Every HUD I've seen, whether photographs or in video games, uses green light to draw the lines and text.

Why green? I thought red was a better color for pilots' eyes so they can stay adjusted for night vision. Do HUD's allow you to switch colors at night?

Note: I'm interested in military aircraft only, especially fighter jets. But if the reason happens to be the same across the military and civilian world, that's fine too of course.

  • $\begingroup$ Head up displays offer colors in a wide range of hues to fit different lighting conditions, though green is the one most often used for the reasons below. The display color is adjustable via a dial on the hood controller. $\endgroup$ – Carlo Felicione Apr 15 '18 at 0:22

A few thoughts (a bit of personal research):


  • The eye is most sensitive to green color, as can be seen in this diagram:


At moderate to bright light levels where the cones function, the eye is more sensitive to yellowish-green light than other colors because this stimulates the two most common (M and L) of the three kinds of cones almost equally. At lower light levels, where only the rod cells function, the sensitivity is greatest at a blueish-green wavelength.

(source: wikimedia.org)

Dotted R line is (night-vision) human rhodopsin 'rods'.

As I understand, any powerful light depletes rhodopsin down requiring that they regenerate, which takes time, just that depletion takes longer with red wavelengths. I think this does not imply that green color 'automatically' screw up night vision if the display intensity is lowered enough.

Technical Limitations

  • The light has to be collimated to not interfere with depth perception, which complicates having multiple colours. At least in old CRT displays, this would have left you with the choice between blue, red or green. Green and Red is perhaps the color which stands out the most, but this diagram would suggest the red occurs at different wavelengths, perhaps again interfering with collimation:

Due to the complexity of wide field-of-view reflective HUD optical systems, the optical designer must use all means available to meet display accuracy and parallax error requirements. All certified reflective HUDs today are monochromatic, generally using a narrow-band green emitting phosphor. The addition of a second color to the HUD is a desirable natural progression in HUD technology, however, one of the technical challenges associated with adding a second (or third) display color is maintaining the performance standards available in monochrome displays. One method for solving this problem uses a collimator with two independent embedded curvatures, one optimized for green symbology, the other optimized for red symbology, each with a wavelength-selective coating. Avionics Handbook, Chapter 4

  • Compounding to the previous point, it may be difficult to filter through a single red color through the screen, ending with a rather broad spectrum instead:


Further thoughts:

  • I think the night vision would be disturbed anyway by the variety of instruments such as maps and radar. I'm also doubting a bit of the importance of night vision in combat situations.
  • Night vision googles also use monochrome green light, despite having perhaps the greatest benefit of red light should they break and you need to continue without.
  • Even in a pretty new BMW I drove there was only monochrome green from their own HUD. I read forums accusing systems featuring multiple colours as having inferior display quality.
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  • $\begingroup$ Perhaps you could add a remark on why white is not considered as a HUD color in aviation - even though white LEDs are currently widely available. (I used one on a BMW the other day, white color, and had difficulty reading the display well in certain combinations of lighting and background.) $\endgroup$ – ALAN WARD Aug 8 '15 at 10:28
  • $\begingroup$ @ALANWARD With white you got the full color spectrum and wavelengths (LED example) probably screwing up the colliminating again. Furthermore, contrast against clouds and skies is not good. $\endgroup$ – Thunderstrike Aug 8 '15 at 10:32
  • $\begingroup$ My feeling in the car was indeed mostly about lack of contrast. Nothing scientific, but a definite feel that something was not right. $\endgroup$ – ALAN WARD Aug 8 '15 at 10:35
  • $\begingroup$ Yeah, broad-spectrum (white) light suffers chromatic aberration when passed through any optical system: for an example, look at the blue or brown fringes you get from an overhead projector. $\endgroup$ – Dan Hulme Aug 8 '15 at 18:16
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    $\begingroup$ Another thing to consider is that, in the case of the military, green lights work best because they are NVG compatible. NVG's have a hard time with red lights because NVG's operate in the near infrared spectrum causing red lights to show up much brighter and potentially bloom the display. $\endgroup$ – Rhino Driver Aug 8 '15 at 18:31

Studies show that our eyes see green better than any other color in both day and night. There is an article about the difference between green and red lasers on guns and how you can actually seen green better in day and night so that's why the color is green.

enter image description here
From this gallery is a picture of a HUD -- look at how visible and bright it is.

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    $\begingroup$ And also to all of you people who say that I don't put enough research into my answer will actually I put a lot of research into this subject. Maybe I will put more research into my answers for now on $\endgroup$ – Ethan Aug 8 '15 at 5:12

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