One shared experience for people who’ve taken off on a plane or landed to a destination in the nighttime hours is seeing all the various lights that there are at the airport and on the runway. From flashing beams of red, yellow and other colors, the runway acts as a guideline for the pilot flying your plane. There are a total of nine different color combinations mapped out on airport runways, according to the FAA’s most up to date airfield’s Standards publications. If you’re on your way to work in the aviation industry or are simply curious about what all these lights mean, see below for a basic outline of the different aircraft lights and their significances.
The runway centerline lights are fifty feet apart and are similar to runway centerline markings in that they help aircraft perfect landings in the evening hours and prevent the vessel from floating too far. The line of runway centerline lights may be uniformly offset laterally to the same side of the physical runway centerline by a maximum of 2.5 feet. When viewed from the landing threshold, runway centerline lights are white until the last 3,000 feet. Where they start to alternate red and white for 2,000 feet and eventually solid red for the final 1,000 feet.
Approach lights can help an aircraft line up and identify at nighttime. They also help instrument pilots transition from Instrument Meteorological Conditions (IMC) to Visual Meteorological Conditions (VMC). When pilots fly with IMC and see the white approach lights, they can start their descent to 100′ above touchdown zone elevation, regardless of the kind of approach you’re flying (even if it’s a non-precision approach).
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