What makes the best pilot flashlight? Let’s find out, and then see some aviation flashlights that are very popular among pilots and flight crews.
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When I fly as pilot in command at night, I always carry a flashlight in my pilot flight bag. When you do a preflight of the airplane at night, you need to see what you’re inspecting. Even on a lit ramp, shadows make it difficult to see, especially in darkened areas like the cowl opening for checking oil level, or landing gear wells. You need a light that will allow you to get a good look, but not blind you. Since people are prone to dropping things on occasion, you need a rugged light that won’t fail you if dropped on cement.
In the cockpit, a flashlight helps you see the floor area where fuel tank switches and other items reside. Once inside, you’re getting nearer to takeoff and you need good night vision. It’s important to have a light that can be switched to the color red to help recover and maintain that night vision.
It can take over 10 minutes to recover night vision, as you can see from this graphic:
In a cockpit emergency where there is no electrical power, or power must be switched off for some time to preserve the aircraft battery, a flashlight with a red beam is very useful!
One of the single most important items in your flight bag is a flashlight. A pilot flashlight is useful during both night pre-light and in-flight. In an emergency can make the difference between a safe outcome and an uncomfortable emergency.
For a large transport aircraft, very powerful halogen or LED flashlights are useful for night walk-arounds. For the cockpit, smaller versions are called for.
Compact, lightweight, good quality A solid flashlight doesn’t need to be heavy. Size and weight become important if you have to use the light for a long time such as during an emergency. This is true whether the light is hand held or head-mounted. Pilots do not need cheap flashlights. They need rugged, reliable flashlights. Plastic or cheap metal will let you down. Get a quality aviation flashlight.
Use-case (environment) Choose a flashlight that is easy to use in rain and cold. Also, aks your CFI or pilot with weather experience about the best flashlight to IFR flight – for example, ask them questions about the kind of light they use to see wing ice. Some say that “warm light” (neutral white) is better and that it’s harder to see ice with “cool white”.
Bulb type and field width LEDs seem to last forever, standard bulbs not so much. Think reliability. Also consider whether you need a tight beam or a wide beam. A flashlight that is adjustable in this respect might be perfect for you.
Multi-color light Preservation of your night vision is paramount. Having multiple light colors is very important, but easy selection between white and any color is important. Look for independent switches to make this easy. There is debate about the color: red, green, or blue. Red is the “standard” color, since it was adopted for night vision support a long time ago. However, many people like the other colors as well. It’s your personal preference. If you can check out a flashlight in the store, that would be a good idea. Remember that sectionals can have different color ink (like blue or magenta to show towered and non-towered airports) so make sure your choice of light doesn’t obscure your ability to read things at night. Having a white light and at least one other color is smart. Avgas at night under a red light may not look blue. Bright red, important items on a checklist may be missed or hard to read under red light. So while your primary light should probably be red, you’ll need alternate colors and plain-old white as well.
Battery Simplicity During an emergency, if the flashlight shows signs of low power, you need to be able to change batteries quickly. Fishing around the bottom of a flight bag for the right number of loose batteries is distracting. A flashlight with a quick change battery pack would be ideal, but you can also keep a “battery caddy ” in your flight bag. Regarding type of battery, pilots typically keep extra alkaline batteries for handheld radios and headsets, so these are readily available at FBOs. Flashlights with more exotic batteries (example: CR123) will be harder to find when on a cross country.
Complexity Manuals for a flashlight? Run away (you don’t need a complex endorsement for a flashlight). Grab the light, turn it on, switch colors. That’sa as complex as it should be.
Sharp edges When fumbling around your flight bag, especially in an emergency, you don’t need to cut your hand. Some flashlights have pocket clips that turn up at the end. If they’re not shaped with rounded edges, you can scrape or cut your hand. The same for some tactical flashlights which can be used for self defense… they have serrated edges around the lens area.
Harsh, Blinding Brightness You might want a tactical flashlight for general nighttime wandering around the ramp (just not too close to flight time because it’ll mess up your night vision (see link to chart).In the cockpit you need a flashlight that will be your helper. Also, if you have a light with a strobe mode, be very careful not to engage that mode during night flight. It’s not only distracting, but ruins your night vision!
Remembering if you charged the light When was the last time you recharged your pilot flashlight? Where did you last put the charger base or cable? If you’re good at keeping up with these easy-to-forget tasks, good for you! However, why add one more item to your ready-list (especially if night flying is infrequent)?
Lights that do more than provide light It should be a flashlight. Don’t dilute the purpose of a flashlight with other features that could impact cockpit use. That said, if it has other features like a pen point, screwdriver, or survival features, that’s not a bad thing. In that case add it to your collection of useful items,but make sure you have a single purpose, quality pilot flashlight.
That results in very subjective answers.While we all have specific purposes for flying, generally we are going from point A to point B.
An airborne fire tanker crew or airline pilot might need something specific to that mission, but a general aviation or commercial charter pilot is essentially on a transport mission (self or with passengers).
There are also variants to consider – the pilot finger light and head-mounted lights.
Based on that, here are a number of highly rated pilot flashlights and related items that will meet your requirements. You can purchase directly for yourself, or they make great gifts for pilots, too!