketing strategy, it serves another purpose. Because other planes are easiest spotted from the side in the dark, the large area is particularly apparent at night. When an aircraft is waiting for approval to roll up on a runway that is 90 degrees offset at the landing, the “logo light” can be useful. This offers the landing aircraft a good idea of whether its colleagues have understood everything correctly and if the plane isn’t accidentally rolling into the runway. But let’s not kid ourselves: everyone here advertises a little!


Taxi Light

The airplane has a “taxi light” in front of it. It not only illuminates the taxiways, but it also alerts all other passengers that the aircraft on the ground is moving and ready to taxi. When the airplane goes into a curve, the light is attached to the steerable nose wheel, which swivels along with it. This light is only used while taxiing as the name suggests and is switched off when the airplane lines up for takeoff or holds short at the runway.

Photo Credits: Aviation Stack Exchange

All exterior lights are there to serve a purpose, that is to protect the aircraft as much as they can.




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