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Quartz
10-21-2006, 05:04 PM
Since I'm not at work and thus able to ask those who really know, and further, my curiosity is aroused, why do most aeroplanes default to a white colour scheme? I've just been watching Angel Down and it occurred to me that a non-natural colour - like red - might stand out more.

Johnny L.A.
10-21-2006, 05:07 PM
it occurred to me that a non-natural colour - like red - might stand out more.
I don't have a cite, but I remember reading several years ago that verious colours were tested for visibility. I don't remember when the study took place, but ISTR it was fairly recently. Some people assumed bright red or bright yellow would stand out best against the sky, but white turned out to be the most visible. I'll have to poke around to see if I can find any documentation, unless someone else would like to have a go.

Johnny L.A.
10-21-2006, 05:20 PM
Oh -- Why paint them white to begin with, even before tests were made?

First, although I said a minute ago that the test I read about was fairly recent, I don't actually know if the test itself was. The article I read was within the last ten or 15 years. And who's to say that similar tests had not been conducted earlier? Anyway...

Airplanes were not always white. The Piper J-3 Cub was famously painted yellow -- 'Cub Yellow'. I'm no expert on early civilian aircraft, so I can't say what colour most of them were back in the '20s and '30s. The 'Staggerwing Beech' was often bright red or bright yellow. However with the coming of all-metal aircraft many of them were natural aluminum. Take a look at a 1947 Beechcraft Bonanza and there's a good chance it will be painted in its original scheme: natural aluminum with a red stripe. Many Cessnas in the 1950s were natural aluminum with a contrasting stripe.

I think that paint -- or the lack thereof -- had to do with 'modernity'. In early-WWII combat aircraft were painted olive drab or camouflaged. It was found that leaving off a couple hundred pounds of paint allowed bombers to fly faster. 'Speed is life.' In the 1950s military jets were commonly natural aluminum. I suspect that civilian aircraft followed suit. 'Look! It's silver, just like an F-86!' Besides, it saved the cost of painting and also a little weight.

And I think that manufacturers may have started painting aircraft again not only to protect the metal, but also to make them look more 'modern'. Who wants to fly a '50s-looking plane in the 60s? (ISTM that USAF aircraft in the late-'50s and '60s were generally painted white. Navy aircraft were commonly painted dark blue in the '50s and gull grey in the '60s.)

All of that is WAG-ing. To guess further, I think that it's cheaper to paint the whole aircraft white and then add contrasting graphics than it is to paint the whole aircraft in a choice of colours.

Argent Towers
10-21-2006, 05:25 PM
I've seen a good number of airliners in dark blue, or blue with red trim. They're really nice looking.

Johnny L.A.
10-21-2006, 05:29 PM
Here is a forum (http://www.airtalk.org/why-are-airplanes-white-vt34884.html) where someone asks the question.

mks57
10-21-2006, 06:20 PM
I'd guess corrosion protection and reduced solar radiation absorption.

Sam Stone
10-21-2006, 06:24 PM
There are a few reasons:

1. Weight. Some pigments are heavy, as they are generally made from metal oxides. As I recall, red paint is the heaviest. I think the pigment makes up somewhere around 20% of the weight of the paint. I doubt this matters much on a small aircraft like a Cessna 172, where the entire paint job weighs maybe 50lbs, but it can make a difference on larger planes. A paint job on a large jet can weigh over 1,000 lbs. American Airlines doesn't even paint their airplanes, and they claim the weight reduction results in significant savings in fuel.

2. Resistence to fading. Airplanes spend much of their time outdoors. Dark colors tend to fade more visibly than white. Old white paint jobs look a lot better than old blue or red ones.

3. Heat. Darker colors heat the structure up more, causing more thermal expansion and heating up occupants, avionics, etc. White means fewer thermal gradients, which is probably better for the airframe over time.

4. Heat again. Composite aircraft are almost always white, because composite materials break down under heat. If a composite aircraft is a color other than white, it will be another very light color like pale yellow or something.

