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Best Pilot Flashlight (5 features to have, 5 to avoid)

What makes a good pilot flashlight a
BEST pilot flashlight?

Certain requirements have to be met to be called a “best pilot flashlight.” After all, besides emitting light, flashlights vary in size, light source, battery duration, etc.

As pilots, we all have our preferences. So here’s what to look for:

  • Sturdy, durable construction
  • Non-slip grip
  • Easy on/off
  • Optional head mount
  • Multi-color. Easily switches from white to red light to preserve night vision
  • Easy-to-change batteries (or easily rechargeable from wall power or cockpit)
  • LED light source. No need to keep spare bulbs on hand
  • (Optional) beam focus (narrow to wide)

The best pilot flashlight is not complicated

As pilots, we have enough checklists, instruments, tablets, (GoPro’s) etc to deal with. To be included in the “best flashlight for pilots” category, the flashlights need to be quick and dependable.

Avoid these:

  • Instructions that must be followed. Other than battery type, the paperwork should be minimal. You should be able to figure it out on your own very easily.
  • Too many modes. Strobe is good for rescue signaling, but not in-cockpit use. Consider this feature for a separate flashlight in your emergency kit.

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Pilots, flashlights, and night vision

When I fly as pilot in command at night, I always carry a flashlight in my pilot flight bag. When you do a preflight of the airplane at night, you need to see what you’re inspecting. Even on a lit ramp, shadows make it difficult to see, especially in darkened areas like the cowl opening for checking oil level, or landing gear wells. You need a light that will allow you to get a good look, but not blind you.  Since people are prone to dropping things on occasion, you also need a rugged light that won’t fail you if dropped on cement.

In the cockpit, a flashlight helps you see the floor area where fuel tank switches and other items are. Once inside and you’re getting ready to taxi and takeoff, you need good night vision. It’s important to have a light that can be switched to the color red to help recover and maintain that night vision.

Just remember: It can take over 10 minutes to get or recover night vision, as you can see from this graphic:

Time to Regain Night Vision (Source: http://wtamu.edu/~cbaird/sq/2013/08/09/how-long-does-it-take-our-eyes-to-fully-adapt-to-darkness/)

In a cockpit emergency where there is no electrical power or power must be switched off for some time to preserve the aircraft battery, a flashlight with a red beam is very useful!

5 THINGS the BEST PILOT FLASHLIGHT NEEDS

One of the single most important items in your flight bag is a flashlight. A pilot flashlight is useful during night pre-flight and in-flight. In an emergency, your flashlight can make the difference between a safe outcome and an uncomfortable emergency.

The best flashlight for pilots of a large transport aircraft would be powerful halogen or LED flashlights that are capable of lighting surfaces well above the pilot’s head during night walk-arounds. For the cockpit, smaller versions would do and should include a night-vision light color.

These 5 factors are key to finding a solid pilot flashlight

Compact, lightweight, good quality A solid flashlight doesn’t need to be heavy. Size and weight become important if you have to use the light for a long time such as during an emergency. This is true whether the light is handheld or head-mounted.  Pilots do not need cheap flashlights. They need rugged, reliable flashlights. Plastic or cheap metal will let you down. Get a quality aviation flashlight.

Use-case (environment) Choose a flashlight that is easy to use in rain and cold. Also, aks your CFI or pilot with weather experience about the best flashlight for IFR flight – for example, ask them questions about the kind of light they use to see wing ice. Some say that “warm light” (neutral white) is better and that it’s harder to see ice with “cool white” light.

Bulb type and field width LEDs seem to last forever, standard bulbs not so much. Think reliability. Also, consider whether you need a tight beam or a wide beam. A flashlight that is adjustable in this respect might be perfect for you.

Multi-color light Preservation of your night vision is paramount. Having multiple light colors is very important, but easy selection between white and any color is just as important. Look for independent switches to make this easy. There is debate about the color: red, green, or blue. Red is the “standard” color, since it was adopted for night vision support a long time ago. However, many people like the other colors. It’s your personal preference. If you can check out a flashlight in the store, that would be a good idea.

TIP: Remember that sectionals can have different color ink (like blue or magenta to show towered and non-towered airports) so make sure your choice of light doesn’t obscure your ability to read things at night. Having a white light and at least one other color is smart. Avgas at night under a red light may not look blue. The bright red, important items on a checklist may be missed or hard to read under red light. So while your primary night light should probably be red, you’ll need alternate colors and plain-old white as well.

