I miss my MX 991 u Fulton Flashlight Moonbeam (say that five times fast). Some of you probably do too, especially if you wore Woodland or Chocolate Chip. But the current evolution of the anglehead flashlight, the Streamlight Protac 90x, has forced me to put nostalgia aside.
Here’s the whole tactically melancholy story.
There was a time when the only possession I truly treasured was my Moonbeam. No, I’m not talking about the line of some Irish song from my childhood or the name of my favorite stuffed Panda in kindergarten; a Moonbeam was what we called a flashlight in the Marine Corps. You’ve seen the old anglehead Fulton flashlight I’m talking about, at least in movies.
Officially designated as the “FLASHLIGHT: Electric, Portable and Hand Lighting Equipment, 2-cell, w/ lamp and lens filter, w/o batteries, Type I Class A (21108) MX991-U” or the MX-99/U (NSN 6230-00-264-8261). The design was made official in 1961 but has roots going back to 1939. It is also known unofficially as the crooked-head flashlight or anglehead flashlight. I still call it a Moonbeam.
MX 991 u Fulton Flashlight “Moonbeam.”
MX 991 u Fulton Flashlight.
It may sound odd, but that’s one of the realities of Marine Corps Boot Camp. You’re allowed no knives, no guns, and nothing of personal attachment. Well, you kind of have a rifle, but it’s not exactly pocket friendly, not exactly yours, and there are too many rules around what you can or can’t do with it.
The Moonbeam could be stored in a cargo pocket, clipped to your web gear, or stowed in a pack. It was just something you always had with you when you needed it and beyond Boot Camp, it went everywhere with me in the Fleet.
Kus Indian Sut Asla Nicaragua (KISAN, “Nicarguan Coast Indian Unity) soldier rucked up and patrolling. Note the moonbeam flashlight in the traditional place on his A.L.I.C.E. harness “web gear.” KISAN was one of several factions in the Contra War. It was formed in the mid-80s to rally and organize the Miskito and other indigenous peoples against the predation of the Sandinistas.
For its time, it was an ingenious piece of gear.
Powered by two D-Cell batteries (BA-30 for you military-minded types), it had a standard PR type incandescent bulb, a belt/equipment clip, a tail cap lanyard ring, a multi-mode on/off/momentary (signaling) switch, and a tail cap with a storage compartment housing a spare bulb and multiple colored plastic lenses (blue, red and clear) for signaling purposes.
You learned about night vision and how to preserve your own by using the red lens or how to spot and track a blood trail by using the blue one. As a recruit at Parris Island, I learned I could read letters, books, my Guidebook for Marines, and pretty much anything else under the green woolen blanket by using the blue lens. When you walked fire watch, it was the only thing you had to defend the barracks if Libyan terrorists were going to come rushing in to attack your platoon of recruits. It was probably not as good as an empty M16A2
, but better than a broken stick or a wet carrot.
I may have officially retired my Moonbeam sometime after the first Gulf War. By then, flashlights running on small lithium batteries were the new standard. In the mid-1990s, I picked up one made by Streamlight
, and it became my constant companion.
MX 991 u Fulton Flashlight versus the Streamlight Protac 90x. What a size difference!
However, it didn’t seem as versatile as the Moonbeam. There were no colored filters, the batteries were somewhat expensive and hard to find, and hands-free options were very limited. A flashlight revolution was on the horizon with multiple offerings
from numerous companies. Weapon lights, LEDs, infrared filters, etc. were assaulting us from all sides. I started grabbing every light that came my way
, including custom models, but I never quite found my Moonbeam in any of them.
Then Streamlight did a thing.
They began producing a pocket-sized light with the head positioned at a 90-degree angle. The official name is the Streamlight ProTac 90X Right Angle Multi-Fuel Tactical Flashlight. Instead of D-Cells, it runs on CR123 batteries or an SL-B26 battery pack. It has a two-way clip, so you can carry it in your pocket, mount it on your MOLLE, or even clip it to a ball cap brim if need be. The light has low, medium, and high settings, plus a strobe feature.
