Ask a Pilot with Spencer: The Lights on a Airplane

Lights on a plane

In our Ask a Pilot collection, pilot Spencer Marker solutions certainly one of your aviation-related questions every week. See previous installments right here and submit your personal to

The query

Hello Spencer. The final time I flew, some airplanes have been utilizing their lights through the daytime. I’ve seen this at evening, however why is it needed through the day?


The reply

Hello Karen! At evening, an airport is lit up like a Christmas tree! Flashing lights of seemingly countless colours mix into gentle blue of the taxiway lights and white runway lights. Even in any case my time within the trade, I’m nonetheless amazed by the fantastic thing about an airport at evening.

Whereas the airport lights are principally shut off throughout daylight, pilots will proceed utilizing the lights on the airplane. It’s because lots of the lights pilots use on an airplane aren’t simply for easy illumination. They’re there to convey info to different pilots and employees on the bottom. I’ll clarify.

Brilliant white lights
Let’s begin with the best airplane lighting system, the touchdown lights. These vibrant white lights are used to light up the runway whereas an plane takes off or lands. Similar to a automotive’s headlight. Some are retractable into the physique of the airplane, whereas others are embedded within the wing.

These lights come on as soon as the pilots have obtained clearance for takeoff and keep on till the airplane passes 10,000 ft. This will increase the visibility of the airplane to different pilots because the airplane departs the busy airspace across the airport. Equally, they arrive on once more because the airplane descends by way of 10,000 ft and are used till the airplane has taxied off the runway. Moreover, a taxi mild positioned on or close to the nostril touchdown gear helps pilots information the airplane across the airport. Once more, identical to a headlight.

White lights are additionally mounted to the physique of the airplane, illuminating the wing and engines for simple inspection. Like with lots of the different lights on the airplane, we use these for anti-collision functions, as properly.

And since airways spend good cash portray their logos on the tail of their airplanes, it’d be a disgrace to lose all that branding after the solar units. Fortunately producers have constructed brand lights for simply this use. These white bulbs illuminate the colours on the airplanes tail, ensuring the airline’s model is seen, even at evening.

Purple and white flashing lights
Some of the vital lights on trendy airplanes is what we name the beacon. This flashing pink mild is turned on any time the engine is operating, or about to start out operating. Pilots will flip this mild on simply previous to pushback and swap it off simply after the parking brake is ready and the engines are shut down on the finish of a flight.

Whereas the beacon is useful in figuring out an airplane whereas it’s flying, its important occupation is to warn anybody close to the plane that an engine is or may begin operating. This advises everybody to remain clear.

Boeing 737 displaying off its beacon, touchdown lights and navigation lights (Credit score: Aerospaceweb)

Airplanes even have a set of white flashing lights positioned on the wing ideas and, in some instances, on the tail cone. These are known as anti-collision lights, or strobes. These lights are used to establish the plane in flight, so the airplane is extra seen to different pilots. These lights are switched on because the plane takes the runway (there are a couple of exceptions) and are lastly turned off after the plane has landed and taxied away from the runway. Pilots may even use these lights when crossing runways as a solution to spotlight their presence for any site visitors which may be on method or lined as much as take off.

Regular pink, inexperienced and white lights
Aviation takes many cues from its ancestral ties to the Navy and seafaring generally. This consists of the uniforms, the phrase “Captain,” and as you’ve most likely already guessed, the best way we use lights on our airplanes.

Trying on the wingtips of any airplane, observers will see a pink mild on the left wing, and a inexperienced mild on the best. Trying behind the airplane, they’ll both see a white mild on the tail, or one on every wingtip, dealing with rearward. They’re illuminated any time the plane has energy. These are known as our navigation lights and consider it or not, a fast look offers pilots of different plane some crucial info.

You see, Karen, these navigation lights are used to find out the orientation of one other plane in relation to yours, relying on the lights you see. Sailors use the very same lights for a similar goal. In the event you see a pink and white mild, the opposite airplane is passing from proper to left. Inexperienced and white means left to proper. Do you see each inexperienced and pink? The airplane is pointing towards you. And eventually, should you see solely white, the airplane goes the identical route as you, or pointing away.

All this info simply by wanting on the lights.

The lighting on small airplanes is the same as it is on large jets (Credit: AOPA)

The lighting on small airplanes is identical as it’s on massive jets (Credit score: AOPA)

To sum up
Thanks, Karen, for the good query. Pilots are indoctrinated in the usage of the lights outfitted on the airplane for not simply easy illumination, however to convey info, to warn others of potential hazard (a operating engine), and to maintain different pilots conscious of their presence. The subsequent time you’re on a flight, see should you can discover what lights the pilots activate and when. Whereas the illumination could seem random, your pilots are making use of each accessible instrument to make sure you have a secure flight!

Thanks once more, Karen. Do you’ve got any tales about airplane lights? Publish to the feedback beneath. If anybody has a burning aviation query or one thing you desire to cleared up, drop us a line at to get your query featured in an upcoming Ask a Pilot column.




Spencer Marker

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