What do airplane lights mean


Questions arise again and again about what points of light could have been that one saw. Of course it was always in the dark, the light points sometimes moved and sometimes not, sometimes they flashed and sometimes they didn't. Etc., etc.

The fact is that air traffic has increased enormously since 1990 and it continued to increase until the corona crisis in 2020. Be it the tourist bombers to Malle, be it the cargo planes that bring us the flowers, be it the scheduled flights, the business flights, the military flights, the private flights, etc. These planes of course earn their money in the sky - after all, they were ever built to to be in the sky. This means that the probability that we will see a plane is quite high - especially if you see such a point of light in the wider vicinity of an airport or airfield.

It depends on various factors, but you can roughly assume that the descent of an airliner jet begins approx. 150 - 200 km from the destination. This means that from there the lights get closer and closer and you can see these lights better and better. At a distance of approx. 50 - 60 km these can be seen quite clearly, and even more so, the closer the flight is to the airport.

There is also a map showing the flights on September 6, 2011 at Frankfurt Airport in westerly winds:

German air traffic control - STANLY_Track

You can see that the flights before and after the destination are very widely scattered and that a lot of people live under the flight movements. These are all sorts of planes with all sorts of variations of lights, sounds, and perspectives. So you can't assume that everything will look the same and there is a good chance that you will see a new plane traveling on a completely different route. The card does not even contain any special features, such as holdings, detours, etc.

Now you can of course assume a UFO (i.e. an unknown or unidentified) object when sighting a strange point. The question, however, is: is this realistic? Or should you first assume that it is a flight?

Of course, it can also be other objects, such as satellites, ISS, etc., but I have no idea about that. The users who understand something about this will certainly always report themselves in the forums. That's why I'll limit myself to what I have some experience - flying. And even if an answer is often not expected ("That couldn't have been a plane!"), A few comments:


If you read some of the postings in forums, you get the impression that people are very knowledgeable about aviation; just not us - those who specifically observe the planes and flight movements. A database with flight movements is apparently stored in the heads and when a sighting takes place, this database - ratter, ratter, ratter - is run through and compared with the sighting. The only problem is that this database consists of exactly one data set that contains:

  • Aircraft lights need to move, but not too fast and not too slow.
  • Airplanes are not allowed to fly curves, especially not sharp ones.
  • Aircraft sizes, distances and speeds can be estimated in the dark.
  • The flashing of the planes must be seen.

And with smokingun and xpq101 from the Allmystery forum (quote from smokingun: "to be able to analyze something you have to deal with the triangels."):

  • In order to be able to identify an aircraft, one must have studied ufology.
  • The statement that it could be an airplane must not be made before you have studied the literature from Kopp-Verlag and the Frontier Science Blogspot.
  • And anyway: an airplane must first be excluded.

From all airlines, airplanes, weather conditions, etc. there are countless combinations that you cannot know all of them. Or do you know what the tower ordered how an airplane should approach? Do you know whether this is a Boeing 737-800 or just a Falcon? Do you know what the lights of a 737-800 must look like in the constellation you have seen? For example, do you know that the lights on a 737 look very different from the front than from the back?

The illustration shows an example of a flight movement to show that it is not always flown in a straight line. Yes, that was a plane over Berlin that rapidly changed direction - several times.

OK, what to do in the event of a sighting? Immediate action:

If you have the opportunity to get on the Internet, go to flightradar24.com and look for your area. This page shows all aircraft that have a certain technology (ADS-B) at their disposal (also says that to the Conrebbi, who cannot even read the instructions on the radar pages). That's most of the airliners and freighters that are jets. Bear in mind that aircraft lights can also be visible and very bright at a distance of 50 km - so aircraft further away are also possible. If you have found a plane there that can be, click on it and you will see which flight it is.

Since some airlines also have propeller planes, not all of them are displayed. In this case you search with z. B. Google for the nearest airport and its website. All airports that are within a few tens of kilometers come into question. Then search the airports' websites for arrivals and departures and see if they contain a flight at that time. Note, however, that these times are not always accurate; there can be differences of a few minutes. And note that you do not use the planned times, but the current times.

