Green,white ,red lights on passenger jets

I have noticed that passenger jets aproaching airports have three distinctive lights on wings and on fuselage turned on ,Green ,white and red ,Italian flag has also green ,white and red colours .Are those jets flying from Italy?What gives?

Nothing to do with Italy. Green indicates starboard and red indicates port, as on a ship, so the lights tell you which way the plane is pointing and therefore which way it is travelling.

Nothing to do with Italy.

It’s like the navigation lights on ships; red on the left, white in the middle, green on the right. When you can only see the lights, and not the plane itself, which colors you see can tell you which way the plane is oriented. Every plane I remember seeing had the red and green lights on the wingtips, but there may be exceptions.

I’m sure there’s quite a lot more (certain lights are not turned on while taxiing, angles of view for the different lights, etc.) if you’re interested.

I was about to say…like a ship. But I see I’m following the leader here. So, I’ll just add this. Port is the left side if that’s any help. :wink:

Thanks guys ,I suspected something is wrong with my theory, what would be we doing with so many Italians?

Here’s how you can remember which colour is which:

Port (the wine) is red, so port (the side) is also red. Starboard…well…starboard is the one that’s not port ;).

port = left
they both have four letters in them



All the longer words go together.

The only exceptions are aircraft that don’t have lights at all, of which there are a few. Such aircraft can only be flown in daylight hours, and are typically very small, of the one and two seat variety. If there are lights they follow the standard pattern.

In addition, aircraft typically have a rotating beacon and accessories such as landing and taxi lights. But the wing lights will always follow the green-right, red-left pattern.

Note I did say “aircraft” - not just airplanes but helicoptors and everything else have the same right-green, left-red lighting scheme.

Yes, although helicopters actually have the lights on the rotor tips. They have both a red and a green light. The lights turn off or on depending on which side of the helicopter the blade is on at the time.


Nice one, 1920s Style “Death Ray”. :stuck_out_tongue:

In addition to the position lights (the white one is at the rear of the aircraft, BTW) and the rotating beacon, many aircraft have strobes on the wingtips so that they can be seen more easily at a distance. Some “rotating beacons” don’t rotate, but just turn on and off.

Someone may wonder why the starboard light is green and the port light is red and the tail light is white. It’s so you can tell what the aircraft is doing at night.

“Red, right, returning”. If you see a red and a green light in front of you and the red light is on the right, then the aircraft (or ship, for that matter) is headed toward you.

If you see a red light to port, a green light to starboard and a white light in the middle, the aircraft (or ship) is headed away from you.

A green light and a white light indicates the aircraft is crossing your path from left to right, and a red and a white light shows the aircraft is going right to left.

A white light with the red and green lights waaaay off to the sides means that you’re too damned close to the aircraft in front of you. :wink:

All of which explains why they don’t let colour-blind people like me become pilots. :wink:

Here’s my little memory devide I figured out in flight school: I can write with my right hand, so I give that side a green light. I can’t write with my left, so the red light goes over there.

Don’t EVEN ask about the landing light signals from airport towers, however. :confused:

Actually, some of us pilots are colorblind… and fly nonetheless. Even at night. (I’ve agreed to call what they use on starboard “green”, and the FAA has agreed to let me fly as long as I stick to that story :slight_smile: )

How bad is your problem with seeing color?


Just looked at your location again - Northumbria is England, isn’t it? Nevermind… different rules may apply.

Although it’s not unknown for Europeans to take prolonged vacations in the US to obtain a pilot’s license… A little more difficult these days, post 9/11, though

A mnemonic taught when I was learning to sail was “There’s a little red port left in the bottle”. (ie red = port = left)

So why is the white light at the rear of the aircraft? Seems to me it would make more sense for it to be at the front, like headlights on cars. If you see a white light, whether it be the running lights or landing lights or whatever, you’d know the aircraft was coming toward you.

But if you see a red light on your right, and a green light on your left, you know the other plane is heading right towards you. A white light indicates nothing to worry about. (Unless you’re in an insanely fast aircraft or something.)

Controllers and other pilots need to be able to see the aircraft and know the direction of its flight even if it is not coming towards them. Hence a light which was only visible from the front of the airplane would not be a good solution.

The white light is at the rear, on tope of the tailplane, so that it is visible from all angles. If it were anywhere else, then from some angles it would be obscured by the tailplane. Of the three lights, it is the brightest (because the filters which colour the red and green lights also reduce their intensity), so obscuring it from any angle would not be a good idea.

At is simplest, it works like this. A strong white light maximises the chance that you will see the plane, no matter which way it is going or where you are in relation to it. The red and green lights then give you information about the direction of travel.

Actually the white light is not meant to be visible from all directions and it is not necessarily at the top of the tail. On many aircraft it is on the very rear of the fuselage. It is designed to be visible from behind only. The position lights (the green, red, and white ones) are not supposed to be bright enough to attract your eyes to the aircraft, the rotating beacon, or strobe lights do that job. The coloured lights are just supposed to provide guidance as to your position relative to the aircraft and by extention, your probability of colliding with it.

The OP is probably seeing landing lights rather than the white position light anyway.

I’d suspect that it’s not on the front because that is not a practical place to put a light on a single engine propeller aircraft. Many forward facing lights on aircraft such as landing and taxi lights are actually on the landing gear so they are not visible when the gear is retracted. Having the light at the back makes sense because the vast majority of aircraft have some space at the back to put a light.