Red lights in the cockpit or cabin are there to protect your night vision - that critically important sense to achieve the very best outcome when scanning for objects on the horizon at night. But have you ever wondered just why the red lights achieve this? Read on...
The back of our eye, called the 'retina' detects light and allows us to 'see'. The retina is made of of 2 types of structures, cones and rods.
The cones are responsible for our normal daytime vision. Cones detect both the wavelength (color) and intensity (brightness) of light that goes into our eyes and passes that information to our brain.
The rods are responsible for our 'night adapted vision'. Rods do not detect wavelength (no color), but are very sensitive to intensity (brightness) of light. They pass on only shades of gray to our brain. They only work at very low light intensities (dim light), are most sensitive to light at about 500nm (turquoise/cyan), and are blind to red light (around 620nm).
If you are walking around under daylight and you see the world in a kaleidoscope of colors, you are using your cones to see with. If you are walking around under starlight and the whole landscape appears as shades of gray, you are using your rods to see with.
The last thing you really need to know about the rods is that it takes some time for them to work after moving from bright lights to a dim environment. Usually it takes about 15-30 minutes for them to work at 100%. However, even a fraction of a second of bright light will cause the clock to reset and you may have to wait another 15-30 minutes for your night vision to be back to 100%.
This is why it is very important to have a red light in your cabin to switch on when you wake for your next night watch. It will prevent you arriving in the cockpit temporarily blinded.
..................... Interesting mail from reader:
Sender: Graham Shelley-Jones
Message: A good article and interesting reading to those that want to know why? My comment is as a colour-blind person, relax, it is not contageous, who is often amused by these articles. Those of my 'affliction', and there are many, just sigh and wonder when the worlds designers will start to cater for 'us'? 'We' see the light spectrum differently and red is a real bastard when we are bombarded with it. 'We' are also not equally affected, and so there is more than one colour that affects our perceptions. Give me a blue, give me a black, give me a yellow, but please don't give me a red. Particlularly, please don't give me a mix of red/green/amber to sort out, unless it is in the familiar traffic light format. I am content to know that 'my lot', of colour-blind cohorts, are unique in some applications and professions. Did you know that 'we' were employed as Camouflage Spotters' during WWII, and that we make great colour inspectors in Panel Beating shops? It's OK girls, you can't catch it, as it is only the males that are afflicted.