RCU Review: RC-LIGHTS NIGHTFLY 14LED Navigation System


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    Contributed by: Andrew Griffith | Published: February 2011 | Views: 20113 | email icon Email this Article | PDFpdf icon
    RC-Lights 14 Light Air Navigation Unit Review

     
    Andrew Griffith

    BarracudaHockey 

     


    RC-LIGHTS
    PO Box 1783
    Boulder, CO 80306
    Toll Free: 1-877-360-7778

     
    Very bright!
    Versatile lighting controller
    TX activated landing lights
    Runs off receiver battery

    None noted

     

    RC-Lights offers a variety of LED based lighting kits for RC vehicles of all types.  After seeing the head light and brake light kit designed for cars and trucks in operation, I was anxious to add one of their lighting kits to one of my aircraft fleet. 

    After receiving the 14 LED aircraft lighting kit we decided to install it on the E-Flite Beachcraft Bonanza reviewed previously on RCUniverse by review editor Geoff Barber. 

    Whether you want to add night flying capability to your favorite airplane or spruce up the realism of a scale model, RC-Lights has a number of kits and parts to choose from to fill your needs.



    Kit Name: NIGHTFLY 14LED Navigation System

    Price:
    $139.99 MSRP

    Includes:

    (1) NIGHTFLY 14 LED Controller
    (8) 14” Wire extensions
    (6) 24” Wire extensions
    (4) 5mm Red constant LEDs
    (2) 5mm Green constant LEDs
    (8) 5mm White constant LEDs
    (14) Standard 5mm LED holders
    (14) 2P Connector housings
    (1) 3 ¾” x 3” Aluminum tape
    (14) Zip ties and mounting bases

    • Drills or a reamer
    • Heat Shrink tubing (optional)

    Note of warning: These things are VERY BRIGHT!  Do not look directly into the end of the LEDs at short distances while you are installing the light kit or you will be seeing spots or you could potentially damage your vision!

    Night flying has really been taking off lately! (Yes I know, bad pun)

    After getting a night flying primer with the Parkzone Night Vapor we decided that it was time to upgrade one of our scale aircraft with a full LED based navigation lighting system.  Although I plan to upgrade one of my scale helicopters to a full lighting system soon, I wasn't comfortable enough night flying a helicopter yet so I decided to stick with a fixed wing project first.

    I looked around the hangar (some people call it a garage but hey, there's no cars in it) for a suitable aircraft.  I wanted something that I could retrofit the lighting kit in to without making or using any additional wire extensions, and something with retracts so that I could tie the landing lights to the retract channel.

    I settled on the E-Flite Beachcraft Bonanza and made some preliminary measurements.  I thought that the wing tip lights might be close but there was plenty of room for the controller and wiring.  The connections are pretty simple so I knew if I had to, extending the wires would be no problem.

    Packaging
    Contents
    Navigation lighting controller

    I read the included instruction manual and decided to set up a mock up airplane on my work surface to get familiar with the operation of the system.  This was a good decision because I could experiment with the lighting options without the hassle of pulling wires through a finished airframe.  It also allowed me to identify the different LED's and separate them according to color because powering them up is the only way to see what is what.

    Though only consisting of the front and back of a single sheet the instructions are clear and comprehensive.  In addition to the included instructions, the RC-Lights web site contains detailed, easy to follow, step by step photo illustrated mounting instructions. 

    I bound a spare AR6200 to a blank model memory and powered it with a 4 cell flight pack.  Input power can be from 3.7v to 7.4v but the recommendation is to power the system at 6 volts.  About the only way you can really hurt anything with this setup is to get the receiver power and control harness wrong so before you hook up anything else, carefully plug this in to the receiver and control unit.  (The notch goes up) This wiring harness does two things.  First it supplies power to the navigation lighting control unit.  It's other function is to allow you to use an auxiliary channel to control the landing lights.  For installation convenience, you connect the power harness to either side of the lighting control unit.  More on the landing lights later.

    Included wiring harnesses
    Controller and instructions
    LED's ready to install

    I taped down the lighting controller and started connecting and taping down LED's grouped according to color and function.  LED stands for Light Emitting Diode.  A diode, in case you were wondering, conducts current in only one direction, an LED is a diode that glows while it's conducting.  Why is this important?  Because if this is your first experience with them you should know that since the lights are powered by two wires there is no real concern about getting the polarity correct during installation.   If for some reason the LED doesn't light up, all you need to do is reverse one connection, either at the end with the light, or the end at the controller, it doesn't matter.  So if you bury a wiring harness and light in a wing or fuselage and it doesn't light up, simply flip the connection over at the lighting controller before tearing things apart.

    If you're trying to achieve scale realism, the lighting controller contains two each red and green navigation lights, two red lights that simulate a rotating beacon, and 8 white LEDs of which 4 can strobe in different patterns of two each, and 4 can be switched landing lights.  The final configuration on the Bonanza is a red and green on the appropriate wing tip with a white strobe doing a fast double flash, a top and bottom red simulated rotating beacon, a white constant position light on the tail, and two white landing lights in the nose that activate when the retracts are down.

    (Note: Full scale aircraft lighting requirements and placement can be found HERE)

    Correct power connection
    Mounting hardware
    Full system test

    The strobe rates are adjustable and can be single or double flash, and the speed of the simulated rotating beacon can be adjusted as well.  Up close the "beacon" is pretty obviously a pulsed red LED, but from a few feet away it imitates the look of a rotating nav beacon quite nicely.  The beacon can be switched to flash at one of two rates.  After trying both I felt that the slower pulse rate looked more realistic.

