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Can Pilots Actually See Anything At Night?

Southern Living logo Southern Living 6/29/2018 Meghan Overdeep

© Rathke/Getty Images If you’ve ever gazed out your window into the inky blackness during a nighttime flight, you’ve probably wondered how the pilots are able to see anything from the cockpit.

Flying a plane is nothing like driving a car, and pilots do not use headlights to guide their way when they’re at cruising altitude, tens of thousands of feet in the air. The blinking LED light visible from the ground actually serves a beacon to help other pilots spot the plane in the air. So, in the traditional sense at least, once the sun sets, pilots fly blind.

“Many times when I am making oceanic crossings at night, there is nothing outside the windshield but blackness for hours on end,” pilot and flying instructor, Tim Sanders, recently explained to The Telegraph.

Related: Why Passengers Prefer the Right Side of the Plane (provided by Travel + Leisure)


As pilots learnt the art of science and flight, we have to make a transition to using our flight instruments, navigation sensors and weather sensors (primarily radar) to substitute for normal vision during night or other times when in cloud for instance,” Sanders continued.

Even though they don’t have headlights per say, planes do come with plenty of illumination.

According to The Telegraph, these lights not only help the pilot land at night, they help make the plane visible to other plans in the area. In addition to anti-collision beacon lights (the ones you see flashing from the ground) planes also come equipped with red and green LEDs on each wing to indicate to other aircraft at night which direction the plane is facing: green for right, and red for left.

Wild right?

Related: Telltale signs something has gone wrong on your flight (provided by Espresso)


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