#TBT: Mega Smart Lights

The AN/TVS-3: for when you need a billion candlepower.

Reports vary on whether this crazy business can hit 800 million or 1.2 billion candlepower, so let’s call it an even billion. With liquid and air cooling, the behemoth was designed to sit on hills and illuminate tank battles from up to 10 miles away. Later, these were used by NASA to illuminate launch sites, such as the Apollo rockets at Kennedy Space Center. Meet my new friends, Larry and Bert.

These are owned by Neal Strickberger, and I visited his workshop a couple times with Andy, who’s helping rebuild the azimuth drive. (More on that later.)

Each is powered by a xenon arc bulb. According to Wikipedia, the first practical electric light was invented in the early 1800s by Sir Humphry Davy, and consisted of a carbon arc light — electricity arcing through the air between two carbon electrodes, a.k.a. sticks of charcoal. For some time, carbon arc lights were sold as predecessors to SAD lamps: substitutes for natural sunlight, to improve health. They are still used to simulate sunlight in “accelerated aging” machines for testing materials.

Here is what that looks like.

Neal has been souping these up with Raspberry Pi controls—which I hope to see more of—and fixing the arc and azimuth drives (which control vertical and horizontal movement, respectively). They’re pretty speedy!

Bert and Larry emit vast quantities of radiation across a broad spectrum band, which can mess with a quadcopter’s comms and drop it out of the sky. Within the beam, instant blindness is a given; sunburn is a strong possibility. (The beams reportedly contain dangerous levels of UV rays and ozone.)

To handle the immense power coursing through these things, they use liquid and/or air cooling systems. A third searchlight had its rear panel open, showing some of this, the first time I visited. It had a neat diagram on the inside. I know you want to see…

Neal also features in a post by Brett Peabody; they met on an online forum for candlepower fanatics, and Brett has much more cool info and stories about these things. For example: “Apparently, AN-TVS-3 reflectors are highly desirable because they are plated with Rhodium, a very rare and expensive metal that is much more durable and much more efficient than chrome. Unable to get such a reflector anywhere else in the civilian world, the physicist took the AN-TVS-3 reflector and used it to conduct some groundbreaking superconductor research. That physicist, Paul Chu, went on to win a Nobel Prize.”


In case you can’t fully believe this, I invite you to examine the original US Government report. Be sure to take a look at Brett’s post, which includes tons of beautiful action shots. And, because I am a conscientious internet citizen: your Cat Tax.

DIY robots, music, EEG, wearables, languages. FIRST alumna. Hardware Nerd @hacksterio. She/her