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Drone Night Flight: How to Safely and Legally Fly a Drone at Night

Drone Night Flight: How to Safely and Legally Fly a Drone at Night

Flying at night can be both an exhilarating and thrilling experience. It’s not like flying during the daytime, where visibility isn’t an issue and most obstacles can be seen. Flying at night and the low light conditions present a problem not only for your camera but for your eyes as well. So being prepared is key to flying successfully at night. 

Flying at night is the only way to capture that gorgeous lit-up cityscape. In some cases, it may be the only time you’re able to run a thermal camera on a roof or capture that firework show. 

No matter the reason for conducting a night flight, knowing the additional hazards involved and being prepared will allow for that exhilarating and thrilling experience and prevent it from becoming a bad experience or even resulting in a crash.

Can I fly a drone at night?

One of the most common questions I get is, “Can I fly at night?” Yes! You can fly a drone at night.

Ever since April 21, 2021 the FAA is allowing night operations without the need to receive a 107.29 Daytime Flight Operations Waiver for 107 Commercial Pilots

Recreational Pilots or Hobbyist pilots have had the opportunity for night flights since 2016 without the need for a 107.29 waiver. 

The new FAA regulation for night flights reads as such for commercial pilots:

Night Operations

This rule allows routine operations of small UAS, beginning April 21, 2021, at night under two conditions:

  1. The remote pilot in command must complete an updated initial knowledge test or online recurrent training, and;
  2. The small unmanned aircraft must have lighted anti-collision lighting visible for at least (3) statute miles that has a flash rate sufficient to avoid a collision.

For a Hobbyist pilot, it’s pretty much the same other than the knowledge testing. To fly at night as a hobbyist, you are required to have anti-collision lighting attached to the drone and must maintain visual line of sight of the aircraft. The current TRUST test, does contain some night flight information. All other hobbyist rules for flight still apply.

Anti-collision lighting for drone night flights

The FAA does have some requirements for anti-collision lighting. You’re not just going to tape a flashlight to your drone, are you? No, as written, in order for a light to qualify as an anti-collision light it needs to be visible for at least 3 statute miles and flash at a sufficient rate to avoid a collision.

Now there are a few options for anti-collision lighting out there. One of the most popular is the Lumecube Strobe, and another popular model is Firehouse’s ARC “V” anti-collision light.

Lumecube Strobe

The Lumecube Strobe is a nice compact fully FAA compliant strobe light for your drone system. It offers 360-degree 3+ mile visibility and 6-hour battery life. It offers multiple light modes including strobe at 60 strobes per minute. 

The Lumecube Strobe lights have a plastic detachable filter, that can change the color of the light from white to red or green. 

It also comes as a three-light kit, allowing for directional lighting as well when purchased as a kit.

Firehouse ARC “V”

The Firehouse ARC “V” is the latest version of their anti-collision light and is a nicely improved model. It offers multiple light modes – Strobe, Flash, Fixed, and a Strobe/Flash combination. It also offers a 6-hour battery and is visible for 4 SM. 

With an IP rating of 67, it’s a quality waterproof option. Firehouse’s lights are colored either red, green, or white.

One light vs. three lights

Both of the above examples also come as a kit. If the kit option is chosen you will have two additional lights in red and green. These are meant to be used as navigational lighting to assist you in knowing the orientation of your drone while in flight at night

Lumecube Strobe

Even though most drones will have some directional lighting built-in, they can be difficult to see and are not very bright. So, adding additional navigational lighting never hurts. The choice to use additional navigational lighting is a personal one, and not required by the FAA regulations, but one that is highly recommended.     


Navigational lighting can be a drone-saver. When flying at night, the more identifiers on your craft you have the better your flight will go.

When using navigational lights, red is used to indicate the front of the craft and green is used to mark the rear of the craft. Navigational lighting can be set to be solid or flashing and is used just like manned aircraft to tell the orientation of the aircraft.


