Drone Anti-Collision Lights: When to Use Drone Lights, FAA Requirements, and the Top Options on the Market
BY Zacc Dukowitz13 September 2019
Looking for the best drone anti-collision lights on the market? Or just getting started with thinking about how to light your drone for night flights?
Photo credit: LumeCube
Just a few years back it was hard to find drone lights that would suit your specific needs and that would attach to your specific model of drone.
But as the drone industry has grown, drone anti-collision lights have improved to an impressive extent. You can now find powerful drone lights for a reasonable price that meet the FAA’s requirements for night flights.
This guide will walk you through scenarios in which you might want to use drone anti-collision lights, things to consider when comparing anti-collision lights, and then show you some of the best drone light options on the market.
Shopping for drone anti-collision lights and want to go straight to our list of the top drone lights on the market? Here you go.
Table of Contents
- Reasons You Might Want to Fly a Drone at Night
- Do Drones Have Lights?
- Drone Anti-Collision Lights vs. Drone Navigation Lights
- Does the FAA Require Drone Lights for Night Flying?
- Other Drone Anti-Collision Light Considerations
- The Top Drone Anti-Collision Lights on the Market
Reasons You Might Want to Fly a Drone at Night
Before we dive into looking at drone anti-collision lights, you might be wondering why you’d ever be flying a drone at night in the first place.
Here are some of the top reasons to fly a drone at night:
- Public agency/emergency services/police. There are a ton of reasons public agencies might want to fly a drone at night. A drone can be used by firefighters to asses the state of an active blaze, rescuers to find victims, police to collect intelligence on hostages or active shooters, just to name a few.
- Real estate. Sometimes night shots can really help a property come alive—that’s where flying a drone at night could come in useful.
- Cinematography. For movies filmed at night that need an aerial shot a drone is a much cheaper option than a helicopter.
- Security. Nighttime is when bad guys like to do bad things. Using a drone to surveille a nuclear power plant, prison, or other areas could be one more way to make sure things are secure.
- Weddings. Many weddings take place at night and wedding photographers are adding drones to their toolkit more and more.
- Fun. Even if you’re flying for fun, it’s still important to take precautions and use proper drone anti-collision lights so you don’t collide with other manned or unmanned aircraft.
- To make art. Check out the photo below created by photographer Reuben Wu using drone lights and slow exposures. Pretty incredible.
Photo credit: Reuben Wu
Do Drones Have Lights?
Doesn’t my drone already have lights?
Before we get started talking about drone anti-collision lights you might be wondering if they’re even necessary. After all, most drones come with some kind of native lighting system.
But the truth is that often lights on consumer drones —even the top drones on the market—are not that strong. Most of these lights will barely be visible even in daylight.
To fly at night or during twilight you need drone anti-collision lights. And this isn’t just a suggestion—the FAA has specific drone lighting requirements for operations at night, which we’ll cover in more detail below.
Drone Anti-Collision Lights vs. Drone Navigation Lights
As noted above, not all drone lights are equal.
When researching drone lights it’s important to understand the difference between drone navigation lights and drone anti-collision lights.
While navigation lights are useful and can help you see where you’re going they do not meet the FAA’s requirements for flying at twilight or at night. For flights during these times, the FAA requires anti-collision lights.
The two things to look out for that distinguish a drone anti-collision light from a navigation or other type of light are: 1) Regularity of light, and 2) Color of light.
These two factors are standard for all aviation, not just drones.
Other manned aircraft flying at night will be on the lookout for the same regularity and color of light to indicate anti-collision lights as any drone pilot might. Getting your lights right is incredibly important not just to avoid colliding with another drone but to avoid endangering a manned flight.
Here’s how to tell drone navigation lights from drone anti-collision lights:
Drone navigation lights
- Regularity of light is solid (i.e., do not blink/strobe)
- Color of light is white, green, or red
Drone anti-Collision lights
- Regularity of light is blinking/strobe
- Color of light is white or red
A few considerations:
- You can use both drone anti-collision lights and drone navigation lights on your drone
- You can use more than one of each type of light
- You can use multiple colors of light on the same drone, and even multiple colors to indicate anti-collision or navigation lights (i.e you can use both a red flashing light and a white flashing light for your drone anti-collision lights)
Some drone lights, such as LumeCube’s new Strobe, allow you to choose between different regularities of light (the Strobe has fast strobe, slow strobe, and constant light). These options allow you to choose whether you want to use a given light for anti-collision or navigation.
Does the FAA Require Drone Lights for Night Flying?
So what does the FAA require when it comes to drone anti-collision lighting?
First, let’s look at how the FAA defines daylight, twilight, and night, since these definitions will be crucial for understanding the FAA’s drone lighting requirements.
- Daylight is defined as “30 minutes before official sunrise to 30 minutes after official sunset, local time.”
- Morning Civil Twilight is generally defined as starting one hour before sunrise and ending about a half-hour before sunrise.
- Evening Civil Twilight is generally defined as starting about a half-hour after sunset and ending one hour after sunset.
- Night is defined as “the time between the end of evening civil twilight and the beginning of morning civil twilight.”
When are each of these where I live?
Want some guidance? After reading the list above you may still be unclear on the exact timing. When exactly does twilight end and night begin at a certain time of year in a certain location, say, during spring in Kansas City?
Fear not! Here’s a website you can use to research sunrise and sunset times:
Drone anti-collision lighting IS NOT required during daylight
Now that we’ve defined our terms, let’s look at what the FAA requires.
