Different Types of Lighting Used in Aircraft

Decades ago, when sailing was the most prominent form of long-distance travel, boat operators quickly learned the dangers that came with navigating the seas at night. But rather than foregoing midnight trips on the ocean, they learned to use lighting in inventive ways to find their destination in the dark and communicate with other ships. While modern-day aircraft do not use lighthouses, they do use a similar set of external lighting to tackle the same issues during night flights. First, there are those that illuminate areas directly ahead of the vehicle that pilots need to see. Then, there are lights which make the aircraft more visible to oncoming air traffic or airport personnel within their vicinity, signaling to other pilots and crew of its whereabouts. Below is a quick introduction to each type of external lighting used on aircraft today:

Navigation (Position) Lights: Also called position lights, navigation lights are required for all aircraft operating at night as a way to alert others of their location and avoid crashes during other low visibility conditions. Using a green light on the right wingtip and a red light on the left wingtip, the navigation lights show a plane’s location and direction for the observer. There is also a white light typically on the tail or on the wingtips of a plane, facing backwards to indicate the vessel from the back.

Beacon (Red Anti-Collision) Lights: Named for their original design which was similar to the rotating lights on a lighthouse, beacon lights are flashing red lights which show when an airplane has its engine running. Located on the top or bottom of the airplane, beacon lights flash on and off in a steady pattern when on and are instigated when the engines are ignited and are only switched off after the engines have been shut down.

Strobe (White Anti-Collision) Lights: Strobe lights are flashing white lights located on the wingtips of a plane. Depending on the model of aircraft being flown, these lights can either flash in rapid bursts or in a rhythmic on/off manner. These lights are only used during flight and on the runway as they are too bright for use on the ground, especially at night.

Taxi Lights: As their name suggests, taxi lights are used to light up the taxiway so that pilots can see where they are going at night on the runway. These lights are usually located on the nose gear strut and the wings, and they are sometimes integrated with landing lights so that the same system can be used for both purposes.

Landing Lights: Landing lights are the brightest lights used on aircraft, and they are positioned downward to illuminate the runway. Typically, you can find the landing lights mounted on the wing, nose, or beneath the fuselage. Aside from providing illumination for the crew, landing lights also improve the aircraft’s visibility. Some newer aircraft also include supplementary systems like the Alternating Landing Light Systems (ALLS) which pulses the left and right landing lights in an alternating fashion to further increase visibility.

Runway Turnoff Lights: Runway turnoff lights are similar to landing lights, but they are not as bright and are positioned on either side of the aircraft’s nose to illuminate the exits of a runway. Typically found on the nose strut, these lights also help pilots during tight turns, as primary taxi lights only illuminate the area in front of the aircraft.

Wing Inspection Lights: Wing inspection lights are mounted on the aircraft fuselage and point backward toward the wing. They are used to help ground and flight crew spot ice formation on the wing.

Searchlights: Some military and law enforcement aircraft are equipped with searchlights that are used to illuminate objects on the ground.

Logo Lights: Logo lights are mounted on the horizontal stabilizer of an aircraft and they point upward toward the vertical stabilizer, illuminating the airline’s logo. These lights are not legally required and were introduced mainly as a marketing topic, but have since become useful for making it easier to identify aircraft in the air.

Formation Lights: Finally, on some military aircraft, there are formation lights which aid pilots in maintaining the correct position when flying in formation. These lights are often only visible in the infrared spectrum which is visible only when using night vision equipment, allowing aircraft to keep their lights off for particular operations.


In conclusion, there are many different types of external lighting used on aircraft to help pilots navigate and identify other aircraft in the air and on the ground. If you are an aircraft owner or operator in need of aircraft lighting parts and/or other aviation equipment, Fulfillment by ASAP is ready to support you with your fulfillment needs. As a leading distributor of aircraft components that have been tested for their durability in the harsh conditions, you can rely on our inventory of over 2 billion parts. Begin procuring the parts you need from our team of market experts when you submit a Request for Quote (RFQ) form on any item(s) of interest. With representatives on standby 24/7x365, you can expect a custom solution to your parts needs in 15 minutes or less!


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