Battery Simplicity During an emergency, if the flashlight shows signs of low power, you need to be able to change batteries quickly. Fishing around the bottom of a flight bag for the right number of loose batteries is distracting. A flashlight with a quick change battery pack would be ideal, but you can also keep a “battery caddy” in your flight bag. Regarding type of battery, pilots typically keep extra alkaline batteries for handheld radios and headsets. Because of that, they are readily available at FBOs. Flashlights with more exotic batteries (example: CR123) will be harder to find when on a cross country. 

5 Things to Avoid

Complexity Manuals for a flashlight? Run away. You shouldn’t need a complex endorsement for a flashlight. Grab the light, turn it on, switch colors.  That’s as complex as it should be.

Sharp edges When fumbling around your flight bag, especially in an emergency, you don’t need to cut your hand. Some flashlights have pocket clips that turn up at the end. If they’re not shaped with rounded edges, you can scrape or cut your hand. The same for some tactical flashlights which can be used for self-defense… they have serrated edges around the lens area.

Harsh, Blinding Brightness You might want a tactical flashlight for general nighttime when you’re wandering around the ramp (just not too close to flight time because it’ll mess up your night vision). However, in the cockpit, you need a flashlight that will provide lighting without ruining your night vision. If you have a light with a strobe mode, be very careful not to engage that during night flight. It’s very distracting and ruins night vision!

Remembering if you charged the light When was the last time you recharged your pilot flashlight? Where did you last put the charger base or cable? If you’re good at keeping up with these easy-to-forget tasks, good for you! However, why add one more item to your ready-list (especially if night flying is infrequent)? Be organized and know where your light is and if it’s ready to go flying with you.

Lights that do more than provide light It should be a flashlight. Don’t dilute the purpose of a flashlight with other features that could impact cockpit use. That said, if it has other features like a pen point, screwdriver, or survival features, that’s not a bad thing. In that case, add it to your collection of useful items, but make sure you have a single purpose, quality pilot flashlight.

What's the best pilot flashlight for you?

The answer is subjective, but the choices are based upon fulfilling certain key requirements. While we each may have different missions, we are all are going from point A to point B, and landings must equal takeoffs. You need a simple, dependable light that serves you well.

best pilot flashlight

Observations and Considerations

Price: Honestly, there are some out there selling for over $200! I would NOT recommend those – there are many flashlights well under $50 that will do a fine job.

(One example is the trusty Maglite LED 2-cell flashlight. Great for preflight and a favorite among flight crews!)

Similarities: As you search for newer flashlights, you will see many that look very similar. This could be that there are a small number of manufacturers that just brand the lights for different suppliers.

White plus other colors: I also found there were very few that had an easy choice of white and at least one other color (typically red), even when searching for aviation flashlights. Some time before LEDs, I had an older flashlight that came with a color filter you put over the lens. That’s nice but hard to deal with when you do a preflight and then go into the cockpit. It’s one more thing to do as part of takeoff prep. I also had a small rechargeable light that had both a red side and a white side and you could easily choose between them. It’s actually a little harder to find that simplicity in newr flashlights. I present a few here that do a fine job, though.

Convenience: Modern LED flashlights, like the ones below, are amazingly bright. However, using 3 AAA batteries provides less light than a rechargeable 18650 battery. In addition, changing a single battery is easier than 3  batteries.

“Focusing” lights: A note about modern focusing flashlights. With the LED lights, If you pull the head out to maximum focus, you get a small square with two black spots in it. It’s essentially the LED itself, and not what you’d expect from a “narrow beam” focus. It is what it is, however, and the same among all the adjustable focus LED models.

Here are my top choices for solid, dependable, highly rated pilot flashlights

PeakPlus Tactical Flashlight with Rechargeable Battery & Charger

PRO

CON

  • Kit includes the Tactical LED Flashlight, a rechargeable Battery (plus a sleeve for the battery), a battery charger, a case with foam lining, a single battery holder for AAA battery, and a manual.
  • High-Lumens LED is much brighter than an incandescent flashlight, and this one uses a rechargeable battery or 3 AAA batteries.
  • Rugged Construction: Water resistant, anti-abrasive, skid proof, compact design
  • Multiple modes: 5 lighting modes including SOS flash sequence.
  • Zoom feature works by telescoping the end of the flashlight, allowing a range between focused beam or wide beam.
  • Some say the plastic case that comes with it is a little cheap
  • Battery has to be recharged separately from the flashlight (but that’s true of many of the modern lights)
  • Some complaints about the wrist strap being weak

