From the moon to the trash can - the Chromalloy 5 Year Light

ABTOMAT

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Time to do what the internet does best--needlessly detailed reviews of a pointless topic. Today we'll be talking about the ACR Model 101, better known as the Chromalloy 5 Year Light. Thanks to Bambuino for bringing this completely forgotten flashlight into the spotlight: https://www.candlepowerforums.com/threads/my-first-flashlight-intrigue.481520/

Some background before we begin: ACR Electronics has been a leading maker of marine emergency strobes and EPIRBs for a long time. No surprise NASA tapped them to make flashlights for the early space program, back before high quality pocket lights were a thing. They created a few models, probably the best known one being a brass light made for Apollo and used through the '80s. All the lights were conceptually similar to what we're familiar with today. Basically, an AA-sized, all-machined, rotary switch flashlight. (These two photos credit to the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum)

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Another part of these programs was creating shelf-stable battery technology. This is what they decided to rely on to take advantage of the moon landings' popularity and sell a flashlight to consumers. They created a very unique, compact disposable flashlight based around a long-life dry cell battery--The 5 Year Light. Unfortunately low quality, too, despite the NASA association. Think stuff sold through a novelty catalog like Sharper Image or Harriet Carter. Book description:

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The lights are in nice presentation-type boxes with a small owner's sheet. What appears be the earlier box references the moon landings. The later one doesn't, possibly because the space race became old news even during the later Apollo missions. Our example has a $6 price tag from the Miller & Rhoads department store. In context, that's almost five times the price of a "Heavy Duty" 2D-cell plastic flashlight from Radio Shack in 1978, but less than half the cost of the smallest contemporary Kel-Lite (keep in mind police flashlights back then were the only "high end" flashlights available, and all had Surefire-tier pricing.)

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Next we'll take a deep dive into the construction and operation.

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ABTOMAT

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The owner's manual has a short description, almost no operating instructions, and the usual warranty information. You'll notice there's nothing about replacing the battery or bulb. This light was designed to be disposable, as we'll see later, although it can be serviced with some effort.

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The flashlight itself is approximately 3.5x2" and made entirely out of molded plastic, I think polystyrene, with a silver painted or metalized finish. It weighs more than you'd expect but at 6oz not exactly heavy. The lens is thin plastic. One "feature" I'd never seen before is the operating instructions printed on the lens itself. The tail end of the flashlight has a similar message along with the manufacturer's information. As it says, the head rotates a fraction of a turn counter-clockwise to turn on the light. The only other external features are two small black plastic squares visible on either side of the grooved head.

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Up next we'll do a teardown and get into what makes it tick.

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chillinn

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NASA Technical Reports Server said:
Called the Five Year Light, it has a shelf life at least that long because there is no power drain on the batteries when the flashlight is not in use.

Very neat and handsome light. Reminds a little me of the 1D Flashlight Kit by Maratac. But the description is a little confusing. What incan flashlights put a power drain on the batteries when not in use?


NASA Technical Reports Server said:
Reliability was designed into the flashlight by means of a unique switch. Instead of the customary thumb-button, the Five Year Light is turned on by rotating its collar to make contact with the battery terminal; the turning motion wipes away any corrosion that might be present and makes contact virtually certain.

That'd be a neat trick.
 

ABTOMAT

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Very neat and handsome light. Reminds a little me of the 1D Flashlight Kit by Maratac. But the description is a little confusing. What incan flashlights put a power drain on the batteries when not in use?




That'd be a neat trick.

I think the marketing department got a little creative. Both about the battery and the switch. I'll get into that later but neither claim seems to be accurate. Although I would assume the battery was designed not to deteriorate the way normal dry cells do.

Where'd you get one of them there reproductions?

Dive light maker Barbolight (or whatever still exists--didn't they shut down?) occasionally makes production runs. Been meaning to pick up a used one for a while. Sold new through https://lunareplicas.com/products/apollo-penlight-flight-gear-flashlight
 
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ABTOMAT

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This light wasn't designed to be taken apart but it can be with effort. The head is snapped over the two square black studs. Some careful prying pops it off and you can start to see the internal mechanism.

A spring-loaded tan plastic carrier holds the reflector. The two black studs run in cam tracks on either side, like a camera zoom lens if you've ever taken one apart. When the light's fully assembled, rotating the head moves the black studs in the tracks and retracts the carrier a fraction of an inch. Or it should--these lights were stuck as I got them from lack of lube. A little grease got this working again when I reassembled it.

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Rotating the studs a quater turn lets you remove them and then the reflector carrier will pop out on its spring. The reflector is a normal metal type with a threaded bulb holder. The bulb itself is a PR base, but it's an uncommon PR8 model. 1.9v, 1.14w.

Now you can see how it functions. The large spring behind the reflector forms the positive connection (we'd call this a positive ground system if this were a car) to the outer metal rim of the battery. The bulb itself is the negative connection to the center battery teriminal. When the carrier retracts into the light, the bulb contact touches the battery and completes the circuit. There's no wiping action of any kind--the article in my first post may have been talking about a feature of the original NASA lights that didn't carry over to this.

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Next up, the battery and final thoughts.

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ABTOMAT

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The battery is like a fatter D-cell and has a positive outer casing. It's actually glued into the plastic body of the flashlight--took some pounding to get out. It doesn't seem to have any current carrying capacity left, and it won't light the bulb, but if you put a load on it the measured voltage will go up the longer it's attatched. Seems to stabilize around 2v. Other than minor surface corrosion there's no sign of leakage, so it held up with time as intended.

The light was reassembled without any further damage and isn't much worse for wear. Theoretically you could replace the battery and get it going again, but other than novelty I'm not sure this light has much to offer.

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So what do I think of it? It's a very interesting story and a very unique design. It's also wasted on a disposable flashlight that's too complex to be cheap and too flimsy to be worth the money. Back in the '70s I'd rather have a plastic D-cell flashlight and a pack of spare batteries for my $6 than this thing. Or if I was a devoted flashaholic like Elvis (really--look it up) I'd save my pennies and buy one of the police flashlights available back then.

That's all folks. I kinda wrote this as a joke, since no one needs an in-depth review of anything like this, but hopefully someone can use the info in the future. And I'll be getting back to writing about flashlights I actually care about, speaking of vintage police flashlights.
 
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bykfixer

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John 3:16
Bravo.
Sounds like a pretty cool flashlight. Nothing to lose sleep over if the eBay search comes up empty but still nice to read about it's details.

And glad to see it landed in the collector section. ;) Thanks Mr Ed for that.
 

clockwork

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Fun Fact: Flashlight technology has come far enough that 5 years of continuouse "usable" light is possible. With the capacity of a D cell (18Ah alkaline) and using 2 in series to get the 3V needed for an led, you could drive it at 0.4 mA for 5 years. That courrent should give you 0.2 to 0.4 lm, which cis bright enough to see in an othervise completly dark, smaller room.
 
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