What can pilots see at night – and what’s the point of those headlights?


Anyone who has ever star-gazed will know that aircraft use lights when flying, pesky planes masquerading as shooting stars throughout the hours of darkness.

But the powerful LED spotted from the ground, 35,000 feet below, is not a headlight, guiding the path of the 8.30pm service to Chicago, but more likely a beacon to help other pilots spot the plane in the air. At altitude, planes do not use headlights in the traditional sense.

“Many times when I am making oceanic crossings at night, there is nothing outside the windshield but blackness for hours on end,” says pilot and flying instructor Tim Sanders.

“As pilots learnt the art of science and flight, we have to make a transition to using our…

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