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With last year’s rule change by the FAA regarding flying at night, there have been more night flights than in previous years and I’m sure the upward trend will continue.
One of the FAA’s requirements for night flights is the drone needs to be equipped with an “Anti-Collision Strobe Light”. This light can be permanently affixed to the drone or it could be an add-on style, which is the type we will be going over in this post.
The Firehouse ARC “V” Drone strobe is the best drone anti-collision light available due to its compact size, ease of use, long battery life, and being made in the USA.
Drone night flights (new FAA regulations) #
The FAA changed the night flight rules on April 6, 2021 so the pilot in command no longer needs to apply for a Daylight Operations Waiver to fly a drone at night.
The FAA now says that a drone can be flown at night as long as the remote pilot in command has been trained and tested on night flight operations, and the drone is equipped with an anti-collision light.
The FAA also offers an online renewal course for the Part 107 Certificate that includes night operations which makes it easy to get trained and (re)certified.
Why do I need an anti-collision light? #
The light that the FAA requires must meet some standards in order for it to be in compliance with its guidelines. The light must be able to be seen for 3 statute miles, it must be either red or white in color, and the light must blink. Luckily for us, there are a number of companies that have come up with lights that adhere to the FAA’s rules.
The purpose of the light is pretty self-explanatory, to help prevent collision with other aircraft. If a drone were to come into contact with any other aircraft, the results could be deadly. The light will help alert another pilot that the drone is in their flight path and they can take steps to avoid it.
The drone pilot must yield to manned aircraft at all times but if there is a problem or malfunction, the anti-collision light will help the pilot of the manned craft spot the drone and prevent a potential disaster.
Orientation lighting vs. anti-collision lighting #
A lot of popular drones come with orientation lights built into the drone so you know that if you see the green lights (or it could be some other color depending on the drone’s status) you are looking at the back of the drone and the red is the front. These are orientation lights.
These lights work great for knowing which way the drone is facing when it’s close by, but when the drone gets about 500-1,000 feet away, those green and red orientation lights are barely visible.
This is where the additional green and red strobes come in handy since they can be seen for 3 statute miles. Anti-collision lights, according to the FAA, must be visible for 3 statute miles, and must strobe or pulse.
Also remember that for the light to be FAA compliant it needs to be either white or red in color, so green strobe lights can not be used as anti-collision lighting.
Which type of anticollision light is best? #
There are many different drone anti-collision light manufacturers out there and they all offer a bright light in a small package. Some have different color LEDs in them and can be changed, others offer different mounts that are drone specific which can mount the lights in different positions on the drone.
However, the only thing that really matters is whether the light is FAA compliant or not. The rest is basically personal preference.
The competition – Firehouse ARC V vs LumeCube Strobe #
Now obviously there are certain lights out there that meet the FAA criteria but just don’t perform well. We won’t be talking about any of those lights in this article, just a couple that have received great reviews throughout the drone community.
**The top two rated anti-collision drone lights are the Firehouse ARC V and the LumeCube Strobe. **
Around this time last year, I was in the market for an anti-collision light for my drones, so I went online, did some research, and purchased the two anti-collision lights that received the best reviews.
I was looking for what worked best for me, and my style of flying. I purchased the Lumecube Strobe and the Firehouse ARC “V” and have found these are still the top two rated drone anti-collision lights available.
Firehouse ARC V and LubeCube Strobe comparison (first impressions) #
When I first opened the packages of the lights, I noticed the difference between the light housings immediately. The Firehouse ARC V is a rectangular shape with a clear top and the circuit board is visible through the clear lens.
The LumeCube Strobe is more of a diamond shape and it too has a clear lens covering the LEDs. The LEDs are surrounded by a white background that covers the circuit board in the strobe light.
The Firehouse ARC “V” has five LEDs whereas the LumeCube Strobe only has four LEDs. This is something that I noticed right away and was impressed that the Firehouse ARC “V” had an additional LED.
This gave me confidence that I would be able to see the Firehouse light more easily than the LumeCube. I was excited to test them out to see if my theory of more is better was actually correct.
However, based on the looks of the lights I already had assumed the LumeCube was the superior of the two lights in terms of product quality, even though it has one less LED. The white cover over the circuit board gave me the impression that LumeCube had done more R&D than Firehouse before releasing their light.
This was my first impression before even turning the lights on and I was interested to see if the LumeCube light would stay number one once I started using them.
LubeCube Strobe and Firehouse ARC V performance comparison #
One of the reasons I purchased these lights is to help keep track of the drone while it was flying grids for orthomosaic maps. All of my mapping is done during the day, so I was hoping the lights would be bright enough to see on a sunny day.
I strapped the LumeCube Strobe to my Inspire 1 and sent it off. It was fairly easy to see the light at about 1,200 feet away, and I figured that during a mapping mission the drone would probably not be much further than 1200 feet away unless I’m doing a very large map.
I landed the drone and attached the Firehouse ARC V light. This light was just as visible at the 1,200-foot mark, so I called it a tie and was pleased with the performance of both lights.
Color changing feature #
The Firehouse ARC “V” light that I purchased is the white-only strobe light. Firehouse also offers green only and red only ARC “V” strobes that can be used for drone orientation as well as anti-collision lighting with red LEDs.
These lights have the same functions and specifications as the white ARC “V”, and are a great addition to the white anti-collision light.
