Let There Be Light
New technology for instrument panel lighting
BY PETER LERT
CHECK OUT THE PANEL of just about any general aviation airplane at
night, and you’re likely to see some instruments too bright, others
too dim, and—in more than a few planes—some altogether dark.
Check out the dashboard of even an inexpensive modern subcom-pact car at night, and you’re likely to see all the gauges softly and
evenly illuminated, often in interesting and attractive colors. What’s
wrong with this picture?
Until not too many years ago, there weren’t many choices avail-
able for panel lighting. Military-type floodlights or “eyebrow” lights
for individual instruments (both usually red) were often available as
surplus, but they use considerable power, create quite a bit of heat,
and their bulbs tend to burn out just when you need them most.
Beginning in the 1960s these were often replaced by “post” lights,
which replace one or two instrument
mounting screws and are available in red,
white, or green—but which are subject to the
same power, heat, and reliability issues.
Moreover, new ones are pricey—around $40
each, which could mean $80 for each 3-inch
instrument if you want even illumination—
and a panel studded with post lights won’t
be kind to your face in a crash.
LEDS TO THE RESCUE
Beginning a decade or so ago, LEDs became
common and cheap, and it wasn’t long
wrapped with very
fine copper wire
Clear protective sleeve
Colored PVC sleeve