Hazards of flying at night

Unlike flying during the daytime, where hazards and obstacles are visible and easily identified most of the time, those same hazards and obstacles, like power lines and poles, can go unseen due to the lowlight conditions. 

On top of that, your obstacle avoidance system may not catch objects as well as during the daytime or at all, as those systems operate poorly without proper lighting. So, knowing where potential obstacles are will be crucial to having a successful flight. 

Usually, visiting the site during the day will help with identifying hazards and obstacles that may not be as easily visible once nighttime has arrived. This will allow you to plan the flight out accordingly. 

Beyond the usual concerns when planning a drone flight, flying at night presents additional hazards and concerns you should be aware of. These include things such as Autokinesis, Phantom Motion, Fascination, Reversible perspective illusion, Size-distance illusion, and Flicker Vertigo

Knowing about these types of visual illusions won’t keep them from happening. Knowing about them will however keep you from reacting in the wrong way when they occur.  You’ll also find that these visual illusions are all interrelated and it is more than possible to have more than one of these occurring at a time.


This is an illusion that gives the pilot the impression that a stationary object is moving in front of the path of the craft. 

Although this is meant for manned pilots, as they look forward from the cockpit and are looking ahead, drone pilots do see something similar, where it is easy to lose the drone to a background light that appears to be moving. 

In real life, this illusion can easily cause you to follow the path of the illusion over the actual craft. It is something to watch for as it can be quite disorienting and can lead to panic when you realize that you weren’t actually following your aircraft. 

Phantom motion

Protracted staring may cause it to appear that an object is moving, contrary to reality.

The human eye likes to play tricks on us. With the illusion of phantom motion, by staring intently at an object your eyes may give that object motion when there really isn’t any, or produce false motion. 

This could easily lead to tracking an illusion over your craft, similar to Autokinesis. You’re more likely to do so while staring at the object in the sky for too long of a period. This forces the eye to focus unnaturally in low light and can lead to the eyes straining from the attempt to focus too intently on an object.

Fascination (fixation)

Pilots can ignore orientation cues and fix their attention on a goal or an object.

This can be a hazardous mindset for any pilot flying at night or during the day to get into, taking the focus away from the pilot’s surroundings and potentially leading to missing an unseen hazard. Although mission completion is always the end goal, being focused only on that end goal only could lead to mission failure by missing something along the way. 

In this case, flying at night, you can easily be distracted by fixating on a distant object as well. So, it’s not just a mindset you can fall into but a real-world application you need to be thoughtful of. Due to the difficulty of maintaining focus at night, and the fact that brighter light appears closer than it really is over a dimmer light, getting fascinated or fixated on one single point in the distance can lead to a difficulty when leaving that fixation point and attempting to bring your focus to a different point. This can cause a sort of momentary night blindness.

Reversible perspective illusion

This is the inability to determine if an object is moving towards you or away from you.

This can be quite common when flying at night. With a dark background and other points of light distracting your vision, your eyes can very easily get confused and believe an object is moving when it’s not, or moving in the opposite direction than it is. 

As a drone pilot, this is unnerving and can lead to a disorienting experience. As you may be flying away when you want to be flying in, when this occurs it is best to rely on the data at hand. Never forget to use all the tools in your toolbox.    

Check the craft’s direction and orientation, and monitor your distance. These tools will keep you from losing situational awareness and will allow you to maintain a safe flight.

Size-distance illusion

Dimly lit objects appear to be further away and brightly lit objects appear closer.

This is an illusion you can find during the daytime. Think of your side mirror on your car. “Objects in mirror can be closer than they appear.” It’s the same idea. When flying at night it can be easy to find an object in the sky and misjudge its distance. 

The reason for that can be due to the amount of light the object projects. Brightly lit objects will appear closer than they really are compared to a nearby dimly lit object that may appear further away than it is in actuality.

