Why not customize your aircraft so that night flying will be as simple to do as flying during the day? (That is, for those of you who find it easy to fly during the day!) I decided to give night flying a try and I have outlined here how I went about installing lights on my planes.
Photo by Erica Mesker
Up until a few years ago, the only lights we would add were scale detail lights that match the full-size counterparts. Many of these lights are available from RAm Electronic Devices (ramrcandramtrack.com). They include flashing navigation lights, strobes, rotation beacons, and landing lights. Scale lights make it possible to fly at night but they mainly make our scale aircraft look good at early dawn and after sunset, or during the day at a scale contest. Scale lights are more of a scale detail that adds to your aircraft, rather than something that allows you to see your aircraft better at night.
When LED lights were first introduced, they were not bright enough to use as a light source for our night-flying planes. But the new breeds of LED lights are plenty bright enough to make flying at night a breeze and they consume a low amount of power. This allows the lights to be powered by the same battery as the motor. Basically, LED lights are the choice for anyone wanting to get into nighttime flying. I am using LED lights from Common Sense RC (commonsenserc.com) and DW Foamies (dwfoamies.com).
One of the biggest issues for flying at night is plane orientation and these bright lights come in many different colors, which make plane orientating at night possible and easy to do. Installation could not be easier because of the availability of adhesive backed LED lights strips in different lengths, which can be cut for a custom fit.
To install the lights, the first step I took was to plan out where they would plug in; from there, I just laid out the lights so they would radiate out from that point. This center spot was where the battery connects to the speed control, which was from where I started webbing out the lights. I laid out a pattern from the tip of the wing to my starting point, cut the light strips to length and then soldered on the connectors.
1 First, I have to measure out the strips of lights and lay them over a design or pattern on the plane. I then plan out my route back to the connection point at the battery. I am going to use different color lights for the top and bottom of the wings and different ones running down the top of the fuselage. Three different colors will be used. The top and bottom wing will have a different light layout to aid on the orientation of the plane at night.
- 2 The light strip starts at the battery plug and works out along the wing creating my top design. Any point that requires me to make a sharp angle with the light strip will require jumper wires to be soldered onto the ends of the light strips.
- 3 On the bottom of the wings, I have a different color light strip with less of a design incorporated. This will make it easy to distinguish the top and bottom of the plane. The LED strips have a peel-and-stick surface on the bottom so installation is easy. If there is any area that is not sealing down, I just use some tape or a quick drop of hot glue to hold it in place.
- 4 This strip running along the top edge of the fuselage will light up the canopy outline and give me a good reference point to keep the plane orientated in the air. This strip of lights could be ran completely around the plane but I kept them off the bottom just in case I cannot pull the plane out of the air during a hover and it has to land on its belly.
- 5 To prevent any possibility of the lights shorting out (don’t forget they are attached to a LiPo battery), I use a good sized drop of hot glue at all solder joints. This will insolate the connectors and prevent any possibility of the wires touching each other or the joints from pulling loose.
- 6 These high-intensity LED lights are used to light up the side of the plane. They are mounted above and below the wing so that the light will shine on the side of the fuselage. This creates a spotlight effect on the plane regardless of its attitude. I was pleasantly surprised at how easy it was to fly a plane at night with this type of lighting on it.
- 7 Here are the two planes after the lights are all installed, hooked up, and ready for some night flying. As you can see, these planes are very easy to see in the dark and the lights are simple to install and use.
Customizing my plane for night flying was a simple and straightforward project that makes it easy for anyone to add lights to their plane. I would recommend trying nighttime flying for the first time just after the sun goes down because this will give you a little more light with which to begin your journey. Another thing you can do is to fly during a full moon; you will be surprised at how much the moon can light up the flying field!
It’s also a good idea to fly in an area where the ground is very flat and there are few obstacles on the ground to run into. Even though the lights do brighten up the ground when the plane gets close, things will sneak up on you in the dark before you have time to react. Trust me on this — enjoy!