Flying drones during nighttime is not illegal but it might require some extra precautions. If you don’t have any prior experience with flying quadcopters in the dark, you are going to have a hard time spotting your drone.
Most types of drones come equipped with at least navigation lights. When you fly them at night, they look like twinkling stars moving in all directions at a great speed. And when you equip a drone with anti-collision lights, you can spot it from miles away.
In this article, I’m going to talk about what a drone looks like at night, and discuss different types of lights that help monitor your quadcopter at night. I will also discuss the FAA requirements regarding such lights and explain the reasons for having anti-collision lights on drones. If you are interested to learn about what does a drone look like at night, keep reading!
What Does a Drone Look Like at Night?
At night time, drones usually look like a twinkling star that is moving here and there rapidly. Most drones are visible at night as they come equipped with lights at their belly or landing gears.
Whenever you spot a quadcopter hovering in the sky, it will usually look like a blinking star. However, stars don’t move around the sky in different directions but drones do. And today, most consumer drones come with built-in lights so that people can easily spot them at night.
However, tiny pocket-sized quadcopters usually do not contain any sort of light. That’s because kids and entry-level pilots typically operate such drones. And they are only meant for indoor flights.
Flying drones at night times are usually restricted in many areas. Due to poor visibility at night, the chances of your drone crashing into persons, objects, or even other aircraft increases significantly.
However, that doesn’t mean you can’t fly drones at night. For that, you will need to get special permission from the local authority or aviation authorities first.
Sometimes authorities add special requirements for granting nighttime flight permission. Such as the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) in the United States mandates that pilot are required to equip their drone with anti-collision lights prior to nighttime operations.
Drones usually come with two types of lights for nighttime operations. They are – navigation lights and anti-collision lights.
These are the most common types of lights you can find in quadcopters. These are just normal colored LED lights. And drones come equipped with these straight from the manufacturer.
Usually, you will notice red navigation lights in the front of your drone, blue or green in the back. These lights usually do not strobe or blink which means they are steady-on. However, if your drone’s battery is almost completely drained out, these lights will start blinking, letting you know it is time to land.
Anti-collision lights were not that well known to drone pilots even just a few years ago. But nowadays, these lights have become very common. In the case of navigation lights, we’ve seen they are solid lights. But anti-collision lights are completely opposite to that.
These lights usually strobe or blink. Pilots typically attach white anti-collision lights to their drones oriented mainly upwards. As a result, you can see the light from above and even from the sides of the drone.
Sometimes, drone owners equip their quadcopters with green or red strobe lights to the side of the fuselage. Anti-collision lights are usually brighter than navigation lights. And you can spot them from as much as three miles away. This is typically helpful for other aircraft such as airplanes, helicopters, etc. to spot the quadcopter at night and avoid a collision.
What is FAA’s Drone Lighting Requirements?
The FAA requires all drone pilots to use anti-collision lights for any flights during nighttime, and morning and evening civil twilight. The FAA also mandates that the visibility of these lights have to be such that people can spot them at least from three miles away.
The Federal Aviation Administration or FAA in short is the agency responsible for overseeing civil aviation within the USA. The FAA’s requirement for drone lightning differs depending on the time of the day. Let’s learn about their drone lighting requirements, and how the FAA defines night, daylight, and morning and evening civil twilight.
- Daylight: According to the FAA, “Daylight” starts thirty minutes before the official sunrise and ends thirty minutes after the official sunset in your locality. And the FAA doesn’t have any specific drone light requirement for flights made within that time span.
- Morning and Evening Civil Twilight: As per FAA’s rulebook, morning civil twilight starts an hour before the official sunrise and ends half an hour before the official sunrise in your local area.
As for the evening civil twilight, it starts half an hour after the official sunset and lasts up to one hour after the official sunset in your locality.
For any flight made during the morning and evening civil twilight, drones are required to use anti-collision lights.
- Night: The night, as per FAA, is defined as the time between the end of the evening civil twilight i.e., one hour after the official sunset, and the beginning of morning civil twilight i.e. one hour before the official sunrise in your local area. For any nighttime flight, drones must have anti-collision lighting.
For nighttime drone operations, the FAA requires you to use anti-collision lights that are visible from at least three miles away. So, keep that in mind while you are shopping for an anti-collision light system for your drone.
Also, I will recommend you to use anti-collision lights whenever you think it could help other pilots to spot your quadcopter, especially on a smoggy or cloudy day. It is always better to be safe than sorry.
Reasons For Drones Having Anti-Collision Lights
Most drones nowadays come equipped with navigation lights. But this might make you wonder why you need to attach anti-collision lights to your quadcopter even though you already have some colored LED lights on it.
There are several reasons behind that. They are:
The first reason is that it helps with poor visibility in the dark. The navigation lights that your drone comes with from the factory are not as powerful as anti-collision lights. These navigation lights are almost non-existent in the daylight, and you can hardly see them at night.
On the other hand, anti-collision lights are very bright. And this makes it very easy for you, authorities, pedestrians, or other pilots to spot the aircraft even at nighttime.
One thing you need to keep in mind, when it is very dark and your drone is hundreds of feet above the ground, you will have a very hard time spotting it with just the navigation lights.
And if by any chance you lose sight of your quadcopter, disastrous things can happen. Such as it can hit other aircraft, pedestrians, or objects and eventually comes crashing down on the ground. And this can injure people badly. But just attaching an anti-collision light system to your drone can reduce the chances of such accidents by a lot.
The FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) requires that all pilots (hobbyists or commercial) need to use anti-collision lighting systems for any sort of flights made during nighttime, and morning and evening civil twilight.
On top of that, these anti-collision lights have to be visible from at least three miles away. So, your drone’s built-in navigation lights won’t make the cut in most cases.
Furthermore, you should always follow the rules and regulations made by the local authorities or aviation authorities such as the FAA. Because if they catch you doing otherwise, they will confiscate your quadcopter, fine you for violating their rules, or do worse.
Flying drones at night can be quite an experience. But whatever you do, make sure you follow all of the FAA’s guidelines regarding flying drones at night. It is crucial to ensure not only your safety but also the safety of others.