Light gun question

As most know, I had my first experience with light guns on the ground last Friday and now intend to do some light gun work ATC permitting this Friday.

Since theoretically I am “NORDO” I am expected to react to various signals. My questions are on my “reactions” and what should they be??

Reviewing the procedures…

Steady green, easy enough cleared to land which I can do.

Flashing Green Return for landing followed by a steady green. Does this mean left turn out on my final approach and do my pattern, downwind base and look for steady on final? Should I be doing a low approach over the runway??? When should I see steady green?

Steady Red - give way to other aircraft and continue circling? Where am I to circle? In the pattern, on the side of final approach? Over the airport?

Flashing red - airport unsafe do not land. I would make the assumption if I see this, I better be looking for another airport to land at?

All my training I received are only what to do, not how to do it. I could easily be a bigger conflict should I do the wrong thing since I would be “NORDO”.

What is ATC expecting??

I realize they will keep the airspace clear to the best they can but that I am sure is on the pretext my reactions are predictable. Of course I will acknowledge the signals by rocking my wings.

Every place I have looked gave me the light gun chart.

How about before you’re airborne? what happens if you get a green light on Taxi? how about a flashing red on taxi?

Flashing Green Return for landing followed by a steady green. Does this mean left turn out on my final approach and do my pattern, downwind base and look for steady on final? Should I be doing a low approach over the runway??? When should I see steady green? When Cleared to land

Steady Red - give way to other aircraft and continue circling? Where am I to circle? In the pattern, on the side of final approach? Over the airport? With in sight of the tower so that you can still see the light gun

Flashing red - airport unsafe do not land. I would make the assumption if I see this, I better be looking for another airport to land at? **NO maybe there are men and equipment on the field that need to clear **

If you get a chance visit your local tower and chat with the controllers they can give you good advice on light guns

This part I experienced last week with my 7600 thread Since I will be leaving from KMBO, I won’t have the ground experience unless of course I land at KJAN or KHKS…

How about the first part during the flashing green would be more my question. Should I break off the approach, do a standard pattern? I assume then from your answer, I can see the steady green at any point of my pattern (if that?) Since I will be in 2 way communication during this experience, I will most likely be told but if I was flying to an airport and my radios went belly up, what should be my flying maneuvers

Fully understand within sight, but what would ATC anticipate would be my question? Better yet, what would be the proper place to circle? In the case of HKS, they only have one “active” runway in most cases, but KJAN has a right and left runway.

Ok, but what should be my “flying reaction” after acknowledgment? Fly the pattern, circle where? How would I be able to anticipate that I will eventually get a green (flashing or steady)

Might just do that if they are not busy on Friday :wink:

As you can see from the above, I am more concerned about the “flying part” rather then the compliance part (I have my light gun chart). I can circle, I can come back and of course remain within sight of the tower, but HKS may expect something different from KJAN due to runway configuration? Hence me asking what is expected while maneuvering for the signal / next signal. Are there any standards for the maneuvering part even in a general sense since every airport is different?

Allen, you’re overthinking it. The light gun signal just replaces the aural message you would normally receive over the radio.

What would you normally do if on final the tower told you to “Go around” (red light)? Fly the pattern right? When would you expect landing clearance in the pattern, on downwind? If so look for a steady green at that point.

OHHHH Now that you put it that way… Yeah, I’d say I was way over thinking it! :blush:

So pretty much, it’s expected by ATC that I remain in the pattern I would take it whether it be steady red or blinking green??? I am still a little confused on that distinction between the two

Thanks Phantomjet (and flyboy) for these “street smart” answer!

Where’s pthomas when ya need him?..

If I ain’t got no radidios, I ain’t goin flyin. And if they fail me in-flight, I’ve got a whole bunch of other issues goin on…so then I’ve just become an “emergency” aircraft. Then I’ll try to follow AIM Section 4 to the best practice within the limits of the situation…keeping Section 4 - 6-4-1 (a) in mind.

It is virtually impossible to provide regulations and procedures applicable to all possible situations associated with two-way radio communications failure. During two-way radio communications failure, when confronted by a situation not covered in the regulation, pilots are expected to exercise good judgment in whatever action they elect to take. Should the situation so dictate they should not be reluctant to use the emergency action contained in 14 CFR Section 91.3(b).

It’s best to stay on a predictable flight path (the pattern) so everyone’s on the same page. Just remember, it’s still your responsibility to “see and avoid” even in the pattern, so adjust for spacing as needed. If you’re expecting a steady green on downwind and get the steady red I would just maintain pattern altitude and fly the pattern without descending for an approach.

As far as “the real world” goes, I’ve only used light signals once when the intercom wires fried in a Seneca entering the downwind to BGR. I just happened to notice the steady green light (it’s freakin’ bright!) before I even knew anything was wrong. I tried calling to see if it was for me but the smell of smoke and no answer from tower answered my question. I called the tower from the FBO later to thank them and apparently they had been been calling out traffic to me 5 miles out with no response so they immediately cleared 2 KC135’s and a P-3 from the pattern as soon as they suspected a problem. In a real VFR NORDO situation you will probably get priority handling like I did. They also told me it was good practice for them since it never happens and it was fortunate that the actual light gun had a “cheat sheet” taped to the back of it. :smiley:

Hey Allen,

I THINK that your concerns, stem from what will ATC do with the other AC? If you have lost coms. They will make sure that the other AC in the area avoid you. I have lost coms and have been around when others have. ATC does a great job of getting others out of your way.

No. Not going there.

I misread the blinking green part… If you’re flying in the pattern I would take blinking green to mean “continue your approach” and expect solid green or red later. So I would fly it right down to the numbers as long as I saw a blinking green and wait for a solid green before I planted the rubber. If no solid green, go around.

Ok, sometimes talking this stuff out is exactly what I need and literally the light bulb went on. Steady red would mean not descend, continue in the pattern and blinking green would be that OK to descend and look for that steady green.

Flyboy, I suspected ATC would keep traffic clear of me as I learned that in my IA training but I wanted to be “predictable” on my part and what was to be expected on my part.

I’ve had two radio failures. One was approaching the tower check in point and I managed to get it to work after a circle and some banging. The other was on downwind when my headset mic failed so I was able to use the hand held mic.

Might I suggest you ask your CFI. Also I think the tower visit suggestion is good. I’d go to the tower of the field you visit the most (JAN?). Call ahead 2-3 hours before your visit.

I think you’re making too big of a deal out of this. You weren’t the pilot the other day. If you get a red light, that doesn’t mean you can’t still fly your tiny plane without a radio. See and be seen, fly the plane and watch for a green, use your cell phone or go land at another field. Read up and learn from it like you are and move on.

I have to agree with Allen that there doesn’t appear to be any “published procedures” by the FAA in this matter other than the actual light signals, so I’m just going by common sense, and what I taught as a CFI. The biggest issue is to fly in a predictable flight path, ie the pattern so that everyone is playing the same game. In reality you could probably get away with flying steep turns over the tower and watch for signals, but that just makes things more chaotic for everyone involved.

At any rate… Kudos to Lieberma for taking the initiative to learn from his mistakes and use all of the resources available. I applaud anyone who actively takes action to further their proficiency. In fact, next time I’m up wasting fuel in a four-banger I’m going to test out the light gun at my home field!

Based on what I have learned, I have updated my light gun cheat sheet to include actions I should be taking on my part highlighted in blue particularly in flight since ground ops are clear to me. Prior edition I had was only the standard instructions.

Thoughts for improving it most appreciated.

Feel free to use, abuse or distribute as y’all see fit for your own needs.

Alrighty, back from my “light gun lesson”.

A lot of disappointments today mostly on myself.

KJAN was more the accommodating in my request for this little self test and gave me 16 right all to my own.

When I was handed off to tower, I explained what I wanted. I never saw a green light in my initial approach to the airport, very disappointing. I had a passenger who was operating my camera and he never saw it, but his attention was on the camera. I haven’t reviewed the videos but he had troubles with the camera so I am not sure yet what came out. I had my other camera on the glareshield so it may still show up on that camera.