Then there are still charter, private and military planes, etc. and it gets a little more difficult. About two days later you can go to the DFS flight history page - the flights are unfortunately displayed there with a delay and it is assumed that Java is installed on the PC. Select the appropriate airport and then on the right side "Start STANLY_TRACK". Then a dialog box appears in which you have to click that the file should be opened. The DFS little program is then downloaded and displayed a moment later. Now select the entry "Traces of flight" in the upper left corner. Now you can set the period of sighting (don't forget to activate "Approaches" and "Departures") and call up the flight tracks. When the program is finished, you can see the tracks and see if your sighting is there. If you click on a track, you can also see which flight it was.

Help in the forum

If you intend to turn to a forum with your sighting, a few facts are important. These are:

  • Date and time of sighting
  • Location and direction of view
  • Weather, if possible wind direction, clouds and thunderstorms in the vicinity
  • Flight direction (s)
  • steps already taken to clear the sighting
  • Uniformity of flight movement in terms of speed and direction

Expressly Not information on distance, size and specific speed is required. The reason is that this cannot be estimated, and certainly not in the dark, as there is no known object at the height of the object. If this information is given, it is completely irrelevant. Or can you tell which car it is and how fast it is based on the light point of a car 1000 m away?


Since you cannot estimate distances and speeds in the sky, especially in the dark, all possible movements can be visible.

Apparently, when an airplane is far away, it can make a very tight turn - the distance makes it. If it comes from the front, you can see a point of light that always seems to be in one place.

Incidentally, that was a SWISS aircraft approaching Berlin-Tegel Airport.

If the aircraft then flies a curve, it appears to be extremely fast due to the change in movement itself and due to the now visible lateral movement. If it seems to be flying vertically upwards quickly, it is a plane that has started in your direction - based on the perspective it looks like this.

It is only important whether the speed and / or the direction have changed at all, because this can be a demarcation to other objects, for example satellites and sky lanterns.

So an airplane cannot be ruled out if one does not like the movement.


Yes, airplanes usually blink and that is even regulated by law. At least these are red lights (Beacons or Red Anti Coll) or white lights (Strobes or White Anti Coll). The beacons were previously all-round lights, so that they can have a color gradient on photos, for example into yellow or white. In the future, however, these will also increasingly become strobes.

Then there are the position lights (actually navilights) - green and red. These do not have to flash, but can light up continuously.

OK, planes are blinking. But these "blinkers" are not intended for people on the ground, but as a warning or information for objects at the height of the aircraft - this is why these lights are sometimes only visible at a certain angle. Thus, these lights don't have to be seen, though

  • the perspective is unfavorable because of the angle,
  • it is slightly cloudy or the humidity is high up there,
  • the glaring light of front headlights outshines the light of the "indicators" (mostly from the front).

So an airplane cannot be ruled out if you cannot see the blinking.

Lights, lighting

First of all: Anyone who says that they recognized the triangular shape of a flying object in the dark that did not illuminate itself is lying. With the best will in the world, the shape of the object cannot be seen in the dark sky, but of course the lights. Now there are hundreds of different types of aircraft and just as many different arrangements of lights. Taxi lights, landing lights, logo lights, wing lights, etc. - everything is possible. And is there anyone who can tell the landing light of a Cessna XYZ from the landing light of a Boeing 747? Certainly no layman will be able to do this. The arrangement of the lights is therefore irrelevant for assessing whether it is an aircraft.

But one thing is certain: if you see a triangle, it is mostly about the arrangement of the lights. These result in the triangle and in the middle is often the red beacon, which in photos can sometimes turn into white or yellow or other colors. Since you can't see the shape of the object, I once placed a plane over the triangle in daylight and drew a possible arrangement of the lights. One possible arrangement - other variants are quite possible. On the Boeing 737, for example, you can see continuously glowing lights on the wing ends from certain perspectives.

And sometimes you read the special notice that the light suddenly disappeared or was slowly going out. What could that have been again now? Maybe the plane just made a curve so that you couldn't see the headlights pointing forward? Or was the plane just hiding in the clouds that there are in the sky every now and then? Or did the pilot have the nerve to simply switch off the lights after take-off without the observer's permission?


