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Are Drones Required to Have Lights? (Explained for Beginners)

Owning a drone is exciting, especially knowing you get to be in control. You can fly it for as long as you want without anyone asking you.  Whether you fly your drone for commercial purposes or fun, the experience is incredible. However, have you ensured that your drone has all the necessary accessories? Is your drone required to have lights?

FAA rules require that all commercial drones operated between sunset and sunrise must be equipped with anti-collision lights. Likewise, recreational drones that are flown at night are required to have navigational lights. Drone lights help you see the drone in the air at night and avoid obstacles.

Also, just from a usage standpoint, if you use your drone to capture video footage or photos in low light, you will require proper illumination. That’s the only way to capture high-quality photos and videos. Lights are the key to quality footage.

In this article, I will cover types of drone lights, benefits, features of good drone light, and applications of drone lighting. 

What’s the difference between drone anti-collision lights and navigation lights?

This is a common question for those wondering what kind of lights they need for their drone, and here is a brief explanation of each.

Navigational lights for drones

These are green and red lights, and almost all drones come with them by default. They are also known as position lights, and FAA requires that they be used at night, especially by hobbyists. Navigational lights typically don’t blink, and they come in handy for the pilot since they can have the drone in sight during the night, and can tell what direction the drone is facing.

Anti-collision lights for drones

These are red or white lights, and they often include strobe lights. The lights are small, light in weight and are installed on a drone to ensure that your drone doesn’t collide with other drones when flying at night. As a commercial operator, your drone must have anti-collision lights, and here is what they should look like according to the FAA.

  • They should not be fixed (Should blink or strobe)
  • They must be red or white
  • The lights must be visible from a distance of 3 miles

Searchlights for drones

These lights are the best when doing indoor or close-range searches. Searchlights also assist drone sensors in obstacle avoidance. Since the lights are small, they can be mounted on a smaller drone. However, if you conduct searches from a highly elevated place, you will require a more powerful searchlight. An excellent example of a searchlight is the D100 for the Autel EVO II, which can illuminate at a range of 20 feet away from where it is being used

Scene lights 

These lights are used in crime scenes or construction sites where drones fly over as data-gathering tools. The lights offer a wide illumination range covering the whole scene. Their batteries are also large with a large extension, and you can therefore use them for a long stretch of time.

Benefits of Drone Lights

The benefits of drone lights are divided into two categories. One includes the “To see benefits” while the other is the “To be seen benefits.”

If you are wondering why you should consider mounting some lights on your drone, here are the benefits.

To See Benefits

Obstacle avoidance

There are sensors on the drone’s body that help it avoid crash landing and stay away from obstacles. For the sensors to avoid the obstacles, they must first see them. 

Also, to achieve a controlled landing, the sensors measure the distance between the drone and the ground when it’s time to return home. However, this might not be possible at night, and that’s why drone lights are essential. 

With lights on the drone, it can avoid buildings or other obstacles since they will be able to see them. If you fly your drone in low light conditions and it doesn’t have lights, you could crash into buildings, and you might suffer losses. Having the lights enables its ability to avoid obstacles and stay safe.

Depth perception for the pilot

The perception of a pilot when flying a drone is critical but can be a challenge at night, making it harder to see where the aircraft is and how far away it is from other objects. As a result, they won’t judge and react quickly to the conditions surrounding the flight. The pilot might assume that the drone has gone beyond an obstacle while still close to it.

When a pilot uses a drone with lights, they can easily determine where the drone is and directly illuminate the area below it. This will help him judge more accurately since they can see the illuminated object. 

Improved camera resolution

The functionality and effectiveness of a drone’s camera sensor lie in the quality of light it receives. If there is enough light, the camera’s shutter speed will be slower while the ISO will be higher. If this is the case, the quality of the images will be poor.

The best way to capture quality images is by ensuring the light is sufficient so the ISO will be high and the shutter speed faster.

To Be Seen Benefits

Besides what a drone pilot stands to gain, drone lights enable them to see other drones, and that’s why we call these the “To be seen” benefits. These benefits are crucial in places where urgent action needs to be taken, or a lot is happening in the sky. The lights help all involved to see the drones in the sky. Here are some of the benefits.

Reduce eye fatigue

Both the pilot and the observer must pay careful attention when flying, especially at night. However, it might be difficult for them to see their own or other aircraft, more so the far ones, forcing their eyes to work harder, thus leading to eye fatigue.

However, this problem can be mitigated if all drones flying at night had strobe lights. The pilots will not have to strain their eyes trying to see where the drone is.

Adherence to FAA laws

This is another reason why you should not hesitate to mount drone lights. As mentioned earlier, the FAA demands that if you fly your drone between sunset and sunrise as a commercial drone pilot, the drone must have anticollision lights. Additionally, the lights must have 40-100 cycles of strobe functionality.

Guide to choosing the right drone lights

If you are hearing about drone lights for the first time, it might be difficult for you to choose the right ones for your needs. This is because the market has many lights differing in weight, colors, and specimens. Here is a guide that will help you get the best lights for your drone.

Type of battery

The battery type of the drone lights is the first thing you should consider. Small lights can use LiPo or Lithium-ion batteries which gives them a longer runtime. 

Although Lithium lights are common, the LiPo ones have better performance in terms of power. However, they have a limitation on the recharge cycle. Additionally, LiPo batteries, if not used for a while, become unreliable. 

Brightness, distance, and beam type

Different types of lights are used differently. If your drone is engaged in a long-range search, choose a light whose beam pattern is tight. This way, it will be able to survey from a higher altitude. 

On the other hand, a light with a wide beam pattern is best suitable for close-range searches because it can spread light on a wider ground area. 

Also, some lights can change the beam pattern depending on the application.

Weight 

It is critical to consider this factor before purchasing drone lights. The performance and flight time of the drone will be affected if the lights are heavy. This is why, if possible, you should first test the lights you intend to buy on your drone. This will determine if the drone will function well with them.

When mounting the lights on your drone, ensure you do it in a balanced position. Additionally, do not obstruct the camera sensors or any moving part since that might interfere with safe flight.

Durability

Drone lights should be waterproof, otherwise, the weather will limit you. These are the best lights to get, even if your drone is not waterproof. 

Drone lighting applications

Here are some ways drone lights are being used across the industry:

  • Medical supply deliveries
  • Law enforcement
  • Wildfire monitoring
  • Construction sites
  • Investigation of accidents 
  • Inspection
  • Search and rescue missions

Conclusion

The need to fly drones doesn’t end at sunset. Some circumstances require that you fly the drone at night, hence the need for drone lights. Also, according to the FAA, it is mandatory to have drone lights when flying at night. 

They help the pilot navigate with ease, avoid obstacles, and prevent eye strain. Additionally, the lights are useful tools in rescue missions or investigating accident scenes. 

Depending on how you are using your drone, you can go for navigational or anti-collision lights. Fly your drone successfully and safely by investing in proper lighting.