Night Flyers, what do you use?

The Rocketry Forum

Help Support The Rocketry Forum:

This site may earn a commission from merchant affiliate links, including eBay, Amazon, and others.

Do you use Quick Reply and can't live without it?

  • Yes

  • No

  • Yes

  • No

Results are only viewable after voting.


Well-Known Member
Jul 23, 2002
Reaction score
For those of you guys that fly at night, what do you use for a light source?

Take the poll and add addtional comments and details!!

A lot of it depends on the rocket, and the rules of the launch. I attended my first night launch a few weeks ago at Southern Thunder. The rules were, only one light source required for flights powered by D and under. Two light sources for impulse above D, one of which must be electronic.

Most participants just taped, or tied light sticks to their rockets. The higher powered ones, used strobes, and one used a small electronic light "tube", which was from an auto parts store, wrapped barber shop pole style around the body. They also taped, or tied sticks on for the second source.

I made two flights. One, an Estes Sky Winder, with the small "bracelet" light sticks taped to the helicopter blades. Made for a very nice light disc during recovery. The second, was an upscale 29mm Tri F O. I made an electronic light by soldering two AAA batteries together to power a bulb from a Mini Mag flashlight, which was taped to the mmt so the light stuck up on top. For the second light source, I taped the "bracelet" sticks length wise on each of the three sides. It launched on an Ellis Mtn G20-3 (a nice 5 second burn motor).
I posted a thread awhile back with a title something like "Night Launches a fun Full FAA waivered activity"

I've been flying Nite Illumination Tracking Equipment "NITE" systems since 1990. Almost all of them are LEDS of one sort or another, Strobes are ok but are sometimes a little harder to follow than the LEDs.

With help from FAA; We've identified and come up with Night launch regs that keep everyone safe. Basicly the reason FAA does not allow ANY model rocket launch after SUNSET not even dark. (NO our 1 lb exemption does not apply between Sunset and Sunraise) is to protect the civil airman flying along minding he's own business. While it's almost imposible for us to actually hit even a low flying aircraft, we sure can scare the heck out of them;) as evidenced by the 2 or 3 cases of HPRs "Close Calls" causing all kinds of kinds of havoc near BWI's approach over Kent Island in Maryland. All that said, applying for and receiveing a full FAA waiver for your Night Lanuch activities is pretty easy, but does take some time with the paperwork.
So with waiver in hand, it's what Vehicles with What Tracking system? We've found Cylumes are fine on low altitiude gliders, and other models from Micro-Maxx to B impulse motors (Regardless of Weight or Area). Any model flying on a C motor or up MUST have an illumination system visible at 2000ft with an intensity of at least 2000 mcd or greater. LED's,Strobes, Illumination panels, bulbs and other systems have been sucessfully used.
Some incandescent bulbs should not be used as the forces at ejection and landing have a tendency to break the filiments.

One very important point, the Night Tracking system MUST be visible during the entire flight. putting cylumes on the parachute attachment just do NOT cut it. If for some reason you have a no deploy situaftion the model will come in ballistic invisible in the dark. VERY DANGEROUS!
Clear payload sectons, throu-the-wall installations or exterior mountings are the three most common practices for NITE system equipement. You'll likely hear a lot of static that flying saucers, IFO's and such, Powered by C and up motors should be allowed with cylumes because of their low Don't make this exception. Snitch, UFO's and even the Paper UFOs have been successfully converted for Illuminated night flight with LED's and some of Art Applewhites up to G motor with strobes... Very cool.

I personally tend toward LED's in Strings of 3 to 15, some larger LMR models have as many as 43. All are powered by 3volt battery systems most with lithium button cells, very light weight VERY Long lasting. whiile a few of my Micro-Maxx models fly with a single LED illiminating the entire nose cone.

For some of the Bigger LMR and HPR models "Night Launch" company sells a number of 9v illiminescent flexable panels that can be wrapped around the model a very interesting effect.
Heres a Pic page of my old Estes UFO converted for Night flights.
Heres a page of several LED packages that can be flown in BT-20 & BT-50 clear payload sections.

Hope this helps folks get beyond taping things to the outside of the models.
Here's the back end. Basically I sawed off the PNC-60 nose cone at the front and back and super glued the Night Bobby on to what was left. Left enough on to attach a kevlar loop but took enough off to reach the ON-OFF actuator.

The model itself is a scratch build. The parallel boosters are funtional and use dual 1/8" dowels and lugs. You may have noticed the cheesecake noseart. It's a WWII pattern with an alien face. The battle damage is from a decal set.
Originally posted by MetMan
Here's a close up of the nose end.

Yes! great choice!, There are also the magnetic light up body jewelry, and All kinds of things form Halloween especially at the dollor stores. Also check out at American Scientific and There's a load of places

You can change the color of a nose cone with one of the 2000mcd or up Leds
Originally posted by Micromister
Heres a page of several LED packages that can be flown in BT-20 & BT-50 clear payload sections.

Hope this helps folks get beyond taping things to the outside of the models.

I really like the BT50 package. Do you know where I can get the schematic? Is this a kit?
I'm afraid I use a string of LEDs. In all my night flyers. They all have clear payloads.
BTW I got the idea from MicroMister.
Originally posted by flying_silverad
For those of you guys that fly at night, what do you use for a light source?


I haven't flown them yet, but I'm putting together equipment for a strobe (flasher system and LEDs). Testing will be with it all packed into a clear payload bay. End product will be with the LEDs embedded in the bird, probably at corner of the trailing and tip edges of the fins.