Planes make noises, that's for sure. But:

Since you cannot estimate distances in the sky, the plane can be quite far away. The lights can be clearly seen at a distance of one kilometer, but you don't necessarily hear the sound.

And even when the aircraft is quite close: Not every plane goes "full throttle" when approaching. If the landing gears are retracted (they make a lot of noise) and the plane flies in idle, it does not have to be heard.

By the way: Airplanes take off and land against the wind. So if an airplane flies in your direction in such a situation - where is the sound carried by the wind? Yes, away from you and not in your direction.

So if you don't hear anything, you can't rule out a plane because of it.

Flight directions

The object was flying in circles - no airplane does that? Not correct.

Preferably when approaching for landing, but also in other situations, the aircraft can fly in apparently pointless directions. Let's see why:

Wind direction

First of all, the wind direction is important, as aircraft (with a few exceptions) always take off and land against the wind. So if you take a look at the runway at your airport (e.g. on Google Maps), you already know where the planes come from in which wind and where they are going.

Important It should be noted, however, that not all aircraft stubbornly come from the West or the East, because they come from everywhere. In this case you have to turn somewhere in the direction of landing. If nothing special needs to be observed, this usually happens in an area of ​​approx. 20 km to 10 km before the start of the slope. In this area, it is generally to be expected that the aircraft will make more or less strong turns.

The course of the flight is even more noticeable if the plane comes from the opposite direction. If there is a westerly wind, the runway will land from east to west. However, if the plane comes from the west, it cannot go straight onto the runway (it must also fly in from the east), but first flies past the airport, then turns a 180 ° curve and then goes from east to west the runway to land.


Especially in the morning, at noon and in the evening there are sometimes a lot of approaches. Now the planes have to keep a certain distance so that these approaches are strictly coordinated. To do this, the planes have to "queue up" when landing, but sometimes that is not enough either. Because of this, they sometimes fly holdings or detours until they have room in line. It can also happen that the plane flies over the "pending" plane, then turns a 270 ° curve to line up behind.

These flight movements can of course appear a bit strange from below and you suddenly see an airplane where you don't see anything else - namely where the holding or the detour is.


The weather also plays a role in flight movements - but this does not mean the weather for the observer, but where the plane has to take a long time. For example, if there are thunderstorm cells on the way, the planes usually evade - and can therefore be observed in all possible places where there is no thunderstorm. If a runway is not cleared of snow, the plane has to wait in the air (holding) or fly somewhere else (alternate). This also applies in fog or other weather conditions in which landing is temporarily not possible.

That was it

These are just a few factors to consider when observing an airplane. It is not possible to name all of them, because everything can be combined in any way and there is still a lot missing here. So before you claim that it couldn't have been an airplane - first consider whether you have really excluded all possibilities (including those not mentioned here).

And now you may have some idea of ​​what we are checking in order to ultimately be able to write to you in a forum: It may or may not have been an airplane. Because we don't just write that it was a plane - no, we check all of the points mentioned here and more (for example also the times - there are also night flight bans). It usually takes more than a quarter of an hour - to be able to read: "No, but that couldn't have been an airplane!" * stomp *

However, one must also note: if we write that it could have been an airplane, it means that too. Whether a sky lantern came flying by chance or someone was flying an LED helicopter at this point or it was something technically new (and in this respect actually a UFO) - none of this can be said from a distance.The probability that it was an airplane is very high and nothing more. However, I would be pissed off here if I told someone that I had seen a UFO in the flight path to Tegel.

So let's go to the next sighting!

Examples of flight movements

Below are a few screenshots from the DFS STANLY_Track tool. The flight movements at selected airports on September 6, 2011 can be seen on these maps. At some airports you can see very well how large the areas are that are touched by the flight movements. And you can sometimes see clearly which curves the planes have to fly.

Source of the maps: Deutsche Flugsicherung - STANLY_Track.

Berlin-Tegel with west wind:

Berlin-Tegel with east wind:

Frankfurt with westerly winds:

Munich with west wind:

Hamburg with west wind:

Cologne-Bonn with west wind:

Düsseldorf with west wind:

Stuttgart with west wind:

Hanover with west wind:

Nuremberg with westerly winds:

Halle-Leipzig with west wind:

Dresden with west wind:

Salzburg with west wind: