Aviation Lights For Aircraft

Operating an aircraft requires the use of lights. To ensure our safety, lighting will always be essential, whether at airports to guide us or on aircraft to help us be seen. Regardless of how fast or slow an airplane flies, aviation lights aircraft are critical for pilots and aviation personnel.

Let’s understand more about aviation lights for aircraft and why they are important.

Table of Contents

Why Are There Lights on an Aircraft?

During air operations, lighting plays a key role inside and outside the aircraft. The lighting systems, which are vital in night flights, are also used in many other areas, including pilots adjusting their viewing distances in tough weather conditions and aircraft noticing one another. Therefore, exterior lighting is crucial to flight operations. Interior lighting also provides passengers and cabin crew with many conveniences.

Almost all aircraft types are equipped with external lights. Depending on the aircraft’s size, role, and normal flight environment, the type, purpose, and complexity of the exterior lighting systems vary. In addition to providing exterior lighting, they provide interior lighting as well. The exterior lighting serves several purposes, such as providing illumination for nighttime operations, flying in inclement weather, inspecting possible icing conditions, and allowing other aircraft to see you during the day and at night. 

Interior lighting provides light to instruments, cockpits, cabins, and areas occupied by pilots and passengers. The purpose of external aviation lights for aircraft can generally be categorized into three categories:

  • For the aircraft to be more visible to other aircraft,
  • In order to improve pilot visibility during critical phases of flight

Some of the external lights have overlap in their utility. Landing lights, for example, greatly improve a pilot’s ability to see the runway during takeoff and landing, but they also allow ground personnel and other airborne traffic to see the aircraft.

How About Controls?

Depending on whether it is a military aircraft or a commercial aircraft, the controls may vary. There may also be some variations in the way military and commercial airplanes arrange their lighting controls.

Most external lighting controls are located in an overhead panel that is easily accessible by both the pilot and copilot. Those for the taxi and runway turnoff lighting are on the left, and those for the logo are on the right. Landing lighting is controlled by the other three switches at the bottom. Above the landing lighting controls are four push switches that control position, anti-collision, and wing inspection lighting.

Types of Aviation Lights for Aircraft

We have grouped aircraft lighting under two main headings. These; interior and exterior lights.

Despite the lack of detail in the interior lights, we have divided the exterior lights into three categories. As long as external lights are vital for flight, they will continue to be important. The categorization can be summarized as follows:

  1. Interior Lights
  2. Exterior Lights
    • Visibility Lights for Aircraft (Navigation, Beacon & Strobe Lights)
    • Visibility Lights for Pilots (Taxi, Runway, Landing & Wing Inspection Lights)
    • Specific Purpose Lightning (Logo, Search & Formation Lights)

1. Interior Lights

In order to illuminate the cabin, aircraft are equipped with interior lights. It is often possible to set the light to either white or red. A commercial aircraft has lighting systems that illuminate the main cabin, an independent lighting system so that passengers can see when the cabin lights are off, and emergency lighting on the floor of the aircraft during an emergency.

2. Exterior Lights

Before flying through the sky, every aircraft must meet certain safety requirements. Lighting on aircraft’s exterior is also affected by this. It is the primary purpose of exterior lighting to provide pilots with visibility and to guide them through the skies

Aviation Lights for Aircraft Visibility

By making the aircraft more visible to other aircraft while in flight and to ground traffic while maneuvering on an aerodrome, the following lighting systems reduce the possibility of collision:

Navigation Lights

On the left/port wing tip, there is a red navigation light, on the right/starboard wing tip, there is a green navigation light, and on the tail there is a white navigation light. It is common to install two systems to provide redundancy in case of a bulb failure. Normally, navigation lights on aircraft with beacons will burn steadily, whereas navigation lights on aircraft without beacons will flash.

Beacon Lights

Aircraft beacon lights are red in color and flash or rotate to provide pulsating warnings. In most cases, they are installed in pairs, one at the top and one at the bottom of the fuselage. Before starting an engine, the beacon is normally turned on, and after it has been shut down, the beacon is turned off.

Under VFR (the aircraft is intended to operate in visual meteorological conditions), many airports are equipped with rotating beacons to aid in airport identification at night. Weather and ambient lighting determine the visibility of nighttime airport beacons, which are visible from one to ten degrees above horizon. A civilian airport is identified by an intermittent white and green beacon. In sequence, two white flashes and a green flash are displayed at military-designated airports.

Strobe Lights

The strobe lights are usually installed near the trailing edge of the wing tips and may also be installed on the tail. A strobe is a white light that flashes at regular intervals with a high intensity. When entering an active runway for takeoff, they are typically turned on, and when leaving the runway after landing, they are turned off. Strobe light switches often have an AUTO position, which activates and deactivates the lights based on the weight on wheels. During ground maneuvers, strobes can also provide additional visibility when crossing an active runway.

Lights For Pilot Visibility

The following external lights improve pilot visibility through the flight deck windows:

Taxi Lights 

There are three types of taxi lights: nose landing gear struts, aircraft noses, and wing roots. During ground operations, they provide illumination for the taxiway. Taxi lights are usually mounted on the fixed portion of tricycle landing gear on aircraft with tricycle landing gear.

In addition to providing illumination directly in front of the aircraft, these lights are installed at an angle to the centerline of the aircraft. In larger aircraft, taxi lights are often accompanied by wingtip clearance lights. As with landing lights, taxi lights are usually located in recessed areas of the leading edge of wings.

Landing Lights

A landing light is a high intensity light used to illuminate the runway surface for takeoff and landing, as well as to make the aircraft visible to other pilots. Depending on the aircraft, these lights can be mounted on the wings, landing gear struts, or fuselage. Others mount them in a cavity in the wing or fuselage and extend and retract from there. Some are mounted behind clear fairings in the leading edge of the wing. 


Landing lights are either turned on when entering an active runway or when takeoff clearance is received, depending on regional norms. When the AOM allows (Aerodrome Operating Minimum) determines if a pilot may land or take off from a runway, landing lights are normally turned off as the aircraft climbs through 10,000 ft and turned back on as it descends through 10,000 ft.

Runway Lights

Runway edge lights are one of the most important components of runway lighting. The white barriers enclose the edges of the runway at intervals of no more than 200 feet. ILS-equipped runways (which provide accurate azimuth and descent guidance signals to aircraft for landing on the runway under normal or adverse weather conditions) often have yellow runway edge lights beyond the landing aid lights. 

As they line the outermost boundaries of the runway, these lights help you determine where the asphalt ends. In the absence of variable intensity, these lights are classified into one of three categories. In most cases, runways are constructed with one of three intensity levels (LIRL, MIRL, HIRL). There are others who offer all three. 

Wing Inspection Lights

Wing lighting is mounted in the fuselage and aimed at the leading edge of the wings and the engine pylons. A preflight inspection and engine start illumination are often carried out during hours of darkness. A pilot can use them in flight as needed, often to see if the leading edge of the wing has accumulated any ice.

Ice Detection Probe Light

A visual ice detection probe is usually mounted between the windshields of some aircraft. Pilots can see any ice accumulation during hours of darkness in some installations by lighting the probe internally or externally.

Specific Purpose Lightning

Although they are found in specialized aircraft types, Specific Purpose Lightnings designed for private use are very useful in terms of use. Today’s passenger planes are also made more attractive by using these technological lights, although they are especially useful for the military.

Logo Lights

The logo lights are generally mounted on the upper surface of the horizontal stabilizer and light up the tail markings of the aircraft.

Search Lights

High-intensity searchlights may be installed on enforcement aircraft, such as police helicopters and search and rescue aircraft.

Formation Lights

To facilitate night formation flights, some military aircraft have variable intensity lights installed on the upper surface of the wings. These lights may be visible or infrared.

The Importance of Flashing Lights on an Airplane

In the previous point, we discussed different light groups. But the flashing type is still missing, which is specific to ground operations. Let’s take a look at why.

Strobe lights and rotating beacons are used as part of the anti-collision light system. Rotating beacons are named after motorized rotating reflectors used to create the flashing effect. Nowadays, led lights have taken over, and they are revolutionizing the lighting industry. In order to make the aircraft visible from any angle, they are located both on top and at the bottom of the fuselage.

Rotating beacons can be used to signal ground personnel that engine start is imminent since they will appear as red dots in the night sky. It can be more dangerous for people to walk near an airplane after the engine starts than to juggle chainsaws. Therefore, a rotating beacon like this could be lifesaving. Now that we know what flashing lighting on airplanes does, let’s summarize its benefits.

Aircraft visibility is improved:

The flashing lights provide some visibility during daytime and nighttime flights. It can distinguish aircraft near and a little far away by flashing lights when taking off and landing in difficult weather conditions.

Ground collisions are reduced:

Occasionally, planes crash even when they are flying or leaving the runway. Dense fog layers, which reduce visibility to 10 meters or less, are one of the most important reasons for this. When the fog layer is dense at night, pilots may not notice aircraft in motion. In this case, too, the flashing lights are extremely effective in preventing an accident.

Bird strike possibility is reduced:

It is not uncommon for bird strikes to cause disasters during flight. This is why flashing lights are essential. There is a high probability of hitting birds during landings and takeoffs of night flights. Flashing lights cause the birds to flee in different directions when they notice them. In this way, risk ratios decrease.

Ground personnel injuries are reduced:

When operating on the runway or taxiing at dusk, ground crews sometimes have difficulty distinguishing dark aircraft. As well as posing a danger of collision, this poses a great danger to their own safety as well. Whatever the color of the plane, the flashing lights manage to make themselves felt, allowing it to be distinguished from a distance.

