If you watch an aircraft operating on the ground or in the sky during evening hours, you will often notice that they have a collection of external lights situated across their fuselage, wings, and other bodily structures. Ranging in color and varying from flashing to solid types, aircraft lights come in many forms to fulfill numerous applications. As aircraft lights may serve for safety, navigation, illumination, or other such needs, it can be very beneficial to have a general understanding of each.
When operating during the night, all aircraft are required to have navigation light installations for the means of preventing collisions and other accidents. The colors and placement of each light is the same as is seen on marine vessels, meaning that aircraft will take advantage of a green, red, and white light. The green light is installed on the right wingtip, while the red light is on the left wingtip. Coupled with a white light placed on the aircraft tail, any observer would be able to quickly determine the orientation of the aircraft, and the direction it is currently heading in. While such lights are necessary during night flying, many pilots keep them on at all times for increased visibility.
Alongside such navigation lights, many aircraft will also feature red and white anti-collision light installations. The red lights are beacons that flash on the top and bottom of the aircraft, allowing for others to see the aircraft from a distance and know it is in operation. Meanwhile, the white lights are a type of strobe light or flash light, and they are situated on the wingtips for operation during flight and while on the runway.
For general illumination for safe ground traversal and flight, countless aircraft feature taxi, landing, runway turnoff, and wing inspection lights. Taxi light installations are fairly simplistic, and they are used to illuminate the taxiway in low light conditions for safety. Landing lights are much more powerful, and they are mounted on the wing, nose, and/or beneath the fuselage. Pointing down toward the runway, landing lights ensure ample visibility for a safe touchdown and for crew operations. Sometimes, dimmed landing lights are used as taxi lights to achieve both needs with one set-up. For runway turnoff lights, such installations are positioned on the sides of the aircraft nose, providing illumination slightly below the brightness of landing lights for creating visibility at the exits of a runway. The last main illumination lights are the wing inspection lights, and they are positioned on the fuselage and pointed toward the wing. Generally, these lights are used by ground crews to check for any ice formations present on the wings.
The final major types of aircraft lights vary in their purpose, and they include searchlight, logo light, and formation light fixtures. Searchlights are most common on military and law enforcement vehicles, allowing them to illuminate specific areas of the ground below them. Logo lights, on the other hand, are often placed on the horizontal stabilizer and are pointed towards the logo of an airline if such marketing is present. Finally, formation lights are utilized for military applications for aiding pilots in maintaining correct positioning while in formation, and they are typically only visible with night vision equipment as they are in the infrared spectrum.
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