ATLANTA— Founded by the late physicist and entrepreneur Alfred Mann in 1956–a year before the Soviet Sputnik launch, Spectrolab has focused its business on solar space cell research and production of such cells for powering NASA and other satellites and space systems. That research migrated into the realm of high power search lights for rotor craft, and 4,000 such Spectrolab lights are now in the field–70 percent domestically and 30 percent internationally, Anthony Mueller, the president of Spectrolab, said in an interview here during Helicopter Association International’s Heli-Expo 2019.

In recent years, the domestic/international market has moved more toward a 50-50 split, as domestic users find that they can use lights for a longer than envisioned period and as market opportunities emerge in Europe and Asia, Mueller said.

Spectrolab, based in Sylmar, Calif., near San Diego, became a Boeing [BA] subsidiary in 2000 after Boeing’s purchase of the Hughes Electronics Corporation’s space and communications business unit.

Of the Spectrolab search lights in military use, many, while meeting military standards, were not fully MIL-SPEC but were granted waivers for use, Mueller said. At Heli-Expo, Spectrolab unveiled two new search lights, the Nightsun® XPM IR LED 1600 watt search light–one with a 30 million candle power–and the Par-46/SLL 46-200 search landing light that Spectrolab says has a lamp with full range of motion when the helicopter is moving up to 200 kt.

A CH-47 night sling-load operation in Afghanistan in May, 2013. The Chinook tested a new Spectrolab search light last year.
A CH-47 night sling-load operation in Afghanistan in May, 2013. The Chinook tested a new Spectrolab search light last year. (Spectrolab)

per hour. Both lights have infrared and white light capability.

“This has been a huge investment,” Mueller said of the search lights. “It’s the most extensive testing for rotor craft search lights that we’ve done.”

Both are now MIL-SPEC, and the Nightsun® XPM IR LED tested out on the Boeing CH-47 Chinook last year, according to Spectrolab. “MIL-SPEC is a game changer for us,” Mueller said. “These two new products say we’re fully qualified at the robust military requirements level.”

The paces included vibration, electromagnetic interference/electromagnetic compatibility (EMI/EMC), and poor weather testing under hail and ice conditions, Mueller said.

Spectrolab “got good feedback from the pilots” in the Chinook testing, he said.

The new search lights use additive manufacturing and are designed for high reliability and less maintenance, according to Spectrolab. The lights also have fewer parts. While the Nightsun® XPM IR LED still has hundreds of parts, the new light has 20 percent fewer parts than previous models, Mueller said.