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Feb 19, 2018, 11:21 AM
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led bulbs > strips

"Woah dude I thought that was a UFO," said a local youth as I wrapped up a night float flight.

I could understand how it would make that impression, especially if he were a little buzzed on something. Night flying is so much fun and really quite easy if you're both using enough light and some coloring to maintain orientation (to know whether the plane is flying toward you or away). The only thing that makes me nervous is not landing on the water but nearby residents seeing the lights and calling the cops. But if I were the cop responding to the call and discovered it was a handsome young man flying not an annoying drone but a seaplane with a custom light rig in proper nav light formation, I would keep my lights off and enjoy the flight, you know?

RC Seaplane Night Flight (2 min 1 sec)

I'm new to the night flying scene but I've already discovered that led bulbs make a fine substitute for led strips for the purpose of night flying just with scale-ish nav lights (not for artistic creations). In terms of putting out the same, if not more, lumens per watt, they are efficient. They are small and those that I used weigh only six grams apiece. I didn't do wind tunnel tests but I'd submit that they edge out led strips in terms of the drag and weight cost per lumen.

As they are silicone popsicle, not strips with some sketchy rubber tubing, they are completely waterproof, which I know from flying off of saltwater with leds on the sides of the floats. And maybe most importantly if you're a scale fella, you can buy eight of these lights, including a green one and two reds, and arrange them in proper navigation light formation, and be able to get overkill amounts of light from them not just for night flying over ground but to brighten up the surface of the water to land quite comfortably. Or if you don't care about scale lights, use fewer bulbs.

I used 3W bulbs claiming 300 lumens for my water flying and 3W bulbs claiming, maybe exaggerating, 600 lumens, on a 1.3M wingspan plane, total 24W, which is not a small number, but my flights were plenty long, so why not. Though the light that that power produced was way more than enough, if you're on a mAh budget, you could get away with 2W if not even less per bulb. For wiring I used 26awg and split the lights into two circuits each with fast blow fuses so that if one side shorts, I still have half the lights and my motor/ESC/RX are still in business.

I suggest you go on Amazon and search for something like "3W silicone led bulb 10 pack" (or 2W, or don't specify the wattage, or leave out silicone if you don't need waterproofed bulbs, might be a little cheaper, also don't forget a pair of reds and a green). If you'd like I can lay down a shopping list of the things I used, just let me know.

And if all this light stuff doesn't interest you, fine, but at least try float flying...

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