I thought that all aircraft flying at night needed red/green/white position lights and red/white anti collision flashing beacons.

I observed a helicopter flying over houses with only its strobe lights. Is that allowed?

  • $\begingroup$ Is it possible you couldn't see the navigation lights? $\endgroup$ – zymhan Nov 21 '18 at 13:35
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    $\begingroup$ In what country did this occur? $\endgroup$ – Ron Beyer Nov 21 '18 at 15:10
  • $\begingroup$ Welcome to aviation.SE! For questions about regulations or laws, please always tell us which country or regulator you're asking about. If your question is about the US, for example, we have an faa-regulations tag that you can add to your question. $\endgroup$ – Pondlife Nov 22 '18 at 0:40

In the US FAR §91.209 Aircraft lights. applies

No person may:

(a) During the period from sunset to sunrise… (1) Operate an aircraft unless it has lighted position lights;

(b) Operate an aircraft that is equipped with an anticollision light system, unless it has lighted anticollision lights.

There are no exceptions. A couple of thoughts though. It can be pretty dark on the ground and still not be after sunset. I live in the shadow of a mountain and the sun goes down at my house 15 minutes before sunset.

It is possible that they just forgot. Most pilots who have strobes turn them on all the time (an exception would be in clouds or fog) so they would be on.

It is also possible that they were on, but because of the position of the helicopter, you just didn’t see them.

The beacon (referred to in the FAR as anti-collision light system) does not have to be just red. Lots of them are red in back and white in front, so you may have seen just the forward facing light.

This StackExchange Post has more details on lighting.

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  • $\begingroup$ Although not really an "exception", para B does allow for aircraft that are simply not equipped with a beacon. Although I'm sure that's not the case here. $\endgroup$ – Jimmy Nov 21 '18 at 18:03
  • $\begingroup$ @Jimmy I was thinking more along the lines of no exceptions for different categories of aircraft. Lots of the regs exempt helicopters or have different minimums for them, e.g. Special VFR at night doesn’t require a helicopter to be IFR equipped; Night VFR minimums are different for helicopters; IFR takeoff minimums are different. $\endgroup$ – JScarry Nov 21 '18 at 19:47
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    $\begingroup$ Ha! Yeah, after 30 years of acquiring fixed-wing knowledge, I recently started working for a helicopter company. It took quite a while to "re-learn" all of the regs that were different for these "flappy wing" beasts. Prior to this gig, I didn't really know a thing about them. $\endgroup$ – Jimmy Nov 21 '18 at 20:07
  • $\begingroup$ @Jimmy I just got my AGI and had to learn all of the regs for balloons, ultralights, helicopters, etc. Seems like everything is an exception when compared to fixed wing. $\endgroup$ – JScarry Nov 21 '18 at 20:20

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