After being cleared for the option, on downwind, I asked for the light signal and still didn’t see it. My friend thought he saw a “reflection” while videoing but since I didn’t see it myself, I wasn’t “taking his word” for it. It was only on the third approach that I finally saw the blinking green and the steady green on final (very difficult to see). On my fourth one, I asked to see red and I was able to see the blinking red light on downwind. Last one, I requested to land and taxi back. From the ground, taxiway bravo, it was relatively easy to see the flashing green light given by ground frequency (captured on video) but very difficult to see the steady green light from Alpha one at the end of 16 right. (look on the diagram, there is not that much difference in distance).

Self evaluating the in air stuff, my first final approach I was very disappointed that I actually almost forgot to fly the plane! I was so focused on trying to see the light looking at tower, I was drifting left of centerline (tower was to the left). Lesson learned, FLY THE PLANE.

Talk about odd situation, here tower gave me the steady green, I never saw the light and went around. Needless to say, that would be the proper course of action, but I wonder if landing and getting off the runway would be more “prudent” and deal with the paper work afterwords. (using AIMS that Az posted for my rational). After all it took three laps around the pattern for me to see the light extending time for me being a hazard to others.

I can see now why the workload on ATC goes up exponentially as I had radios and still had problems, can’t imagine the extra workload for a plane that they are not talking to.

On the other hand, I may be somewhat hard on myself. The tower was on the east side of the runway and I was looking into a milky bright white haze so that may be a factor on my difficulty on spotting the light.

Interesting one hour flight today :astonished:

That’s very interesting Allen…

Like I said above, my only encounter with a light gun was unexpected and the signal was VERY clear, in the day time… it actually surprised me. Normally I wouldn’t be staring at the tower when I’m entering downwind and throwing out flaps and gear, etc, yet it still grabbed my attention immediately. I wonder if different facilities have different types of light guns or something (Bangor was Air Force controlled)? I’ll see what’s up at KPSM this weekend (also an Air Force tower) and maybe Nashua (civilian) if traffic allows.


I will be uploading a video shortly of what I saw John. It includes both video and extracted stills from the videos for the light gun instructions. It also has the ATC COMs and relevant cockpit conversations during this mornings workout…

It will be interesting to see if the video is what you and others think should have happened (expected to see) or if you or they would have done something differently.

I will say the camera work was sloppy, thus me working with the stills, but even watching the videos in motion I still could not see the green light. From the ground you can see the taxi clearance in the video which is in my final product. I will link it here and in the video thread since it’s relevant for both.

Resultant video from this thread…

Light Gun work at KJAN with ATC COMS - YouTube)

Resultant video from this thread…

Light Gun work at KJAN with ATC COMS - YouTube)

Excellent video Allen!!! Thanks for pursuing the issue in the real world!

My first impression from watching this is that the light gun was operated inside the tinted tower cab. Do you think this might be true? If so, the light gun operator SHOULD be outside on the roof or cat-walk to direct an unfiltered beam to the aircraft. Like I hinted before, even controllers need practice with light guns… even if it means standing outside of the air-conditioned cab for a few minutes! Curious if you think this might be the case?[/quote]

The tower glass is slightly tinted, and some towers have tinted shades that pull down. So, the tower should just raise the shades ( if they have them) and shoot the light out windows without shades.

No, they won’t take them out to the catwalk. Just not practical. Most tower light guns are built in to the ceiling of the cab, mounted on retractable electrical cables. They won’t stretch that far.

Yes, the combination of slightly tinted windows, combined with your sunglasses, etc, will cut down the distance you can see the light. But, it shouldn’t cut it down that much. I wouldn’t have used a light gun for someone more than two or three miles out, because its just difficult to see. It is a very thin beam of light, and must be pointed directly at the aircraft (they have little aiming devices mounted to help). Add in sun glare, weather, etc, and light guns have definite downsides.

But, they work.