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.
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
Price: $139.99 MSRP
(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)
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
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.
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
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.
Navigation lighting controller
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
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
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
Correct power connection
Full system test
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.
Right wing tip
Left wing tip
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
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.