/Aircraft Electrical Systems
   /Lights & Recognition

Aircraft Position Strobe Light

External Aircraft Lights

Most builders will install either position, recognition, landing/taxi lights and or an anti collision strobe light on their airplane at some point during construction.

Some do not, and if you are flying day VFR only, I would recommend to install at least a red tail strobe or wingtip white strobe as a bare minimum visibility precaution as can be required in some countries.

To see and be seen is the credo, especially in circumstances where visibility is reduced and in high traffic situations around airports and in training areas, where instructors are busy with students.

Several manufacturers are selling LED position and landing lights (including LED strobes too), these are very reliable with a long service life, probably longer than the aircraft it self. Current draw is much less resulting in thinner cables and there are weight savings too because the high voltage unit is no longer necessary.

One drawback might be that prices are still relatively high, but that should improve as eventually production numbers will go up. On this page we highlight the different types of lights used on general aviation aircraft.

Lights on the outside

External lights must comply to certain aviation rules and regulations regarding the emitted light. It describes the color, position and angle of visibility from where the light must be seen around the aircraft.

Position, strobe & red beacons

The lights are not restricted to the standard red, green and white position lights, sometimes called navigation lights, only.
Whelen LED Red Beacon White (or red) strobe lights are usually installed on the wing tips and the familiar red beacon on the tail can sometimes be seen on the back or belly of the fuselage. The red beacon is switched on just before the engine is started, to indicate a 'live engine(s)'. The wingtip white (or red) strobes are usually switched on just before entering the active runway and when ready for departure.

KEstrobes Red LED Beacon

Military aircraft are sometimes equipped with a low intensity infrared beacon or strobe for detection during night flying with infrared goggles.

Note: the use of a surge suppression device to protect expensive electronic equipment, such as the Red LED Aircraft Beacon, is recommended, (thanks to Dick Kuntzleman of KEstrobes).

Recognition, Taxi & Landing lights

Some aircraft are equipped with either recognition lights (usually somewhere on the wing leading edge) or landing and taxi lights. The difference between landing and taxi installation is the beam width. Taxi lights have a wider light beam to illuminate the runway / taxiway while moving on the ground during darkness. Landing lights must be capable to illuminate the runway from a greater distance and so they have a narrower, more concentrated longer range beam.

Company Name Illumination

Not very common in light airplanes but these airlines use these to light up the vertical fin and show off the company logo. Very effective in showing in which direction the aircraft is flying. And it does create a sort of Xmas tree in the sky.

Courtesy lights

Sometimes installed under the wing of Cessna's and other high wing aircraft for illumination of the area in front of the cabin door. Very helpful when getting out of the aircraft during dark nights or in poorly illuminated parking areas on airports.



AeroLEDs (formed in 2005) sells their Aerosun LED landing/taxi/recognition lights for a large range of aircraft. Compared to normal incandescent bulbs these LEDs are solid state low current devices. For example, the Aerosun 800 uses Aircraft Landing Light 1,5 amps at 13,8 volts and it emits as much light as a normal 55 watt bulb. But at 3 amps lower current. This means you can save weight on wiring and current load on the alternator and battery. They also sell a PAR 36 compliant LED landing light, SUNspot, as a drop in replacement. It emits 2800 lumens equal to two 100 watts halogen bulbs, but their life expectancy is much greater.

Sunspot Landing Light

Most of these LEDs have a micro controller on board which makes it easy to add extra functionality, for example: strobe or wigwag. This system will switch the left and right lights alternately on and off. It will make your aircraft much more visible when flying near airports and/or during landing or takeoff.
For more information see the website of Aeroleds for their product range.


Light Emitting Diode

Light Emitting Diodes (LEDs) are nowadays popular in most, if not all aircraft too. Their light output (lumens) is at least equal but usually much better in terms of brightness and color options than classic quartz or HID light solutions.


These lights have a very long service life (sometimes even longer than the aircraft they are used on), weight is low, there is no filament to break, reliability is high, they are shock and vibration proof, have a rugged design, low power requirements and their small size make them ideal for these lighting solutions. Internal and external light applications being one of them.

LEDs can now be used for all lights on the aircraft, even for strobe lights which saves the high voltage unit and wires. The only drawback could be their high price, but that should be no factor when more manufacturers are going to produce them in larger numbers.

Written by EAI.

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