What Are The Requirements For Aircraft Lights?

The lights on airplanes are all important in general. There is, however, a minimum requirement for aircraft operation, and some may be left out at certain points in the flight. Safety is ultimately the most important factor.

Guidelines are provided by the Aeronautical Information Manual (AIM) and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Some airlines, however, require their pilots to use navigation lights at all times to ensure safety. It is usually necessary to have lighting or lighting groups working at each stage of the flight. A few examples are given below:

  • Among the requirements for ground operations are position lighting, logo lighting for preflight inspections, and red beacons to alert maintenance crews to running engines.
  • During cruise flights, only anti-collision lighting is required.
  • During the initial climb, landing, taxiing, wing inspection, and logo lighting are on until 18,000 feet.
  • All exterior lighting on the airplane must be on during takeoff and landing to ensure maximum visibility.

Green Light vs. Red Light

You will see a lot of lights if you see an airplane in the middle of the night. There are, however, only two that stand out due to their colors. There is always a green light on the right-wing tip, and a red light on the left-wing tip.

Red and green lights are navigation lights, also known as position lights. There are also other position lights on airplanes. On the wings and tail of the airplane, these are usually white and pointed backward.

When other aircraft see the white lights, they know that aircraft is flying away from them. Other pilots can easily identify the direction and orientation of an airplane if they see a red or green light, or even both. In the 1800s, ships used this concept to avoid collisions or at least reduce their risk. Having been a success, the aircraft community quickly adopted red and green lights.

Aircraft Position vs. Anti Collision Lights

In flight and on the surface, aircraft position lights must be illuminated from sunset to sunrise. Additionally, aircraft equipped with an anti-collision light system must operate that light system during all types of operations (day and night). During adverse meteorological conditions, however, the pilot-in-command may decide that the anti-collision lights should be turned off if their light output would compromise safety. On the ground and in flight, supplementary strobe lights should be turned off when they adversely affect ground personnel or other pilots.

The aircraft anti-collision light system can include rotating beacons and/or strobes, be colored either red or white, and have different intensities (higher than minimum). It is common for aircraft to have both rotating beacons and strobe lights.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What Light Would Be Most Visible To A Pilot?

The landing lights are the most powerful and provide the most significant illumination for the flight crew. Landing lights are usually mounted on an aircraft’s wing, nose, or fuselage. When dimmed, they can also be used as taxi lights when positioned downward to illuminate the runway.

Is It Possible For A Pilot To Fly Without A Landing Light?

For night flight, you need anti-collision lights, which on most trainers are strobe lights or flashing beacons, position lights, which are white lights on the tail, green lights on the right wing, and red lights on the left wing, and landing lights. 

It is technically not necessary to have a landing light unless the airplane is operated for hire, but most pilots would not consider flying at night without one even if it were not required. It is important to have landing lights to help you see the runway and enable other pilots to avoid your airplane. The forward-pointing lights are nice to have on landing, but since runways are illuminated, it is possible to land safely without them. 

As a rule, airplanes will never land on a darkened runway and won’t have to worry about hitting invisible terrain or obstacles ahead, because they’re always either above the obstacles or on a known safe descent path.

What Is The Minimum Height For Aircraft Warning Lights?

To prevent accidents, the FAA requires aircraft warning lights on temporary and permanent structures above 200 ft. Based on the height and category of the building, the type of light will differ. Whether the structure is near an aerodrome or on a flight path is also important.

How Do LED Aircraft Warning Lamps Differ From Filament Bulbs?

For many years, incandescent filament bulbs were used as a light source. Due to their relatively short lifespan, traditional light bulbs need to be replaced frequently. In modern lighting applications, LEDs (light emitting diodes) have replaced incandescent bulbs in large amounts.

New arrays of high-power LEDs are being developed with the advent of LED lighting. The advancement of lighting technology has reduced the need for maintenance and replacement of obstruction lights. The LED aircraft warning lights are less expensive, deliver longer performance, and consume less energy over their lifetime.

What Is The Brightness Of An Airplane’s “Headlights”?

Taxi and landing lights are extremely bright. The bulbs are 600 watts (automotive headlights are 65 watts). Especially at night, pilots and maintenance crews are very cautious when using or testing these lights. When ground personnel are nearby, landing lights can cause severe eye damage.

Final Thoughts on Aviation Lights for Aircraft and Pilots

Lighting not only helps and keeps the pilots safe, but also the cabin crew, the ground crew, and passengers. To ensure safety and improve flight performance, an airplane’s lighting is crucial. 

Even if the pilots make a general observation before each flight, technical inspections still play a critical role.

During maintenance and preflight inspection, it is always important to check that each light group is working correctly.

Leave a Comment