For flights made during daylight, the FAA has no specific light requirements. The FAA defines daylight as “30 minutes before official sunrise to 30 minutes after official sunset, local time.”
Drone anti-collision lighting IS required at twilight and at night
Flights made during twilight require anti-collision lighting but do not require a Part 107 waiver.
Flights made at night require anti-collision lighting and also require a Part 107 waiver for night flights, sometimes referred to as a “night waiver.”
Getting permission to fly your drone at night
To fly your drone at night you’ll need a Part 107 waiver, sometimes called a “night waiver”—you can learn more about how to obtain one in our free guide.
The FAA has proposed new rules that would make night flying legal and get rid of the need to obtain a waiver. However, these rules are still pending review.
If passed, the new rules would itemize certain steps drone pilots need to take prior to flying at night, and the use of drone anti-collision lights is sure to be on the list.
Three-mile visibility requirement
For commercial drone pilots (i.e., those flying under the Part 107 rules) the anti-collision lights they use must be visible for three statute miles or more.
If you plan to use your drone for commercial flights that require drone anti-collision lights, whether they meet the three-mile requirement is something you should look for when shopping.
Also, while flying at night with your night waiver it wouldn’t hurt to have some kind of proof that your drone lights meet the three-mile requirement (as well as the waiver itself, of course).
If you’re flying as a hobbyist, the three-mile rule for drone anti-collision lights does not currently apply to you.
Grey areas for drone anti-collision lights
Based on our research, although the FAA requires anti-collision lighting for manned aircraft for flights made between sunset and sunrise, drones are only required to use anti-collision lights during twilight and at night.
That is, for the half-hour after sunset or before sunrise a drone can technically be flown without anti-collision lights, while an airplane could not.
We recommend erring on the side of caution with the use of drone anti-collision lights. Use your anti-collision lights at any time when you think they could help other pilots see your aircraft, even during a cloudy or smoggy day.
Other Drone Anti-Collision Light Considerations
Here are some things to keep in mind as you search for drone anti-collision lights.
Does your drone already have anti-collision lights?
Some drones come with anti-collision lights already included and others don’t. If you’re on the market for a new or refurbished drone and you know you may want to fly at night, do your research and learn more about the lights that come on the drone you’re considering.
Even if the UAV you want does have it’s own anti-collision lights, it’s still worth evaluating their quality. You may determine that you want to buy extra lighting for safety reasons.
How do I install drone anti-collision lights on my drone?
As drone lights have evolved attaching them has become easier and easier.
The LumeCube Strobe, for instance, can mount on any drone. To do this it uses 3M Dual Lock Technology, which is basically a strong kind of velcro.
Drone anti-collision lights also attach to UAVs with mounts, straps, or tape using 3M technology.
How much does your drone light weigh?
Most drone anti-collision lights are fairly lightweight.
However, it’s important to keep weight and your drone’s payload ability in mind when looking for a drone light to buy. If you buy a heavier light for a lighter drone, you may find your flight time impacted due to the battery being drained by carrying the extra weight.
How are drone anti-collision lights powered?
Drone anti-collision lights are generally powered either by a disposable battery (lead/acid or alkaline) or a LIPO battery.
In some cases, drone anti-collision lights can draw power from the drone itself. If using a drone light that draws power from your drone make sure to keep this extra battery drag in mind when planning your flight.
The Top Drone Anti-Collision Lights on the Market
Here are some of the top companies making drone anti-collision lights right now.
It’s important to note that this list is just a starting place. We recommend doing your own research on Amazon and elsewhere when looking for the right drone light for your needs.
LumeCube may be the best option on the market right now for drone anti-collision lights.
Their new Strobe was built specifically for commercial drone pilots, and is incredibly easy to use. Here are some highlights:
- It’s FAA-compliant, is visible from at least three miles away, and from 360º
- It’s lightweight (it only weighs 10 grams)
- It only has one button
- It comes with three different light modes and three different color filters
- It mounts on any drone using 3M technology, as mentioned above
- It has a micro USB recharge port
To learn more read our write-up on the Strobe.
Firehouse Technologies ARC
Firehouse Technologies’ drone lights are pretty popular these days. They’re a good option if you’re on a budget and looking for a solid lighting option for your drone.
Here are some highlights for the Firehouse Technologies’ Arc II White Strobe drone anti-collision light:
- Low cost
- Easily mounted with 3M tape (comes with tape)
- Super lightweight—only six grams
- Meets FAA light requirements, including the three-mile requirement
- No wiring/installation required for use
- 6+ hour run time on one charge
LitraTorch 2.0 Drone Edition lights are a great solution for flying UAVs after dark. If you want to fly your bird at night safely, consider equipping it with extra-bright headlights. Bright beams will help you see and be seen. They’ll also keep you from crashing your valuable drone! Check out what Sergei Boutenko, YouTube content creator and Drone Pilot Ground School partner, has to say about them in his detailed video review:
Here are some highlights for the LitraTorch 2.0 Drone Edition anti-collision lights:
- 800, 450, 100 Lumen settings
- Strobe settings (Slow, Fast, S.O.S.)
- Flicker-free, smooth light pattern (daylight temperature)
- Waterproof, drop-proof, aluminum body construction
- Flexible mounting with two 1/4-20 standard camera mounts, GoPro mount, belt clip
- Meets the FAA 3-mile visibility requirements
We hope you found this guide to drone anti-collision lights helpful. Blue skies and safe flying out there!