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rotation18L
Topic Author
Posts: 41
Joined: Sat Jun 23, 2001 11:30 am

Rotating Beacon Question

Thu Jan 08, 2009 3:17 am

Hi All--

I noticed a rotating beacon as I was driving toward an airport the other day, and it prompted me to wonder about their use.

Given the advanced fly-by-wire and similar technologies today, do pilots even use them to locate the nearest field any longer?

Are they used strictly in emergencies such as NORDO or avionics/navigational failure, and if so, is using the beacons as a backup in those scenarios fairly common?

Also, why are they placed on one area of airport property versus another and what body makes the decision as to the location of their placement (FAA, Airport Authority?)

Finally, I assume in extreme IMC (such as 1/4 mile visibility or very low cloud deck), they're relatively useless?

Thanks!
 
soon7x7
Posts: 2267
Joined: Thu May 04, 2006 10:51 am

RE: Rotating Beacon Question

Thu Jan 08, 2009 3:26 am

For guys like myself that fly at night yet I'm not instrument rated, when conditions are IFR..who needs a beacon?
 
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tb727
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RE: Rotating Beacon Question

Thu Jan 08, 2009 3:40 am

I use them all the time at night when looking for a visual on the airport. It helps you correctly identify the airport especially if there are multiple airports in the same area. What I do is look at the diagram and see where the light is on the field, then look at it in relation to what you can see. Say the light is on the west side of the airport, just south of midfield, you take a look at the runway lights and see if what you see matches the diagram.

On the NOS charts it is depicted as a small black star with a little white circle in the middle. I can't remember what they look like on the Jepps but I would say the airport beacon, although dated, is pretty important.

There are also different colored lights depending on the type of airport. Here is a list from wikipedia.

1. White and Green — Lighted land airport
2. Green alone* — Lighted land airport
3. White and Yellow — Lighted water airport
4. Yellow alone* — Lighted water airport
5. Green, Yellow, and White — Lighted heliport
6. White, White, Green* — Military Airport
7. White, Green, Red — Hospital and/or Emergency Services Heliport

*Green alone or yellow alone is used only in connection with a white-and-green or white-and-yellow beacon display, respectively.

You can also tell the airport is below VFR mins without checking the weather, the beacon turns on during daylight time if the weather is less than 1000/3, it's not a rule but most will do it.

Oh yeah, it's also depicted on VFR charts as a star in the approximate location on the field in relation to the runways.

[Edited 2009-01-07 19:43:29]
 
r12055p
Posts: 28
Joined: Sun Jul 20, 2008 5:34 am

RE: Rotating Beacon Question

Thu Jan 08, 2009 3:44 am

The rotating beacon can also be used to determine what type of airport it is. One green One white is civilian, Two white one green is Military, yellow and white is water-port. The rotating beacons are used for recognizing if the airport you are looking at it the right type.
 
pilotboi
Posts: 711
Joined: Thu Sep 06, 2007 8:16 am

RE: Rotating Beacon Question

Thu Jan 08, 2009 4:28 am



Quoting Rotation18L (Thread starter):
Given the advanced fly-by-wire and similar technologies today, do pilots even use them to locate the nearest field any longer?

Not everyone has fly-by-wire and state-of-the-art technology  Wink Any pilot that's flying VFR will more then likely be on the lookout for the beacon when they are approaching the airport at night, especially in urban areas with lots of lights on the ground. If you've got your head up and looking around, a quick flash of the light will grab your attention over all the other lights.

Quoting Rotation18L (Thread starter):
Are they used strictly in emergencies such as NORDO or avionics/navigational failure, and if so, is using the beacons as a backup in those scenarios fairly common?

No. The beacon has nothing to do with emergencies. It is strictly to locate and identify the field. In NORDO ops, the light guns are used for communication.

Quoting Rotation18L (Thread starter):
Also, why are they placed on one area of airport property versus another and what body makes the decision as to the location of their placement (FAA, Airport Authority?)

That's a question I've always asked myself. Most of the ones I've seen have been placed right along the perimeter fence. My guess would be so they can be accessed from inside or outside the secured area, in case contract maintenance or something has to come in.

