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Why is it called a "pilot light"?

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  • Why is it called a "pilot light"?

    To me a "pilot light" is a small flame (like on a gas water heater) that helps with ignition. I refer to the "On/Off" light as an "Indicator Light".

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  • #2
    Maybe you mean pilot lamp?
    - Own Opinions Only -

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    • #3
      I convinced myself that PL originally was an abbreviation for "panel lamp", from way back in the golden days of relays and cam sequencers. I catch myself calling them pilots lights more often than not, although I guess the word 'pilot' can have the definition of an indicator function?
      If it still won't get loud enough, it's probably broken. - Steve Conner
      If the thing works, stop fixing it. - Enzo
      We need more chaos in music, in art... I'm here to make it. - Justin Thomas
      MANY things in human experience can be easily differentiated, yet *impossible* to express as a measurement. - Juan Fahey

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      • #4
        I call it a power indicator or power lamp. Never a pilot light.
        Experience is something you get, just after you really needed it.

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        • #5
          Why is the flame on a water heater called a pilot light? It doesn't fly, or act as a guide. Things are given names that make no sense.

          Fun fact: the term "sky pilot" predates human flight and was used for preachers or missionaries because they would guide you to heaven, or something.

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          • #6
            Originally posted by glebert View Post
            Why is the flame on a water heater called a pilot light? It doesn't fly, or act as a guide. Things are given names that make no sense.
            One of the definitions for pilot is 'representative form or pattern', so in that makes a bit more sense for the flame, serving to light the bigger flame. Had to dig a bit for that one, new usage for me. I guess 'pilot episode' for tv is similar, had never thought about that one either.
            "Everything is better with a tube. I have a customer with an all-tube pacemaker. His heartbeat is steady, reassuring and dependable, not like a modern heartbeat. And if it goes wrong he can fix it himself. You can't do that with SMD." - Mick Bailey

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            • #7
              pilot lamp

              noun

              an electric lamp, used in association with a control, which by means of position or color indicates the functioning of the control; an indicator light or a control light.
              If it ain't broke I'll fix it until it is...

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              • #8
                I'm just glad you guys are finally confronting this issue head on
                If I have a 50% chance of guessing the right answer, I guess wrong 80% of the time.

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                • #9
                  I have been electronicing for 65 years or so, and it has always been "pilot light" to me.

                  I am as guilty as anyone of calling lamps "bulbs." But what we call a bulb is a "lamp". The fixture with a bulb in it is a light. On the panel of an amplifier, the pilot lamp is inside the pilot light.

                  "Bulb"? That is the glass part of a lamp.
                  Education is what you're left with after you have forgotten what you have learned.

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                  • #10
                    Here it´s "lámpara piloto", literally "pilot lamp" since forever.
                    An "indicator" is a needle pointing at something significative, say a clock hand, or a ship relay panel.

                    Which is not a coil pulling contacts by any means but:

                    Click image for larger version

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                    Juan Manuel Fahey

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                    • #11
                      Originally posted by galaxiex View Post
                      pilot lamp

                      noun

                      an electric lamp, used in association with a control, which by means of position or color indicates the functioning of the control; an indicator light or a control light.
                      So the channel, crunch, and reverb lights are ALL pilot lights. That'll simplify things
                      Experience is something you get, just after you really needed it.

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                      • #12
                        True.
                        Juan Manuel Fahey

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                        • #13
                          And of course we all know that a "relay" is not a coil and contacts, but as a verb - the act of getting something somewhere else - and as a noun - the thing that gets something somewhere else - like a relay race.

                          Which fits the shipboard context perfectly:
                          captain "ahead full"
                          helm "ahead full, aye" - pulls the relay control to ahead full
                          the relay in the engine room indicates ahead full, the bell dings.
                          the engineer shouts "ahead full!" (engine room very noisy)
                          the boiler tech/engineman/reactor operator shouts back "ahead full, aye" - pulls lever/turns knob/moves slider
                          the equipment responds.

                          and then the message returns via the same relays from the engine room to the captain "all ahead full"

                          relay races for everybody!!
                          Last edited by eschertron; 10-17-2020, 10:52 PM.
                          If it still won't get loud enough, it's probably broken. - Steve Conner
                          If the thing works, stop fixing it. - Enzo
                          We need more chaos in music, in art... I'm here to make it. - Justin Thomas
                          MANY things in human experience can be easily differentiated, yet *impossible* to express as a measurement. - Juan Fahey

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                          • #14
                            And "clams". used to just mean seafood, but... "I had to pay the guy a hundred clams."
                            Education is what you're left with after you have forgotten what you have learned.

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