These light settings are as follows:
High: 1,000-Lumen; 171m beam; runs 2.5 hours (CR123A); runs 1.75 hours (SL-B26 battery pack).
Medium: 300-Lumen; 91m beam; runs 4 hours (CR123A); runs 4.75 hours (SL-B26 battery pack).
Low: 65-Lumen; 42m beam; runs 21 hours (CR123A); runs 24 hours (SL-B26 battery pack).
Strobe: runs 2.5 hours (C123A); runs 3.5 hours (SL-B26 battery pack).
Settings like this are part of why my old Moonbeam ended up semi-retired. I don’t have a device for measuring Lumens or candlepower, but the most reliable numbers I could find on the world wide web gave the Moonbeam a reading of 18 Lumens. When comparing the two, that seems about right.
Now Lumens measurement is to lights as decibel ratings are to silencers. It’s a measurable unit, but it’s not the same as most units with which we are familiar such as horsepower, miles per hour, feet per second, or miles away.
While we can all agree that the 1,000 Lumens of the Streamlight clearly blows the 18 Lumens of the Moonbeam out of the water, does that make the Moonbeam obsolete? Not necessarily.
Let’s look at a real-world activity such as bicycling, hiking, or jogging for that matter. You need to get from point A to point B. There are two routes, one is five miles, and the other is 10. Mathematically, it sounds like the first route should be quicker. However, what if that route is mostly uphill whereas the second route is downhill or at least relatively flat? Theoretically, the longer route might be faster or at least more efficient. It’s the same with Lumens.
I’ve seen lights with more Lumens or Candlepower look less efficient because the light that did not register as high, had better focus, or made better use of what was available. Granted these were 1200 Lumens vs. 800 Lumens and certainly not 1000 vs.18, but I’ve seen similar disparities in real life.
In 2016 I took a lowlight course with LMS Defense.
At the time, I had a 400-500 Lumen light on my pistol but only a 125 Lumen light (Surefire M900
) on my rifle. I didn’t care, it was about 12 years old, and at that time, it retailed for close to $600. I was going to use it as long as I could.
So as the instructor went around asking us how many Lumens our lights were throwing, I heard 700, 900, 1200, 800, etc. When it came to me, I responded 125. Everyone was staring at me, and I expected to get laughed out of the course. Well, that didn’t happen. I went through the course and successfully completed it. As a matter of fact, in the final shoot house scenario, one of the students who had several thousand dollars in lights, night vision, etc., failed to complete the last segment because he could not distinguish his targets. I’ve since upgraded that weapon light to LED bulbs and can wring more Lumens out of it, but I probably didn’t need to.
The Streamlight Protac 90x with battery options. (Photo Credit: Streamlight)
Streamlight vs. Fulton Flashlight
Back to our modern Moonbeam comparison, the Streamlight
is superior to the Moonbeam in every way and has that nostalgia factor going for it. I would like to see a version without the strobe. To quote former Breach-Bang-Clear writer Dave Merrill, “strobe lights are only good for catching VD in a dance club”. I’ve never seen a real-world reason why I would need one in a handheld or weapon light. Maybe someone else does, but it’s not for me. No, I’d prefer a small lens kit with at least a blue filter or red for either looking for blood trails or covert reading. This is the only area where the Moonbeam excels.
As an EDC light, it’s quite handy. The activation button limits its use as a tactical light used with a firearm, but it can work in some situations like the FBI technique, which is more of a searching technique. As usable as the Moonbeam might have been, even the lowest setting on the Streamlight leaves it in the dust. Perhaps one day Streamlight or an ingenious small business may offer optional colored lenses or filters for this one. In the meantime, the old Moonbeam can sit with the battle axe and crossbow I was issued.
It’s a good program, and you’ll be supporting Breach-Bang-Clear when you join.