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2 Answers

Cross Country talk. Required lights and a required altitude for planes

Asked by: 3275 views Private Pilot

I was on a cross country today and 2 things came up. What lights are required during the day? and what lights are required to be on at night. Private Pilot. One of us thought only BCN was needed during the day and the other thought strobe or nav and bcn was needed. At night we just weren't sure which ones are required. 

Second we were wondering if you are in the middle of nowhere does the 500ft apply? We were thinking about bush flyers who fly only a few feet above the ground. The 500ft/1000ft only applicable when there are people buildings or stuff? 

Its all stuff we should probably know but I just couldn't translate the FARS to get a solid anwser for any of them. Thanks

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2 Answers

  1. Brent on Oct 11, 2011

    I’ll let someone else handle the first part of your question, but for the second, look no further than FAR 91.119(c) which states that over spasley populated areas or water, you must operate no closer than 500 feet to any person, vessel, vehicle, or structure. This isn’t altitude, it’s absoulte distance, so zero elevation and 500′ lateral seperation counts. The regulation doesn’t define the difference between a “congested area” vs “other than congested area” vs “sparsely populated area.” The FAA does not have any obligation to share your interpretation, so a conservative view might be best. Also, remember that part (a) applies at all altitudes regardless of other circumstances.
    Minimum safe altitudes: General.Except when necessary for takeoff or landing, no person may operate an aircraft below the following altitudes:(a) Anywhere. An altitude allowing, if a power unit fails, an emergency landing without undue hazard to persons or property on the surface.(b) Over congested areas. Over any congested area of a city, town, or settlement, or over any open air assembly of persons, an altitude of 1,000 feet above the highest obstacle within a horizontal radius of 2,000 feet of the aircraft.(c) Over other than congested areas. An altitude of 500 feet above the surface, except over open water or sparsely populated areas. In those cases, the aircraft may not be operated closer than 500 feet to any person, vessel, vehicle, or structure.
    Finally, never forget the “don’t be dumb” rule found within 14.410(a): “No pilot shall operate an aircraft in a careless or reckless manner so as to endanger the person or property of another.” This regulation tells you that no rule is a get out of jail free card for the pilot. You can never say, for example, “I was operating within the rules of the alitude guidence, so I was right.” You are always held responsible for exercising good judgement.

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  2. John D. Collins on Oct 11, 2011

    Between sunset and sunrise (night), the aircraft must have the position lights on when in flight or operating on the ground. See the details in 91.109.  Regardless if it is day or night, if the aircraft is equipped with an anticollision light system, it must have them on, with the proviso that the pilot can decide to turn them if “the pilot-in-command determines that, because of operating conditions, it would be in the interest of safety to turn the lights off”. Turning the anticollision lights off might be advisable under the proviso above in the following cases:

    • When inside clouds so as to not induce vertigo
    • When at night and on the ground when the lights would blind a pilot in a nearby aircraft
    • In some cases on landing at night where the strobe affect could be distracting

    Although not a regulation, the FAA advises that pilots keep their landing light on when in the pattern. At night, or when it is overcast during the day, or visibility is restricted, I think this is a good practice.  During the bright of the day, in my opinion, it does not enhance the ability of other pilots to see your aircraft, but instead detracts from it.  The reason is that when there are high ambient light conditions, you spot an aircraft by the contrast between the dark aircraft and the bright sky, and therefore, turning the landing light on reduces the contrast making the aircraft more difficult to see. The next time you are out at the airport, watch the aircraft on final and note when you can first see them and when you can determine if the landing light is on.  You will notice that the aircraft has to be much closer than the point you originally spot it than when you can detect the landing light.  During WWII, adding landing lights to the leading edge of the submarine hunter bomber aircraft was used as a cloaking technique so that submarines on the surface would not spot the bomber until it was too late.  If you have a flashing landing light system, this makes the aircraft easier to spot as the rods in your eyes are very sensitive to the contrast changes and day or night, they greatly enhance the ability of your aircraft to be seen, day or night.

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