“There are darknesses in life and there are lights, and you are one of the lights, the light of all lights.”
― Bram Stoker,
The Enigma of Aircraft Lights
Gene Wentzel, ATP, CFII
It is 12 noon, the 25 hour student pilot and I have just cleared the runway and they are completing the after landing checklist. They are at the part that says, “Lights ……As Required”.
I know what’s coming…I see them read it…they hesitate…I see the cognitive wheels revolving as they noodle through this seemingly innocuous declaration. They bring their tentative finger slowly over to the landing light switch; it hovers over the control for what seems an eternity. It’s almost as if they feel making the wrong choice will advance the Hobbs meter by 0.5. They next look at me confused and inquire, “Should I turn the landing light off?”
I always give them the answer and provide a rationale for why they should be turned off or left on. They will be even more confused if strobes are involved. The cruise checklist (which, by the way, doesn’t even mention strobes) simply states, “Landing and Taxi Lights…..Off” and will cause the student to reach over and reflexively turn off both the landing light and the strobes!
I reviewed this issue with another flight instructor. I asked him if he has the same situation come up, and if so, what he does about it. He explained, “I just ask them to answer 2 questions:
- Do you need the lights to see?
- Do you need the lights to be seen?”
These are easy and logical questions and I have been utilizing this approach when training my students, but with varying results. Therefore, let’s go over how we should utilize the lighting systems of our aircraft and why.
Aircraft certificated with an electrical system and have installed lighting systems typically include all or some the following:
- Position lights (aka navigation or nav lights)
- Primary Anti-collision light (usually the beacon)
- Landing / Taxi lights
- Strobes (usually supplementary anti-collision lighting)
Some of these lights and their use are regulated by the FAA; others systems are operated by either common sense or personal preference. Ok, let’s get started…
- Position lights: these are required by regulation to be used while operating on the ground or in the air after sunset and left on until engine shutdown or up to sunrise. Therefore, during the day they are OFF.
- Primary Anti-collision light, such as the beacon, are required to be used during all types of operations (day or night). If the master switch is on, so is the beacon. Closer to the truth, the beacon light switch is ON, period! End of story! Barring a small beacon electrical fire, DON’T TOUCH IT! Personally, the beacon shouldn’t even have a switch; it should only have a circuit breaker that can be pulled, but I digress.
- Landing / Taxi lights: This is where there is some confusion and personal preference.
- First, if an aircraft has both a landing and taxi light, consider them one light and one switch. They are either both on or they are both off. There is rarely a need to have one on and the other off.
- My advice is that EVERY take-off and EVERY landing has both landing and taxi lights on (day or night). At night we need them TO SEE and TO BE SEEN and during the day we need them TO BE SEEN.
- After landing, if it is daytime, turn them off. We don’t need them TO SEE and we don’t need them TO BE SEEN.
- After landing, if it is nighttime, leave them on. We need them TO SEE and we need them TO BE SEEN. Turn them off ONLY if they might cause a distraction to another pilot, especially if they are taking-off or landing.
- There is a regulation to have a landing light, but that is only for aircraft utilized at night for commercial operations.
- In cruise flight there is some personal preference that can be afforded.
- Some pilots always turn them off and others leave them on.
- There is a recommendation from the FAA to leave landing lights on below 10,000 feet, but this does not appear to be universally adopted or practiced in general aviation.
- Since the advent of LED lighting many pilots choose to just leave them on (day or night). These lights use less power, produces less heat, provides more light, and they last for 10’s of thousands of hours, so the attitude is, “What the heck, just leave them on TO BE SEEN.”
- Strobes are another form of anti-collision light and usually supplementary to a beacon.
- They should be turned on prior to entering a runway for any reason and left on until completely clear of a runway TO BE SEEN, day or night.
- They should be turned on prior to take-off TO BE SEEN.
- They should be left on in cruise flight TO BE SEEN…
- …but, they should be turned off in flight if determined by the PIC that they constitute a hazard to safety due to adverse meteorological conditions. (14 CFR Section 91.209).
- They should be turned off after landing and clear of the runway so not to distract other pilots or ground personnel.
I hope this helps illuminate the uses of aircraft lighting in the different phases of ground and air operations. If you have any questions, discuss it with any flight instructor.
Gene Wentzel, ATP, CFII
Private Private Ground School by Bob McCabe
Start Date will be April 14th at 6 PM
There may be one or two spots open, but space is now limited.
IF still interested, please on contact us HERE!
Instrument Ground School by Bob McCabe
Wednesday Evenings for 14 Weeks
Date to be determined when we get enough students.
Flying W Airport
60 Fostertown Rd
Medford, NJ 08055
Price: $339 for the complete course or $40 per session…
(Textbooks and pilot supplies sold separately)
• Comprehensive ground school covering all aeronautical knowledge required for the Instrument Pilot Rating
• At course completion, students who pass a sample test will receive an endorsement to take the FAA Knowledge Test. (Unlimited number of practice tests).
• Experienced pilots may attend the sessions of their choice as an excellent refresher. • Rusty pilots will find this training a great way to get back in the game.
• To enroll or request additional information, contact the instructor Bob McCabe at 856912-5329 or Freeflight Aviation at 609-265-0399. Or Send us an Email from our contact page.
• Please provide Proof of Citizenship (current passport or birth certificate with raised seal) to Freeflight Aviation prior to attending classes.
About the Instructor:
Bob McCabe is a certificated flight instructor, advanced ground instructor and instrument flight and ground instructor with more than 3600 hours flight time and 25 years of teaching experience. He is a former flight school owner, corporate instructor, and adjunct college professor. He holds the rank of Colonel in the Civil Air Patrol and has served as New Jersey Wing Commander, mission pilot, instructor pilot, check pilot and cadet orientation pilot. Bob is a volunteer FAA Safety Counselor for the Philadelphia Flight Standards District and has presented seminars on a wide range of safety related topics. He is a nationally recognized public speaker and author. In 2014, Bob received the General Aviation Certificated Flight Instructor of the Year Award representing the FAA’s Eastern Region. In 2015, he received the General Aviation Certificated Flight Instructor of the Year Award representing the Philadelphia Flight Standards District.
Comments from former students:
“Best explanation of aerodynamics I’ve ever had”
“Great experience! Helped me build confidence” “Exceeded my expectations”
“The open exchange of ideas, knowledge and experience of someone who’s been there were a great benefit”
“After many, many years of classroom and practical instruction I can state unequivocally that Bob McCabe is the best teacher I have ever had the pleasure of experiencing I had ground school training from Bob which was clear, concise, entertaining and informative. Absolutely the BEST!”
Job Offering For a Certificated Flight Instructor
We are a part 61 flight school and flying club based at the Flying W Airport in Medford, NJ We are a privately owned business providing flight instruction, aircraft rental, pilot shop sales, aircraft maintenance and repair services. We offer a friendly, relax atmosphere at a non-controlled field and an airport with some great activity. Our flight instructor staff have a variety of experiences, work well together, and share their knowledge and passion of aviation with each other, including their students.
Minimum of a CFI Certificate, CFII preferred.
Full or Part Time Availability
We welcome anyone with the skills to teach of flight, to fly safely, and a desire to provide us feedback.
Our team includes our independent flight instructors, our aircraft maintenance crew, and our office management group.
- Contact Information
- Total Time and Type brake down
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This is a great opportunity for someone who loves to share their passion of aviation with others and willing to work as an independent flight instructor.
Our job invitation goes out to retired personal looking for some extra income, a relative new CFI or CFII interest in building time for the airlines, or just the pilot who teaches due to their passion. Our flight school offers nine training aircraft for rent.
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