Quoting Rotation18L (Thread starter):
Finally, I assume in extreme IMC (such as 1/4 mile visibility or very low cloud deck), they're relatively useless?

For the most part, yes. But in this case, everyone should be IFR anyways, so they don't need it, but it's nice to have it if you can see it.
 
KELPkid
Posts: 5247
Joined: Wed Nov 02, 2005 5:33 am

RE: Rotating Beacon Question

Thu Jan 08, 2009 6:36 am



Quoting Rotation18L (Thread starter):
Finally, I assume in extreme IMC (such as 1/4 mile visibility or very low cloud deck), they're relatively useless?

Not necessarily. Tower controller tradition states that when the beacon is on during daylight hours, the field is below VFR minimums...  Wink (no official regs on that one...just the way things are done!).
 
KAUSpilot
Posts: 1688
Joined: Mon Jan 28, 2002 2:15 pm

RE: Rotating Beacon Question

Thu Jan 08, 2009 7:27 am

I use the beacons all the time, especially on visual approaches at night. I'm very thankful that they're there.
 
vikkyvik
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Joined: Thu Jul 31, 2003 1:58 pm

RE: Rotating Beacon Question

Thu Jan 08, 2009 7:32 am



Quoting Pilotboi (Reply 4):
If you've got your head up and looking around, a quick flash of the light will grab your attention over all the other lights.

I bet! Flying as a passenger cross-country in the US, I can't begin to count the hundreds and hundreds of beacons I've seen from 30,000+ feet, just out of my little window.

They are instantly identifiable....even when surrounded by other lights.

Does anyone know what angle from horizontal the lights are required to be pointed at? They are easily distinguishable from cruising altitude, but when I drive by airports at night in fog or mist, they appear to be shining almost horizontally.
 
Goldenshield
Posts: 5034
Joined: Sun Jan 14, 2001 3:45 pm

RE: Rotating Beacon Question

Thu Jan 08, 2009 12:31 pm



Quoting Tb727 (Reply 2):
I can't remember what they look like on the Jepps but I would say the airport beacon, although dated, is pretty important.

It's a black star, with a black ring around it. Kind of like a Texaco sign, but with less room for the star.
 
timz
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Joined: Fri Sep 17, 1999 7:43 am

RE: Rotating Beacon Question

Thu Jan 08, 2009 8:30 pm



Quoting Vikkyvik (Reply 7):
Does anyone know what angle from horizontal the lights are required to be pointed at?

That's always puzzled me too-- close up the beam sure looks about horizontal, but it shows up beautifully even looking down from 20-30 degrees above it.

Fair amount of variation in the power, too. SFO's beacon seems pretty puny.
 
bond007
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Joined: Mon Mar 14, 2005 2:07 am

RE: Rotating Beacon Question

Thu Jan 08, 2009 9:15 pm



Quoting Vikkyvik (Reply 7):
Does anyone know what angle from horizontal the lights are required to be pointed at?

I believe it's 5 degrees, but must be adjustable between 2 and 10 ... or something like that.

It's actually extremely useful in terms of getting good visual references for where the airport and runways are. When flying visual approaches I always make sure I know where the beacon is in relation to the runways, so have a good mental picture of where I am. Glass cockpits are great with their synthetic representations of where you are, and where you are going, but at some point during a visual approach you're going to need to 'see' the airport with 'real' eyes!


Jimbo
 
saab2000
Posts: 1261
Joined: Thu Jun 21, 2001 6:19 pm

RE: Rotating Beacon Question

Thu Jan 08, 2009 10:40 pm

Beacons are incredibly useful for visual approaches. They don't use them in Europe but in the US they are everywhere and very, very useful. Finding an airport at night without a beacon is not easy and calling a visual makes the job of ATC much easier than if they have to help us for a full approach.

Just last night I was flying LGA-ILM and the beacon was helpful in locating the field from 30 miles out.
 
2H4
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RE: Rotating Beacon Question

Fri Jan 09, 2009 2:03 am

In case anyone is wondering, beacons will break if you ride them.

