External Aircraft Lights-What Do They All Mean?

If you’ve ever flown on a plane or even looked up at one in the night sky, then you’ve probably noticed that the plane is equipped with a number of bright lights. If you’re the more detail-oriented type, you might have even noticed that planes flash different sets of lights during landing and takeoff. So what is the purpose of these aircraft lights and what do they mean? Read on below to see why these external aircraft lights were put in place and how they help with flight operations.

Landing Lights

Landing lights are usually placed under the fuselage or positioned on the aircraft wings. They’re designed and positioned so that the pilot can see the runway when landing or taking off. They also serve to let pilots on other airplanes know that they’re there. At around 200 feet above the runway, the pilot will turn on landing lights so that the plane can be illuminated for others to see. The same goes for when taking off and when they reach cruising altitude, the pilots shut them off.

Taxi Lights

In the same way that a driver uses the car headlights, a pilot will use the airplane's external taxi headlights to light up the path in front at night. Pilots will specifically use taxi lights to illuminate the taxiway and find the runway or gate during dark and cloudy climates. Taxi lights may not seem very bright if you’re looking at a distance but if you are part of the ground personnel team and see that taxi lights are approaching, then that’s the signal for you to look away as these lights up close can cause retinal damage if you look directly into it.

Anti-Collision Lights

The name is self explanatory- these lights are designed for avoiding collisions by for letting ground personnel and other pilots know that you are flying nearby. There are three different types of anti-collision lights including:

  • Red, Green, and White Position Lights - These lights are specially positioned on an aircraft to let ground personnel and other pilots know that the position of the plane. These lights consist of red and green lights, the former being positioned on the left wing and the latter being located on the right wing
  • Red Beacons - Positioned on the top and bottom of the aircraft, these beacons begin to flash some moments before the engine starts and are turned off after the engine is turned off. The red beacons let ground personnel know that the engines have started and that they should move aside. Being around a plane when its engine is on can be dangerous and these beacons help mitigate any risk.
  • White Strobe Light s- These are the lights that you see every time you see an airplane flying through the skies. Located on the wing tips, these white strobe lights are blinding when viewed closely, but when viewed from a distance during even the most cloudy of days, shine brilliantly through to illuminate the plane.


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