Tactical Flashlights for the Cockpit: What's the Right Light for Your Flight? PDF Print E-mail
Written by Max Lundin   
Tuesday, 16 April 2013 14:40

In the old days, pilots had two options for carrying illumination into the cockpit: the penlight and the Maglite. That era has faded like a dim bulb, replaced by an illuminating assortment that ranges from low profile, low output styles to bright-as-the-sun tactical flashlights.

Today’s flashlights fall into three categories: classic military and police tactical style, low profile styled tactical lights, and the mountable military style. A host of manufacturers have risen to the demand for these lights providing a large variety at various price points and features.


  1. 1. Case Materials


The cases fall into two categories, metal and plastic. Metal cases usually take the form of highgrade, aircraft-grade aluminum which is durable and lightweight, while nylon or polymer cases exhibit better water resistance. The case not only determines how heavy and durable your flashlight is, but also how shock-resistant and water-resistant it is.


  1. 2. Lumens


The lumen is the unit of measurement for the amount of visible light emitted from a source. To put the force of a lumen in perspective, take note that a light of 100 lumens can disorient and temporarily blind a human. This characteristic should be chosen based upon your use of the light.


  1. 3. Illumination source


Unlike old-school, incandescent lights, modern, efficient LEDs are today’s standard tool of the trade. LEDs provide high light output, generally low heat output, and require little energy. Make sure to check the LED’s specific output, size, and shock durability when purchasing your flashlight.


  1. 4. Lens Material


Lens materials are another factor that determines the lifespan of the flashlights. Reinforced, polycarbonate coated lenses make up the majority of lenses used on tactical lights due to their reliability and resistance to scratches. A flashlight with a poor lens may lead to distorted illumination or unreliable water resistance.


  1. 5. Batteries


Batteries become problematic because some flashlights require obscure battery varieties only available for purchase online at premium costs. For the budget conscious consumer (or for mere convenience) you can take the rechargeable battery route or find a tac light that utilizes common AA or AAA cells.


  1. 6. Additional features


Additional features vary significantly from light to light and depend on the style of light you intend to purchase. Some exotic lights include complicated microprocessors to prevent tampering while others may be clipped to military belts. These features may make certain lights especially rare and become the defining quality of many flashlights.


Hands-on reviews

Streamlight’s Sidewinder


Case - The Sidewinder features a durable, shock-resistant nylon body with a polycarbonate lens treated with a scratch-resistant coating. The style is military-esque, due to the rectangular grips that cover the surface of the flashlight and the tactical mounting clip. The model is also o-ring and gasket-sealed to avoid water entrance and is rated to be waterproof up to one meter for 30 minutes.


Output - The Sidewinder boasts a wide variety of outputs, 20 to be exact. The light is equipped with four different LEDs each of which may be set to low, medium 1, medium 2, high, or strobe outputs. The variety of LEDs installed in the Sidewinder depends on your selected model. Our Aviation edition included one white C4 LED, an IR LED, a green LED, and a blue LED. Different LEDs provide different outputs and runtimes with the maximum output being 55 lumens through the white C4 LED and the minimum output being 1.8 lumens through the blue LED. The runtime of the LEDs also vary; the high output of the C4 LED only lasts 5.5 hours, while the low output of the IR LED lasts upwards of 200 hours. Conveniently, the light runs on two AA batteries which are included.


Signature Features - The light is used by the US Army as Team Soldier certified gear, proving its reputation right off the bat. The main selling point of the Sidewinder is its unmatched versatility. Its 20 outputs speak for themselves while its mounting capabilities and angled head make it extremely unique.

The head of the flashlight tilts at an 185 degree angle. Accessories that link the Sidewinder to a belt, rifle rail, or helmet are also available.


Summation – The rugged, military design makes this flashlight appealing to air force fanatics or anyone willing to wear a flight suit. The countless capabilities of the flashlight pave the way to safer emergency situations. Whether mounting a strobe light for rescue after a crash landing, or utilizing a low output LED to read a map in a pinch, the Sidewinder has you covered. The price tag on this model (approximately $80-$100) should fit the budget of anyone willing to buy a quality flashlight.


Brite-Strike’s EPLI


Case - The Body of the EPLI is slim and sleek. At a length of just 5.125 inches, it fits comfortably into a coat pocket. Its aircraft grade aluminum body is anodized with graphite ensuring durability, while machined grooves make sure you can grip it without slipping. The bezel is polished stainless steel and brass, which not only has a nice appearance, but also helps dissipate heat.

The EPLI lives up to its acronymic name (Executive Precision Lighting Instrument) as its incognito style gives the appearance of a fancy pen, not a high-tech flashlight.


Output - The compact lens and CREE LED of the light gives way to a highly focused beam. Using only two AAA batteries (included) the EPLI puts out an impressive 220 lumens for up to 1.5 hours. The low output is half as powerful, at a still impressive 110 lumens and lasts upwards of 8 hours. The light also offers a strobe feature that lasts two hours.


Signature Features - The EPLI earned the

2013 NRA American Hunter Gear of the Year award for good reason. It delivers because of its sleek and inconspicuous design. Its powerful output of 220 lumens separates it from any flashlight of similar size, while its three function simplicity make it ideal for the average Joe.


Summation - This flashlight is perfect for pilots because of its shape and size. Most recreational pilots fly while wearing civilian garb and the EPLI does justice to the everyday outfit. It won’t be difficult to fit into pockets and it doesn’t require any external apparatus to be mounted or attached. EPLI has a MSRP of $80.


Surefire’s A2 Aviator


Case - The standard tactical flashlight that we’ve field tested is Surefire’s A2 Aviator. This flashlight is built to be compact, sleek, and durable. The body is made from a high-strength aerospace aluminum body and anodized for additional durability. It is also machine etched with grooves for efficient gripping and comfort. This piece is on the light side, weighing in at 4.3 ounces with a rather standard length of 5.4 inches.


Output - The aviator, as would be expected from the name, is ideal for pilots due to its multiple outputs, most importantly its low output which emits 10 lumens. The light also boasts a high output of 120 lumens. The light fares well for police officers, firefighters, and civilians who have a taste for high-grade equipment due to its size and multiple clipping options (a key ring at the top and clip at the side). The aviator has a runtime of two hours on its high output and 15 hours on its low output. It runs on two 123A batteries which are included and can be purchased from Surefire inexpensively.


Signature Features - The Aviator functions intuitively due to its “tactically- correct two-stage pushbutton tailcap.” In other words, the flashlight button is pressure activated. While pushing down gently on the end of the light the low output beam will be emitted and the high output beam will be emitted by increasing the pressure. The rear of the light may also be tightened so that chosen light will emit constantly. This feature of the light makes it ideal for tactical or emergency situations where the light must be readily available to be switched on, off, or intensified.


Summation - This particular light is truly for the flashlight enthusiast as it is priced at $305. But don’t let the price tag dissuade you, the Aviator comes with a limited lifetime warranty and due to its durable design should easily make up for its price with age.


Other popular manufacturers to check out include, Barska, Blackhawk, Brite Strike, Maglite, Novatac, Streamlight, Surefire, and Wicked Lasers.