2H4
 
KELPkid
Posts: 5247
Joined: Wed Nov 02, 2005 5:33 am

RE: Rotating Beacon Question

Fri Jan 09, 2009 2:28 am



Quoting 2H4 (Reply 12):
In case anyone is wondering, beacons will break if you ride them.

2H4

Hmmm, I haven't tried that one yet.

ELP currently has it's original 1936 beacon on display (in a fully functioning state, nonetheless) down in baggage claim...

I wonder if the TSA would come after me if I attempted to hop on it  mischievous 
 
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PITingres
Posts: 1387
Joined: Fri Dec 21, 2007 1:59 am

RE: Rotating Beacon Question

Fri Jan 09, 2009 3:44 am



Quoting 2H4 (Reply 12):
In case anyone is wondering, beacons will break if you ride them.

Hmmmm...
categorical statement of fact ... obscure point of lore ... no existing literature ... google doesn't turn up anything useful...

Must be the voice of experience!!!  Smile
 
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tb727
Posts: 2317
Joined: Thu Jun 30, 2005 1:40 pm

RE: Rotating Beacon Question

Fri Jan 09, 2009 5:30 am



Quoting 2H4 (Reply 12):
In case anyone is wondering, beacons will break if you ride them.

You know something, I was bored in the middle of the night waiting for freight somewhere in podunk NC and we just stood there looking at the beacon with the ladder not even locked up and the thought crossed our mind. I'm glad we didn't decide to ride it!

Quoting Saab2000 (Reply 11):

Just last night I was flying LGA-ILM and the beacon was helpful in locating the field from 30 miles out.

It's amazing how far away you can see them. I was over FWA once and got the beacon for YIP which was about 107 miles away. I've had the beacon plenty of times at about 100+ miles, it's pretty awesome.
 
saab2000
Posts: 1261
Joined: Thu Jun 21, 2001 6:19 pm

RE: Rotating Beacon Question

Fri Jan 09, 2009 11:47 am



Quoting Tb727 (Reply 15):
It's amazing how far away you can see them. I was over FWA once and got the beacon for YIP which was about 107 miles away. I've had the beacon plenty of times at about 100+ miles, it's pretty awesome.

That is correct on the distance.

I am based in ORF and on clear nights we can see the field from 100+ miles out easily. There is a very, very bright light at one of the naval facilities near ORF and when coming from PHL or even LGA this light is visible from over 100 miles out if the air is clear and we are high enough. Incredible.
 
Fly2HMO
Posts: 7184
Joined: Sat Jan 24, 2004 12:14 pm

RE: Rotating Beacon Question

Sat Jan 10, 2009 6:15 pm



Quoting Rotation18L (Thread starter):
do pilots even use them to locate the nearest field any longer?

Of course. On a clear night, flying from VGT to PRC, I could spot PRC's beacon 60NM away.

Quoting PITIngres (Reply 14):
Must be the voice of experience!!!

Happens more often than you think, though that's the first time I've heard of them breaking. Maybe PRC's is pretty durable.  Wink
 
highflyer9790
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Joined: Thu Jul 07, 2005 1:21 am

RE: Rotating Beacon Question

Sun Jan 11, 2009 4:58 pm

Well here in the northeast, especially the NYC-hartford-providence-boston corridor, I can be flying along in great night VFR, smooth, 10+miles vis, and even with the G1000 tuning all its bells and whistles to an airport, the beacon does help as far as actually pinpointing it. if you're flying into a noncontrolled airport with PCL, theres no way you can get the PCL to work until you're almost ready to enter the pattern, so the beacon does help it stand out. Strobes, also known as runway end identifiers, really help if the airport is in a lit jungle.

highflyer
 
Goldenshield
Posts: 5034
Joined: Sun Jan 14, 2001 3:45 pm

RE: Rotating Beacon Question

Sun Jan 11, 2009 8:06 pm



Quoting HighFlyer9790 (Reply 18):
if you're flying into a noncontrolled airport with PCL, theres no way you can get the PCL to work until you're almost ready to enter the pattern,

I guess that depends on what airport. You can still set off PCL at an airport that's a ways away, but only if they are still within your line of sight. This is especially true in areas with large concentrations of airports.

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