• GTW Author

Strobes – removing the confusion

The phenomenon of dizziness and confusion in helicopter pilots back in the 1950s is being utilised in flashlight technology to bring about a more positive application.

Dr Bucha discovered that rotating helicopter blades can create a strobing effect with sunlight. Surviving crews in the 1950s reported that they experienced dizziness and disorientation when looking up at the sky through spinning rotors just before the crash, sometimes causing pilots to lose control with catastrophic outcomes. This has become known as the Bucha Effect.

There have been many claims relating to the benefits of utilising this effect with tactical strobe lights including the disorientation of suspects and reducing their night vision adaptation. A flashing light can disrupt the subjects’ vision, psychologically diminishing aggressive behaviour and the ability to use force. These combined factors can induce fear in that person and give you the upper hand at a key moment in time.

A suspect startled with strobe light will immediately become preoccupied with their compromised situation and feel very uncomfortable, taking their mind off any attempt of aggressive behaviour or escape and will find it difficult to assess what number of people they’re up against. This inevitably allows you to have more control of the situation.

The benefit of strobes doesn’t end there...

Two types of strobe function

1. Signalling:

Used by many markets for different types of signalling including search and rescue, landing zones, marking vehicles, communication – person to person, IFF (International Friend or Foe) and as a location indicator. This type has a slower steady blink rate which increases run time.

Some Streamlight products with signalling features: Sidewinder, Survivor LED, Vulcan LED, Knucklehead Siege series.

2. Disorienting/Debilitating/High Visibility:

These are mostly used by law enforcement and military in many types of tactical situations due to the very fast blink rate.

The high rate of this type of strobe can cause disorientation, nausea, vomiting, loss of depth perception, general irritability, in extreme cases seizures and can be debilitating.

Some Streamlight products with this type of strobe are: Stinger LEDs, Strion LEDs, TLR models (-S, HL, HPL), X-Series Tac lights, ProTacs,

and PolyTac 90.

Key Points for tactical use:

- Very effective on most people (animals too) initially but be aware that some people are unaffected by the strobe. A strobe can be a useful tool to gain space and time – for instance, to move away from a confrontational situation, or to move yourself or other personnel into a superior tactical position.

- If you use a strobe in a confined space like a small bedroom or a bathroom for example, be aware that you are obviously in the room too, so you need to consider how the strobe will affect you.

- A critical feature of strobes is that the light itself is off almost as much as it is on (depending on the cycle/flash rate the light is programmed/set to when manufactured) and this can cause issues in a fast and critical ‘shoot versus no shoot’ type of situation. When the strobe light is off, i.e. between blinks, your brain will try to fill in what the eye can’t see at those moments in time. It will also take longer for you to positively identify objects or slow movements with a strobing light versus a light that is providing a constant source of illumination.

- Consider flashlight products that have a tactical strobe feature which can quickly and easily be programmed in or out of the lights.


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