A rotating airport beacon is an essential lightning component of any airport, be it a civilian, military, or other forms of aerodromes. Airport beacons, for the most part, are fairly simple lights, though they follow strict protocols and regulations from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
These beacons are ultimately lights in the sky to inform pilots of the location of an airport, as well as its type, but there is so much more to them than simple lights. For instance, the way they use colors and flashing to convey information.
In this article, we’ll cover all the details about Airport beacons including the kind of conditions they are built to withstand, what their colors mean, and other specific details.
Let’s dive in.
Airport Beacon Overview
To start, let’s go over the definition of an airport beacon once more. An airport beacon (or aerodrome beacon if you’re in Europe), is a visual navigational aid (NAVAID) that displays flashes of light to indicate the location of an airport, landmark, or other specific types of locations to a pilot.
The way they are designed makes them most efficient between one to ten degrees above the horizon, but they can easily be seen outside of this range as well. They might have one, two, or three lights that can rotate and that use different colors and coded flashes to specify the type of location identified by the beacon.
Airport Beacons work similarly to how lighthouses function for ocean going ships. Water Navigation Aids typically flash at a specific rate or color to help mariners understand their location on the water.
Airport beacons are built with very strict regulations and requirements set by the FAA, and as such can withstand a surprising amount of punishment from weather conditions. They need to be able to handle very low and very high temperatures, extreme wind speeds, standard rain and snow, and more.
Specifically, the FAA establishes that airport beacons must be able to handle:
- Wind velocities up to 100 miles per hour
- Temperatures ranging from -22 degrees to 131 degrees Fahrenheit
- Up to 0.5 inches of ice accumulation
- Prolonged solar exposure
- Rain and snow
All Hali-Brite Rotating Airport Beacons meet or exceed required FAA specifications for their intended application.
The color of the lights that the beacons use indicates the type of location, be it a landmark, airport, heliport, or another type of obstruction.
Furthermore, if the beacon is turned on during daytime that is used to indicate limited visibility at the ground level. In B, C, D, and E class areas, a beacon running during the early morning or late afternoon means the ground visibility is less than 3 miles or the ceiling is less than 1000 feet. While this is its intended use, it isn’t mandatory to use the beacon during the daytime.
Beacon color combinations identify the the following airport types:
- White and green for land airports
- White and yellow for water airports (seaplane base)
- Green, yellow, and white for heliports
- White, green, and amber for hospital and emergency services heliports
- White, white, and green for military airports
The flashing of the beacon isn’t always a literal flashing. Sometimes it is caused by the beacon rotating quickly to give the impression of flashing lights. The frequency of the flashes again depends on the type of airport. The FAA establishes the following flash frequency for airport beacons:
- Flashing at a frequency of 22 to 26 flashes per minute (fpm) and identifies a civilian airport or seaplane base (Beacon types L-801A, L-801S, L-802A, and L-802S)
- Flash at 33 to 39fpm and identifies a Heliport (Beacon types L801H and L-802H)
- Flashing at 16 to 20fpm and identifies a military airport (L-802M)
Other Interesting Airport Beacon Specifics
Let’s take a look at some interesting details about airport beacons:
- They don’t need to be designed to rotate and can use stationary flashing lamps instead, though most airports nowadays use rotating beacons
- FAA specifies that rotating airport beacon lamps have a minimum rated life of 4000 hours
- The first airport beacon can be traced back to 1919 when U.S. Army Lieutenant Donald L. Bruner used bonfires as a way to help with night navigation
In the airport lighting field, airport beacons are just about the most basic yet essential form of lightning you can have. They are traditionally used to let pilots know where to land, but as you have learned they have many interesting details about them that can tell you so much more. From the frequency of their flashing to the colors that they use.
If you are looking for a new rotating beacon, whether it’s for heliport, military, or civilian airport beacon, Hali-Brite has the solution for you. Check out our different airport beacons or contact us to discuss our products.