Aircraft Position Lights
During night hours, no person shall operate an aircraft unless it has lighted position lights. These are referred to as Navigation Lights or commonly known as Position Lights. Navigation lights don’t actually help the pilot navigate. They are used to help pilots to locate and determine the relative position of other aircraft nearby in the air.
Each light has a different colour, and each light has an assigned place on the airplane. These universally defined colours and locations of the lights on an aircraft help pilots to determine if other aircraft are approaching or flying away, and their direction of flight. At night time, other aircraft would not be visible if they did not have lights. The navigation lights help pilots to determine if other aircraft are coming or going, and their relative position and direction.
Steady, Coloured Lights
The Left wing tip has a steady red light, and the right wing tip has a steady green light. The tail has a steady white light mounted as far aft as possible. These navigation or position lights are steady (non flashing) lights, and they must be visible from 2 miles.
In addition to the position lights, there will be other lights such as a landing light, fuselage lights, and anti-collision lights on an airplane. A landing light is often mounted on the leading edge of the wing. Anti-collision lights are also mounted in prominent locations on the aircraft such as the wing tips and the top of the tail.
Starboard Wing Tip Light
You can see the Green Navigation Light and also the Anti-Collision Strobe Light mounted in the right (starboard) wing tip of this airplane. The clear lens cover creates the form of the leading edge wing tip that houses these navigation and anti-collision lights.
The anti-collision lights typically consist of white strobe lights or a red rotating beacon. Anti-collision lights are high intensity flashing lights that may be red, white or red/white segmented. These anti-collision lights must be visible through a 360 degree radius.
The pilot may turn off the anti-collision lights in some situations, such as hazy conditions at night. In conditions such as haze or dense cloud, the strobe light may cause a serious distraction or possible flicker vertigo effect on the pilot or passengers. Strobe lights have been known to induce epileptic seizures when individuals are exposed to the the intense flashing lights in close proximity. The pilot in command may temporarily turn off the anti-collision lights in situations where they feel a serious risk is present.
Port Wine is red in colour. Therefore, the Port Side is always the Red Navigation Light. The Starboard side must therefore be the Green Navigation Light. In addition, “Port” is a four letter word. “Left” is also a four letter word. Therefore, “Port” matches up with “Left”. Both words are exactly four letters in length. Therefore, it’s easy to remember that the Port Side is the Left Side. (Port and Left are both 4 letters long)
Easy to Remember:
- Port Wine is Red. Therefore, Port Nav Light is Red.
- “Port” is 4 letters long, and “Left” is 4 letters long. Therefore, Port is Left.
- Port = Red = Left
- By process of elimination: Starboard = Green = Right
Cessna 172 Tail Lights
Here we see the Tail of a Cessna 172 aircraft. The Red Beacon Anti-Collision Light is mounted on the top of the tail where it is visible through 360 degrees. Mounted at the most aft position of the tail (right in the picture) we see the white Navigation (Position) Light.
The Red Anti-Collision Light is a Rotating Red Beacon Light. This powerful flashing light can be seen from a great distance and helps to alert other pilots to the presence of the aircraft to help avoid collision.
The Navigation Lights are steady lights. Therefore, the White Nav Light is a steady (non-flashing) light used to help other pilots identify the relative position of the aircraft in the sky at night. If you see the white navigation light, you will know you are looking at the tail of the aircraft, and the airplane must therefore be pointed away from you and not coming towards you.
Red and Green Nav Lights
The Red and Green Navigation Lights are visible from dead ahead (visible from front of aircraft) through 110 degrees to the side. This viewing angle ensures the nav lights are visible to other traffic from the front and side until the aircraft passes by.
White Navigation Light
The tail mounted White Navigation Light is visible through an angle of 140 degrees. With this being less than 180 degrees (straight line), it ensures the white nav light becomes visible to other air traffic once the airplane is passed by, and travelling away. This white light would be visible from any location behind the aircraft.
Aircraft Right of Way
The Navigation Lights on an aircraft also help pilots to recognize the Air Law Rights of Way. If you think of the Red Light as a Stop Sign, and the Green Light as Go, then you can determine the right-of-way in the situation illustrated here.
When two aircraft are converging on approximately the same heading, the aircraft which has the other on its right must give way.
The Pilot of Aircraft A (Airplane on the Left in the diagram) will see the Red Navigation Light on the Port Side Wing Tip of Aircraft B. Therefore, the Pilot of Aircraft A must Give-Way to the aircraft (B) on is right.
The Pilot of Aircraft B (Airplane on the Right in the diagram) will see the Green Navigation Light on the Starboard Side Wing Tip of Aircraft A. Therefore, the Pilot of Aircraft B may continue on its course with the right of way.
Don’t be Dead Right!
Remember, Pilots are always responsible to avoid a collision, right of way or not. The Pilot In Command (PIC) of an aircraft that has the right-of-way shall, if there is any risk of collision, take such action as necessary to avoid collision. Just because you may have the right of way, you must still take any action necessary to avoid a collision.
The Red, Green and White Navigation Lights will help you to quickly and easily identify the relative position of other airplanes at night.
With understanding of the location and colours of these important navigation lights, you can determine the orientation of other aircraft in the sky.
You see some Steady Lights in the Sky. What’s the Position of that other Airplane?
- If you see both a Red and Green Light… You know the other airplane is coming at you.
- If you see just a White Light… You know the other airplane is flying away from you.
- If you see both a Red and White Light… You know the other airplane is moving from right to left as you see the Port side of the airplane.
- If you see both a Green and White Light… You know the other airplane is moving from left to right as you see the Starboard side of the airplane.
Navigation Lights help pilots to determine the relative position of other aircraft. See and be Seen!