Flicker Vertigo

Flashing lights may cause nausea or disorientation.

This may be one you don’t have to worry about or maybe you do. For some people though this one could be a deal-breaker. Some people can be affected by the flashing of a strobe light. Since all aircraft flying at night are required to have anti-collision strobe lighting, this may affect some people’s ability to fly at night. 

We see this in video games. All video games today come with a disclaimer that the flickering of the lights may cause seizures or blackouts. This is a condition known as photosensitive epilepsy. 1 in 4,000 people suffer from this condition, with many not knowing they have it until they have an episode. 

The above are all visual illusions that you may experience when flying at night. They happen and can be quite disconcerting when they do. Keep calm, and use your instrumentation – it’s there to guide you. 

All drones have apps and all apps provide flight data. That data you will want to use during a night flight. Height, distance, craft direction, every bit of it. Since you may have to question what your eyes may be saying to you, this data will help you keep and maintain your craft’s position and your situational awareness, allowing you to have a safe and enjoyable flight. 

Other things to consider with night flights

When flying at night, the above are additional hazards you won’t find when flying during the day and really revolve around how our eyes see in nighttime lighting conditions. 

There are other things you’ll want to plan for though, such as takeoff and landings. Should you use a spotlight? Should you bring a towel?

That last one got you didn’t it. OK, we’ll start with that one. 

Bring a towel 

Sounds crazy, I know. When conducting night flights, something so easily overlooked is condensation! 

When flying at night, condensation can be a real issue with all of your equipment getting damp. From your case to your lens, when flying at night you will battle condensation. 

Of course, this will depend on atmospheric conditions and location, condensation may be more or less of a concern. Due to how condensation forms, whenever conducting night flights you are likely to experience it. So, keeping something handy to wipe down your gear is something you’ll want to remember. 

Takeoff and landings 

This is something else to consider. It’s good to keep in mind that a lot of the features you use and rely on during daytime flights won’t be there during a night-time flight. 

Most obstacle avoidance systems have a hard time working properly in low light. That also means your landing or downward sensor and your most important data source – your video feed could be completely black or just barely showing a readable image. 

If you take off from a well-lit parking lot, you won’t have as many issues with the landing of course, but what if the lights go off or you’re in a more rural area?  Having a well-defined, properly lit landing pad-flight deck will make a difference on whether you land where you want over where you don’t. 

After all, it can be hard to land if you can’t see the location. Having auxiliary lighting will be needed in those situations. It’s hard to fix an issue like that on the fly, so to speak. So planning ahead here can make all the difference.

Should I use a spotlight? 

You will find that there are different types of lighting accessories for drones beyond the anti-collision lighting that’s available and required. One of those accessories is the spotlight.  

Spotlights are used for several applications and can be a benefit when flying at night. One, they provide additional lighting for landing sensors. Another benefit is that they make the aircraft easier to identify during flight, helping to separate it from the other points of light in the night sky. 

As with any addition to an aircraft, you’ll want to weigh the benefits and the drawbacks for yourself to decide if it’s the best option for you. 

Litratorch 2.0

This spotlight offers multiple Lumen settings of 800, 400, 100 and has three strobe settings Slow, Fast, SOS. It is visible for 3 Statute Miles.

Lumecube 2.0

Lumecube also offers a portable, powerful LED light that is capable of 90 mins of operation on a single charge and gives up to 1500 lumens. 

As you can see, flying at night has its own unique challenges involved. Nothing a drone pilot can’t overcome though. As with anything in Droneland, take your time, do your research, be aware of the risks and hazards, and plan for them accordingly. 

Flying at night can lead to some amazing photos and videos. Or it can give you some fantastic timelapse footage. Flying at night does present a more difficult flying environment and should be respected for the added hazards you will face, but by being aware of those risks and hazards you can mitigate them to where a safe flight can be conducted.  

Fly Safe, Fly Always, Always Fly Safe!

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