LingsFire Portable Ultra Bright Handheld LED Flashlight

PRO

CON

  • Comes in 3 varieties (just Green, just Red, and 3-color)
  • Zoomable
  • Adjustable Focus
  • 3-color version:  interchangeable lenses (Red, Green, White)
  • 5 Light Modes
  • Water-Resistant
  • Spotlight for long-range observation up to 600 feet
  • Circle floodlight pattern for large area illumination
  • Aluminum alloy solid construction
  • 5 Modes – High / Medium/ Low / Strobe/ SOS Signal
  • 3 Brightness Levels
  • Power: single 18650 Lithium-ion Battery (Not included) or 3AAA Battery (not included)
  • On/Off button on the end. Easy to find by feel and orange color
  • A few reviews mentioned the red was not as deep as needed, seemed a bit on the pink side

4 Colors Multi-color Tactical Flashlight

PRO

CON

  • No need to change the lens or led module
  • 3AAA 18650 Zoomable Green Red Blue White with Memory XML RGBW Hunting Light for Night Vision, Camping,Hiking,Fishing(Batteries Not Included)
  • Adjustable focus tactical flashlight equipped with Red, Green, Blue, White (4 Colors-in-1 LED)
  • Uses either 3 AAA batteries or 1 18650 li-ion battery (Batteries not included) 
  • High-quality aluminum alloy
  • Anti-slip knurling for a firm grip
  • May be an issue to some people: if you are on the color you want and then turn off the light, it back on it goes to the next color when you turn it on. You have to go through all colors again to get back to your desired color.

COAST PX20 Dual Color 315 Lumen LED Flashlight

PRO

CON

  • DUAL COLOR: White and Red beams all in one. Red light preserves night vision. Great for versatile work during the night and day.
  • BULLS-EYE SPOT BEAM OPTIC: Consists of an extremely bright, centered ‘hot spot’ and a very consistent transition halo to increase the effective viewing area.
  • SPECS: 315 lumen, 142 meter (465 ft.) beam distance and 1 hour 15 minute runtime. Tested and rated to ANSI/FL1 standards.
  • LIFETIME WARRANTY: Backed by the COAST Lifetime Warranty against defects in materials and workmanship.
  • Solid, some reviewers said things like “I’ve dropped it on the ramp more times than I’d like to admit”
  • Some reported switch problems, some intermittency

Sofirn SP31

PRO

CON

  • 1200-lumen in turbo mode with Cree XPL-HI LED
  • Illuminates up to 200 meters (approximate length of two football fields)
  • Pocket Size and fits in the palm of your hand. Includes clip for pockets or backpack plus a lanyard
  • Water-resistant
  • Aircraft-grade aluminum alloy and hard-anodized anti-abrasive finish, shock resistant, and can be used in heavy rain.
  • Dual switch, tail forward click switch for momentary-on
  • Side switch for all light modes
  • Indicator for Battery’s status.
  • Comes with 1 SP31v2.0 light, a rechargeable 18650 Li-Ion battery, a USB charger, Manual, and 2 Spare O-rings
  • Some complaints about the lack of a tail switch (it only has a side switch)

Nitecore HC60 Headlamp

PRO

CON

  • Capable of a 1000 lumen max output
  • 5 brightness levels (neutral white CREE XM-L2 U2 LED
  • A more naturally colored beam and increased visibility in fog
  • 100-degree wide beam and a beam distance of 128 yards 
  • Built-in USB recharging port, comes with Nitecore brand 3400 mAh rechargeable battery, a USB cable, and LumenTac adapters
  • Less than 5 oz. with battery installed
  • Single-button operation and integrated power indicator (hidden inside)
  • Some users reported that charging via a USB port, the light has a special 18650 battery. It is reported to have a charge regulator built-in, so it’s about 4mm longer than normal. It may not fit into common off-line regulated chargers.

BONUS 1

SAMLITE- LED Tactical Flashlight With 5 Options, Bright LED Light, Red Pointer, UV Blacklight, Green Light and Magnetic Bottom

PRO

CON

  • Multipurpose Flashlight, different light functions with the click of a button – LED bright white light, green light, UV blacklight, red pointer light (laser), green flash
  • Glow in the dark push button
  • UV Light (authenticate currency and documents
  • Windproof, Rainproof
  • Anticorrosion layer to withstand harsh environments.
  • SOS Help Function
  • Magnetic Bottom For hands-free use
  • 3 AAA batteries included
  • Great guarantee
  • As a tactical flashlight, some reports that the wavy part around the lights is sharp.

BONUS 2 - quick view of Current Bestselling Flashlights

So there you have it. I hope you found something useful to include in YOUR flight bag. 

If there are others that you swear by, leave a comment below with the make and model plus what you like about it. I’ll work up a review on yours in the future.

FLY SAFE,

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Last update on 2019-12-14 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

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