I'm getting a 5 LED flasher system from a place called Sundance. It comes with a flexible thin-film solar cell to power it. Naturally I'll replcae the solar cell for night launching, because solar cells don't work at night. You have to use lunar cells for night launches.

Seriously, Sundance has some solar cells that'd work great for onboard power. They can be bent to wrap a cylinder 2" diameter. A few of these are built exceptionally light and are intended for R/C aircraft. It just so happened that they had a kit for $15 with the cell, LEDs and flasher circuit.
I haven't tried this, but what about coating a snitch or similar vehicle with "glow-in-the-dark" paint? Using a photo flash unit to "quick charge" the paint would give a nice, if eerie glow that should last the whole flight.

Just a thought.

Originally posted by gpoehlein
I haven't tried this, but what about coating a snitch or similar vehicle with "glow-in-the-dark" paint? Using a photo flash unit to "quick charge" the paint would give a nice, if eerie glow that should last the whole flight.

Just a thought.


I Have.. it doesn't work very will at all, even using a portable Black light to charge the phosphors, actually Zinc Sulfffide phosphor a non-Toxic "Glo-pigment" used in 12-18 hour emergancy exit way-finding markings in buildings the ambient light outside.. starlight, moonlight and street lights cancel out the glo in less then a minute. it's almost useless outside.
Art Applewhite used the juice of a cylume stick on a micro-maxx sundae cap UFO that worked pretty well.

Flying all the bt-20 and Bt-50 3 and 4 led systems are my own design. Design PA! their a no brainer, 4 Leds 4 68ohm resistors, a piece of PC predrilled board and a 3v lithium battery and holder. a little solder and a tiny amount of 22gage wire. I didn't even bother to draw out a diagram. In the other thread I included a formlua for figuring the resistor size for a given LED and battery voltage. R= (voltage LED - Voltage Battery) / C current in amps. In general I've found if you stick with 33 to 68 ohm resistors most 3volt circuit will work with almost any commerically available LED you pick up.. this is not to say you shouldn't learn the proper formuals but will work in a pinch.

I don't understand why anyone would be afraid to "try" something new. why not attempt a string of LEDs??? what's the most you can damage about 2.00 worth of components, maybe less.
Anyway heres the pic of Arts saucer with the glow juice.. NOTE this was only used of Micro-Maxx motored models, I might be OK for 1/4A - B motors models as well. I'll follow with a pic of all those 3 and 4 led disc mounted strings in there model payload sections. OBTW LED are very directional so the need for 3 and 4 in a group is to face them in 3 or 4 directions so as the model turns under the chute you will always have at least one visible.
Heres that group of models.. there is nothing special about any of them. Left to Rigth: Estes Hercules 2-stage, a Quest ruby red BT-20ish payload section on 3 fin body, Warp-II 2-stager, Nova Payloader. the mini motor X-Ray with BT-20 payload section fits the white nose cone.

These NITE system are so simple my 8 year old nephew built about 8 different one to fit his Nova payloader in one night. Come on Guys don't be afraid to experiment. Cylume sticks are Sooo lame!
One more and I'll stop for now!

This is the 43 Led multi string payload section I fly once or twice a year at nearly all the club Night Launches. My 3X Upscale 4-D12 clusted Nova-II Payloader is alway a crowd pleaser. and very very visible at 600 feet, Much easier to follow then a Pratt 9volt strobe in the same model.
I did this Estes Firebird conversion a while ago using a LED wand I found in a dollar store.
I tried it once before dark and the light when off when the ejection charge deployed the chute. I assume the Push on/off switch was hit by the airframe and stoped the light. I could see the flashing as it was reaching apogee then nothing. The extra weight also broke the cheapo Estes rubber band and the airframe fluttered down on it's own without damage. I think I can fix the problem with a kevlar shock cord and by glueing a cover over the switch. Off/On function will have to be from removal of the power buttons.

First picture, Parts
Second picture. Cut off the rear of the nose cone.
Install the plastic wand portion and attach the shock cord and parachute to both the nose and the light.
Third picture.
Assembled beacon cone in low lighting.

I have a supply of similar lights for other project ideas.
Good Stuff Manwithbeers: I do dig your screen name, Bass ale is my downfall;)
I've picked up a lot of illumination stuff at the dollar stores, it's the wights that sets me crazy. I almost alway replace whatever battery pack is supplied with a 3V lithium or some combination to eliminate as much unnecessary weight as possible. I've been experimenting with different color nose cones in styrene and injection molded plastic (estes) cones and different color LEDs to get the best illumination. If you match the led with the color of the plastic you will get a much brighter glo from the transmitted light. Even with the fairly tight beam (20degree) spread of most of the "Superbright" leds 5000mcd and up they light up the entire cone pretty well.
First of all..thanks! I am working on project for fun and with all the info that's been tossed around here, this is what I have come up with. Sort of a,"Brithday Night Flight Roc!"

33 inches long it will have an 8" clear payload section and following Micro's guidance, I am going to string a whole bunch of LED's and a strobe unit if there's room. If there isn't enough room? More clear payload section!
Also, it will be booted by 2 18mm motors for a little extra light.:D
Heres one I designed for last Septembers club launch that uses those bike tire flashing leds in the payload bay and a single 5000mcd LEd in the nose. the Really kewl thing about this model way it required no paint at all, all metal flake red vinyl and "Artfoil" laminated to the body tube and transition. I call it " One Long Night"