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Affordable DIY: Hands-Free Flashlight

The available selection for both preflight inspection and in-flight use leaves a night-flying pilot wanting more.

This DIY neck light frees your hands for the checklist and other tasks. [photo courtesy Frank Ayers]

I don’t know about you, but I have been less than happy with the flashlights available to pilots. I really enjoy flying at night, but the selection for both preflight inspection and in-flight use leaves me wanting more.

Top of the list is the GI-issue, 90-degree D-cell flashlight, complete with replaceable red and blue filters. However, these are a bit heavy, require a strap to clip to, and replacing the filters is a bit clumsy.  The heavy metal Maglites, all the rage a few years ago, are very bright, very strong, and perfect for self-defense, as well as illumination. However, Maglites, like so many others, require one hand to hold them while juggling checklists, baggage doors, and flight controls with the other.

Then, there are the myriad of available LED lights. Most have the same problem. Lighter than the Maglite, they still leave the pilot one-handed. The only solution to these problems is the Cyclops light. You know, the LEDs that strap to your forehead. These are effective, less than comfortable, and hardly a style statement. 

Then one day, while cruising the local hardware store (my favorite errand!), I came across a wonderful little product. For the princely sum of around $20, I picked up an LED work light that you hang around your neck. This nifty little product features a flexible neck strap that connects two LED mini-lights, each powered by an AA battery. Each light has both low and bright settings, and each can be independently positioned up or down through approximately 45 degrees. It looks like these are manufactured by one or two companies and then branded in different colors along with many of the popular tool brands. 


Eager to try my new light, I went out for a night flight, and voilà, during preflight the two lights illuminated the airplane, leaving hands free to hold the checklist and open the required panels and doors. However, once I jumped in the airplane, the white light was simply too bright and took a toll on my night vision. So, what was I to do? 

All it takes is a trip to the local auto parts store to turn a white light into a red one. [photo: Frank Ayers]
A trip to the local auto parts store (my second favorite errand!) produced a roll of translucent tail light tape for about $5. This self-adhesive red tape is meant to repair tail lights, and the adhesive is designed to stand up to the rigors of heat, cold, snow, and rain on the back of your automobile. Add a pair of scissors to cut a couple of three-quarter-inch red squares and tape over one of the lenses, and the night vision problem is solved. I use both the white and red lights for preflight and the red light for inside the cabin.

Red tape dramatically softens the light to help preserve your night vision. [photo: Frank Ayers]
The two-level light settings are really helpful, and the red tape dramatically softens the interior light. Now, when I fly at night, I just place the light around my neck, ready for use at a moment’s notice. The light is comfortable and easy to use. Total cost: $25. Better light, hands-free, and night vision preserved. Priceless! 


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