The LumeCube Strobe comes with a red and a green lens cover that can be snapped onto the top of the light. This changes the color of the light to either green or red and can be used for drone orientation with the green lens cover or anti-collision lighting with the red lens cover.
This is a very nice feature that is included with the LumeCube Strobe and can be very useful if you have more than one light.
Attachment options #
Both the LumeCube Strobe and the Firehouse ARC “V” came with Velcro style self-adhesive attachments. These made it easy to attach the light to the drone and the self-adhesive backing means it can be positioned pretty much anywhere on the drone.
Since it is easily removable, the drone still fits into its protective case without any issues, and the strobe light is small enough to be tossed into the equipment bag.
Additional Firehouse attachments #
If the included attachment method doesn’t work for you, there are other options for anti-collision lighting attachment.
Firehouse offers plastic attachment clips that the strobe light snaps into and then clips onto the drone. These are removable so the drone will still fit into its case without any modifications.
Firehouse offers the attachment clips for about 5-6 different drones and it enables the lights to be placed in positions that would be impossible to attach to with the included hook and loop style attachment option.
Additional LumeCube attachments #
Unlike Firehouse, LumeCube does not offer clips to attach the Strobe light to the drone. They rely instead on the included hook and loop style attachment method.
LumeCube does offer a mounting system for their LumeCube 2.0 anti-collision lights, but the mount only works with the DJI Mavic 2 series. The attachment method that comes with the Strobe should work fine for most pilots and drones in most situations, but it’s nice to know there are other options if the Velcro style attachment is not cutting it.
Strobe options #
Both the LumeCube and the Firehouse lights have different strobe options that are very easy to cycle through and choose which one you like best. They both have strobe, flash (which is a slower blink than the strobe), and steady-on as light options.
The Firehouse ARC “V” also offers a strobe/flash setting which will flash (slower blink than the strobe), then strobe and repeat.
All of the settings that flash are FAA compliant and are the easiest to see at a distance. The steady-on setting is great for drone orientation at night, and the color options make it even easier for the pilot to determine the location of the drone.
Light-weight vs. medium-weight #
The LumeCube Strobe weighs 10 grams, which is 3 grams less than the Firehouse ARC “V” which comes in at 13 grams. If the drone that is being used is under the 249g limit for FAA registration, keep in mind the weight of the drone when shopping for an anti-collision light.
Some of the lights available can be too heavy and put a drone that does not need to be registered over the 249g weight limit. This means the drone will have to be registered in order to be FAA compliant when flying with the anti-collision light.
Which one is the best anti-collision light? #
The Firehouse ARC “V” is my preferred anti-collision light. Both lights work well and can be seen at about the same distances at night. They both have run times that are long enough for most of the jobs I do.
The Firehouse ARC “V” claims four and a half hours of run time and LumeCube says the Strobe will run for more than two hours. The optional color lenses that come with the LumeCube Strobe are a nice addition to that package, but the white strobe is what I use the most so the colored lenses mostly just sit in the equipment bag.
Why I chose the Firehouse ARC “V” #
The main reason I chose the Firehouse ARC “V” over the LumeCube Strobe is the on/off button on the ARC “V”.
The LumeCube is turned on by pressing down on the top lens for three seconds. This makes it too easy to turn on and off, and has been turned on by accident in the equipment bag and ran until the battery died. The next time I took it out to use it I couldn’t because the battery was completely drained.
Luckily, I also had the Firehouse ARC “V” with its smaller (harder to accidentally press) on/off button. I pressed and held it for three seconds and all of a sudden everything was much brighter.
The housing of the Firehouse ARC “V” is sturdy and seems pretty weatherproof, whereas the LumeCube feels lighter, like the plastic is thinner. The weight difference did not play a factor in my decision since the drones I fly are all significantly above the 249g limit. It does have the exposed circuit board that I didn’t like initially, but now I don’t mind it as much.
The significantly longer run time means I don’t have to charge it between sites if I’m doing multiple sites in a day. This is helpful by letting me focus on charging drone batteries and flying the missions, and not have to remember to charge the strobe too.
Firehouse is also an American company and its products are made in the USA. Made in the USA means a lot to some. This is not the main reason I chose Firehouse, but it is a nice bonus knowing that this purchase is helping support workers in this country.
Tips for strobe use #
There are a few things I have learned while using the anti-collision lights over the past year that would have been helpful to know initially. These tips are from my experience, but I feel they can be used universally.
1. Own multiple lights #
Like I said above, the use of multiple lights on the drone makes it easy to know where it is and where it is going. If there are extra lights, put one on the bottom of the drone. This will make seeing it at night a lot easier.
2. Make sure it’s off #
The mission could be grounded or postponed if the need arises for an anti-collision light and the battery is dead. I use an anti-collision light when I’m flying in an authorization zone and when I’m creating maps. It makes it easier for me to locate the drone if for some reason I lose sight of it. I also think it would be helpful in alerting another pilot to avoid a collision if the drone were to fly away.
3. Don’t look at it #
I don’t mean to sound obvious, but don’t look at the light when it’s on. The Firehouse ARC “V” puts out 1000 lumens, and the light can be seen for 4 statute miles, so it’s bright. At night if you look at the strobe light it can make it extremely difficult to see the drone once it’s in the air. This can be a dangerous situation if you are unsure of your surroundings and unable to see the drone.