4 things to consider in a good flashlight

3 min read

Night flying demands a quality flashlight

Training for your private pilot license will include flying at night. This means you are going to need a flashlight – for your preflight activity and as a backup in the event of an electrical malfunction. Twenty years ago, most pilots would hurry to buy a two D-cell Maglite. As you would expect, technology has vastly improved since the days of incandescent bulbs and massive batteries. But before you go buy a $5 case of flashlights at the local dollar store, there’s more to a flashlight than meets the eye.

And considering this basic device can be a lifesaver, be sure to consider these 4 things.

  1. Multi-color.  Preserving night vision is paramount, so getting a flashlight with multiple colors is a plus. Blue or red is preferred to preserve your night vision. Further, make sure there are independent switches for the various colors of light. It’s not a good idea to scroll through blinding white light to get to the night vision friendly red light.
  2. Standard Batteries. Simplicity is key. Most pilots carry spare alkaline batteries for headsets and other gadgets. And most FBOs have alkaline batteries available. Rarely will you find CR123 or button-cell batteries so stick with what’s common and what will give you a long shelf life.
  3. LED Bulbs. Never worry about changing a bulb when you have LEDs. The LEDs also use much less power.
  4. Quality. Cheap gas station flashlights do not belong in the cockpit. Spend a couple extra bucks and get a name brand that’s dependable.  

And things to avoid:

  1. User manuals.  If a flashlight requires a user manual for operation, it does not belong in the cockpit. Flashlights should be intuitive enough to turn on and off without a tutorial.
  2. Really, really, really bright light. Remember, you will have to use this in the cockpit. There is such a thing as too bright to become blinding. There’s no need to illuminate an elk at 500 yards while you’re in the cockpit of a 172.
  3. Rechargeable lights. When you really need a flashlight, you need it to work. It’s not the time to worry about the last time you charged the light in your bag. Refer to basic alkaline battery recommendation above.
  4. Multipurpose devices.  It’s a knife, it’s a bottle opener, it’s a flashlight… jack of all trades, master of none. Stick to a flashlight that is good at being a flashlight.

We often get the question: “What is the best flashlight for pilots?”  This is the equivalent of asking a pilot what the best airplane ever built is. Every pilot has a unique mission so while a two-seat LSA might be perfect for some, a Cherokee Six is needed for others.

Flashlights are the same, as long as you stick to the important recommendations and items to avoid. That being said, here are the two in my flight bag:

Smith & Wesson Captain’s Flashlight — A perfect all around light. Ten white LEDs for preflight and three red LEDs with independent switches. Made with aircraft-grade aluminum, this light has been in my flight bag for years.

smith flashlight


Flight Outfitters Pilot’s Headlamp — There are times when you need both hands free. This headlamp gives white and red light options, and has multiple intensities and is easy to use.



If you haven’t checked those batteries in a while or explored a new LED flashlight with the latest features, now might be the time to consider an upgrade.  For a relatively small investment, it offers good insurance and more importantly, peace of mind.