    After several years of pulling computer network cable in both existing buildings and new construction, it came as no surprise that it's a lot easier to install one of these systems while you're building a model.  After examining the instructions and both the standard and heavy duty mounting we settled on a combination of both.  While removing the ends of the wiring harnesses and heat shrinking everything together seemed over kill, we did use the supplied mounting fairings and a bit of goop style glue to install the mounting into the airframe. 

    The first evening we spent a little over four hours and ended up with two wires and LED's installed in one wing.  The second evening went much smoother and in about the same amount of time we installed the second wing tip, beacons, tail light, landing lights, mounted the controller, and taxied around the parking lot at 11pm.  I want to be clear on one point: The amount of time and frustration you expend is directly related to the size and construction of the airframe you choose to install the lighting system in, and is not a reflection of the product itself.  Turn around time for an article would never allow it, but I would love to have one of these kits to install while I'm assembling an airplane or helicopter.  In fact I fully plan to purchase another identical system for use in my upcoming Agusta A-119 Koala scale helicopter project.

    Controller installation
    Right wing tip
    Left wing tip

    The only challenging part of the installation was drilling holes through the ribs and pulling the wires through the wing panels.  Routing the wires around the wheel wells and reaching the controller with a retract, aileron, and flap servo wire already there was also a bit of a chore.  Where the lights themselves were mounted we went by the "remove a little and test" method, drilling an undersize hole for each light and reaming it out until it was a perfect fit.  After that we used the including mounting hardware and a bit of shoe goo glue to finalize the installation of each light. 

    To get the extensions through the wing ribs, while causing the least amount of structural damage, we sharpened the end of a long brass tube.  Inserting that through the mounting hole allowed each rib to be drilled with a perfect hole that was almost guaranteed to be lined up properly.  When the holes were correct, the wires were pulled by running string through the wings with a piece of thin music wire.  Once the strings are in place it's just like installing aileron servos in an ARF.

    Top rotating beacon
    Landing lights
    Tail position light

    Once all of the LED's were installed the hard work was behind us and all that was left was hooking up the lights and configuring the radio and controller.

    Strobes:  There is a total of 4 strobe outputs divided into two banks of two lights each.  Bank S1 is set for single flash with a rate adjustable by a small pot on the controller.  Bank S2 can be set to either single or double flash by flipping a dip switch and the rate is adjustable by another pot. 

    Landing Lights: These are cool!  There is a total of 4 switched landing lights.  Switching is accomplished by connecting the signal lead on the power harness to the receiver.  Since the test aircraft is using a DX7 with an AR7000 and the receiver was already full we had to get creative with the wiring.  The power connection was made via a Y harness to one of the flight control channels.  The signal wire was then connected to the landing gear channel via another Y harness.  If I had been using my 11X and a larger receiver I could have assigned the landing lights to a separate switch or even activated a mix so that they could be on or off by their own switch or on when the gear was selected down.  Another nice feature I noticed; If you find out that with the gear down the landing lights are off and they come on when you select gear up, all you need to do is change a dip switch on the lighting controller.


    To get a feel for the system and do sort out the LED's by color before I tore into anything, I did a full system setup and test on my work bench.

     

    When we finished up the installation, I figured these were just too neat to wait for a trip to the field so we fired up the system and taxied around in the parking lot to see how they looked.  My neighbors are getting used to my antics so an electric plane skittering around the parking lot lit up like a small holiday tree at 11pm garnered nothing more than a few curious looks.

    PARKING LOT VIDEO
    Download and Watch in Windows Media Player here!

    When I looked at the video that we shot at the field, it was agreed that the lens on the video camera captured more visible light than our eyes did.  The video gives the impression that the ambient light was brighter than it was when we filmed.  Due to the higher performance of the aircraft involved, we decided it was safest to fly and film during twilight instead of total darkness.  There was also no moon out the night we shot the flight video, I think that would probably help with both visual cues and depth perception.

    FLIGHT VIDEO
    Download and Watch in Windows Media Player here!

    While they don't really stand out in the video, the strobes were fairly effective but the wing tip navigation lights, landing lights, and flashing beacon were what stood out while flying.  To aid in orientation while the airplane was head on, we elected to leave the gear down and the landing lights on for most of the flights, especially as it really started getting darker.

    I would probably pass on flying this airplane in total darkness but I think this would be a blast to install on a larger foamie or slow flyer and fly while it's pitch black out.

     
    Action Shots
     

     

     

     

     

     

     



    The project I choose to install them on made this review a lot of work, but these lights can be used in any number of ways.  Setting up this lighting system on a robust foamie could be accomplished in under an hour with nothing more than some double sided mounting tape and a roll of scotch tape.  You could also choose to ignore the scale aspect completely, let your artistic side take over, and mix and match colors, strobes, and switched lights. 

    The entire 14 LED system only draws about 170mah with all of the lights connected and the landing lights illuminated.  Our system as installed draws 123mah with the system illuminated and the landing lights on.

    I can't wait to get started on my next scale helicopter project because I will be ordering another one of these systems for sure.


    Manufactured and distributed by:
    RC-LIGHTS
    PO Box 1783
    Boulder, CO 80306
    Toll Free: 1-877-360-7778


    Comments on RCU Review: RC-LIGHTS NIGHTFLY 14LED Navigation System

    There are no comments

    The comments, observations and conclusions made in this review are solely with respect to the particular item the editor reviewed and may not apply generally to similar products by the manufacturer. We cannot be responsible for any manufacturer defects in workmanship or other deficiencies in products like the one featured in the review.

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