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By Glenn Plymate

Preface by Bill Wenkman

While flying a well equipped (for the year) 1959 Piper Apache from Windsor Locks, CT (BDL) to Buffalo, NY (BUF), IFR at night, I experienced the following:

Upon approaching BUF I was told to hold at the outer marker (OM) while
American Airlines was making an approach.  Time was about 2100 hours
local; weather was reported as, ceiling 200 with 1/2 mile visibility.  There was ground fog with tops at 3,000 feet.  American had a missed approach and diverted to Rochester, NY (ROC).  I was then cleared for the approach.  About 1/4 mile from the OM while on the glide path of the ILS, I lost all of my instrument panel lights including the overhead light.  At night, in the soup, complete darkness; 1,600 feet to the surface and about the same to the stars on top.

Come on fellas and gals; it can happen and it did.  What did I do?

I reached for my flashlight, hanging by its strap on the alternate air
control knob, turned it on, placed it in my mouth, scanned the instruments,
and continued to fly the airplane.  It was difficult, but manageable, due to
the flashlight.  When I landed, I advised the control tower that I was on
the ground.  The tower operator acknowledged and then said, "You failed to report the outer marker inbound." (a requirement in those years).  I stated that I was sorry but that I found it too difficult with a flashlight in my

Now, I no longer carry a flashlight; I carry two.  And I will not get into any person's airplane unless I first ask and see a flashlight.  It may be essential to safe flight.















Even with cockpit lights, that approach would have been challenging enough, but with a flashlight stuffed in your mouth … well, we're just as happy to have Bill tell us about how it happened to him.  And not to us.

Nowadays, though, it doesn't have to be that way. There are other ways to light up a cockpit just in case your airplane's electrical system takes a holiday.   For example, we heard about a new LED camper headlamp from Joe Shelton, and that he owned one for a cockpit emergency light. Joe recommended it, and gave one to Omri Talmon to try. 


Black Diamond Moonlight … four LEDs

Like an old miner's lamp, it is a no-hands model, with a light mounted on your forehead; no more need to clench a flashlight in your teeth.  Made by Black Diamond, it is called the Moonlight. Their web site says, "The Moonlight has quickly proven itself to be THE lightweight LED lamp of choice.  And why not?  It's got four (count 'em FOUR) super-bright LEDs that provide over 70 hours of burn time.  A tilt housing allows you to direct your light source, and a comfortable headband and an integrated battery pack that fits easily over beanies and helmets. The Moonlight's compact design can go anywhere virtually unnoticed and when worn, it's so light and comfy…you may forget you're wearing it!  In fact, it's so light and comfy you'll forget you're wearing the darn thing! Batteries included.  Weight 90 g (3.2 oz).  Power source: 3 AAA batteries.  Burn time: 70 hours." List price: $29.95.

Omri appreciated the gift and says, "Recommended and given to me by Joe Shelton, I use the Black Diamond for about half a year. Truly, I cannot figure how I flew at night without it. The device is easy to wear and does not disturb at all. Easy to switch ON and OFF. Good lighting. I now use it also at home when I have to look deep into a closet or fix something inside the computer."


Other Options

A no-hands emergency light source seems a reasonable solution for a blacked out cockpit, so I was curious to find out if there were any other headlamps similar to the Moonlight.  A visit to a local sporting goods store and browsing through the camper supplies section showed a resounding affirmative.  Some, even simpler and lighter ... and some, less expensive.


StanSport … no LEDs

The least expensive headlamp on the shelf was a StanSport, item no. 158.   Price: $5.95 (batteries not included).  Although not LED, it deserved a further look.

The features sounded good: the reflector adjusts to point forward or down, there is an adjustable head strap, it is made of lightweight durable plastic, and is powered by four AA batteries. For $24 less than the Moonlight, it was worth a try. 

 But was it a bargain? 


There are no specs on the weight, but when those four batteries are installed and the StanSport is strapped to your forehead, it feels HEAVY.  It tips a kitchen scale at a hefty 6.6 oz.   With that weight, it is unwieldy, and the strap strains to hold the package firmly planted against your forehead.  The light is focused in a beam, like a flashlight … a spot that is intended for illuminating a trail in the distance.  It is not a broad beam floodlight that would be best for cockpit lighting. 

But it might fill the bill as a back-up taxi light, and would certainly be a useful addition to a tool chest.


Petzl Tikka … three LEDs

A smaller LED headlamp yet was found in the Petzl Tikka.  Made in France, this small wonder weighs just 70 g (2.45 oz), including its three AAA batteries.  It has three LED lamps and will burn for150 hours.  Price: $28.95.

Shown at right alongside the StanSport, one major advantage of the Tikka is the availability of a supplemental filter kit.  It includes a red glass cover which would be particularly useful for emergency cockpit lighting.  Its small size, light weight, and uncomplicated head strap seem ideal for cockpit use.


 Ac cording to Petzl, "the Tikka is an extremely lightweight and compact headlamp that is ideal for campers, climbers, and outdoor enthusiasts of all kinds. With a 150 hour burn time, it is ideal for activities requiring close-up illumination over extended periods of time, as it gives a very white light. A long life LED makes the Tikka reliable. ….. it's so light you won't even notice the weight. ….. Fresh batteries will supply a nice bright beam and gradually reduce in intensity, but you'll still be reading your favorite pulp-fiction 150 hours later."

Petzl also says, "The Petzl Tikka is currently being used by many in the US Military Special Forces Units due to its small size, long battery life, and durability."

Internet shopping turned up the Petzl Tikka at KarstSports, on sale for $26.95.  It was also one of the few places that carried the filter kit $3.50 additional.

Black Diamond Ion … two LEDs

Although not tried, there is an even smaller model.  A real featherweight, a mere 1 ounce, it is claimed to be " AAA…..the smallest headlamp in existence while providing adequate light for climbing and backcountry use. With two super bright LED's and a feather-weight adjustable headband, this lamp fits over a helmet, beanie, or hat. When placed in a shirt pocket or chalk bag, you'll forget you have it with you; however, once you see the ion in action, you'll never leave home without it. Runs on one 6 volt battery, included."  Good for 15 hours.

Price:  $19.95.


Should you have a headlamp?

As Bill Wenkman says,a flashlight may be essential to safe flight.  But with new LED technology, a headlamp might be even better.  There are plenty of choices.  Three are shown in this article and there are undoubtedly many more that will provide cool, broad beam lighting.  The choices covered here are:


  • Black Diamond Moonlight; 3.2 oz; burn time: 70 hours
  • Petzl Tikka, 2.45 oz; burn time: 150 hours; (red filter available)
  • Black Diamond Ion, 1 oz; burn time: 15 hours

If you already have a headlamp in your flight kit, or end up with one, or two, after reading this article, please let us know.  We'd like your opinion.


Born in Oregon just a few months after Lindbergh's epic flight to Paris, Glenn Plymate first took the controls of a Comanche in 1958. It was only a Piper demo flight but led to part ownership of a 250 Comanche two years later.   His education as an architect aided a career in airport planning and construction, airport management, project management, and international airline administration.   Now, back in Oregon, Glenn designed and built his personal launch pad, a hangar/home at the Independence Airpark, stocked with two Comanches, a single and a twin.


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