Thursday, 6 October 2011

The Humble Neon Aircraft Obstruction Beacon

Spare a thought for the humble neon aircraft obstruction beacon. As seen on many a tall building, mast or crane the 12mm diameter coiled neon tube is not much larger than a modern domestic CFL bulb (compact fluorescent light) but thankfully produces enough light to warn off planes from some considerable distance.

Many of these bulbs were originally produced in the Oldham Claudgen factory in Wembley during the 1980's and early 1990's. Using a process known as electric bending, clear glass tubing was placed inside a metal braided sheath, which in turn was heated by passing an electrical current through it. Once the correct glass temperature was reached, the glass being maliable enough to bend, the whole thing was quickly wound onto a spiral former, where it would be annealed over a short period of time before being removed to be electroded and pumped.

The tubes were electroded using large shelled electrodes (120m/A plus) and neon resevoirs were added to enable the tubes to be run on a higher milliampage for a longer period of time.

Sadly now being replaced by the LED, this one war repaired by myself a while ago, a thing of beauty, now rarely seen.


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  2. Hi,
    what a super blog!!

    Can I mention that the beacons you have beautifully imaged above are in fact still in production and going strong. Yes there are LED alternatives but they fall short of the output of the neon ones. Also note:
    Neon consumption: 28W
    LED consumption: 38W (for the same output (ish) of lumens)

    but more importantly the LED units fail for Helicopter pilots at night, Pilots use night vision goggles and the LED units are invisible to NVG. making the neon the only option. A couple of manufacturers are working on LED units that output LEDs with visible light and also IR light by doubling up on LEDs but of cause this makes the beacons use twice as much power! So the Neon coil units are good for a few more years. I know all this because I am a former employee of Oldham Claudgen and I still make the neon coils and other neon beacons.


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