5. Tradition. For all these reasons, white has become a standard color, so people tend to default to it.

Exapno Mapcase
10-21-2006, 07:05 PM
However, there are many examples of colorfully painted airlines.

Perhaps most famous was Braniff (http://www.braniffinternational.org/), which was so associated with colored planes that the history site is called the "Braniff Flying Colors Historical Site."

Adwoman Mary Wells help create the transformation:

she initiated Braniff's "end of the plain plane" campaign, decking its jetliners out in seven different pastel shades (including orange, turquoise and ochre). She commissioned Alexander Girard to dress up the planes' interiors and Italian designer Pucci to create exotic new stewardess wardrobes. Competitors jeered, dubbing Braniff the "Easter-egg airline." But Braniff quickly became the fastest growing line in the industry; in the first six months of 1966, sales soared 41 percent and profits 114 percent. "We probably couldn't have done it," Braniff president Harding Lawrence says, "without the 'new look' campaign."

Her autobiography as one of the few and first major women in the advertising business is a fascinating one, BTW.

Many other airlines have relied on colored planes before and after. But it is an expense, and the days when air travel was glamorous are long gone.

The Flying Dutchman
10-21-2006, 08:03 PM
I paint boats and have painted several planes in my time

1. White is the cheapest pigment.

2. White is most forgiving for hiding cosmetic defects and ripples

3. White is usually most resistant to chaulking or fading.

Raguleader
10-21-2006, 10:16 PM
In early-WWII combat aircraft were painted olive drab or camouflaged. It was found that leaving off a couple hundred pounds of paint allowed bombers to fly faster.

I have also read (IIRC, in "The Might Eighth" by Gerald Astro) that someone realized that 1000 bombers painted olive drab flying in formation over Germany probably weren't doing an effective job hiding from anyone, and they could save time by skipping the paint.

Johnny L.A.
10-21-2006, 10:27 PM
Sounds reasonable. I'll check it out when I and my books (I have a copy of The Mighty Eighth and the other one... War Diaries?) share the same loci.

Terminus Est
10-21-2006, 10:47 PM
Many other airlines have relied on colored planes before and after. But it is an expense, and the days when air travel was glamorous are long gone.
Wikipedia gives a term for this phenomenon: Eurowhite (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eurowhite).

Harmonix
10-22-2006, 02:21 AM
I have also read (IIRC, in "The Might Eighth" by Gerald Astro) that someone realized that 1000 bombers painted olive drab flying in formation over Germany probably weren't doing an effective job hiding from anyone, and they could save time by skipping the paint.

I would think the olive drab color was for camoflauge while on the ground. I supposed it probably also helped with ID during a dog fight.

Raguleader
10-22-2006, 12:19 PM
I would think the olive drab color was for camoflauge while on the ground. I supposed it probably also helped with ID during a dog fight.

Well, most of the time, the bases used for the bombers weren't very easy for the Germans to get to, since attacking England would have the Luftwaffe fighting the RAF, RCAF, and USAAF on the Allies' terms. I think in Africa, the bombers were painted pink in order to make them hard to spot against the desert sand.

The same book also mentioned an incident where a squadron of B-17Gs were destroyed on the ground in Russia, their bright shiny metalic non-paintjobs making fairly easy targets for Stukas (this was during a brief thing where American bombers and fighters would attack Germany, land in Russia, rearm, and do the same thing going back. They quickly figured out the Russians were a pain in the ass to work with, would allow no decisions to be made on the spot, and fighters with long enough range to go to Berlin and back soon showed up anyways. Also, female Russian soldiers were apparently very scary for the American airmen.)

As far as IDing a plane goes, when you've got hundreds of fighters flying around duking it out, and thousands of bombers with thousands of gunners trying to defend themselves, it could apparently get pretty hectic regardless of the paintjob.

Johnny L.A.
10-22-2006, 02:06 PM
I'm pretty much coming down on the side of economics after reading some other posts.

Back to the visibility theory. White reflects the whole visible spectrum, right? So does that mean that there is more light being reflected from it vs. another colour that absorbs part/most of the visible spectrum; thereby making the aircraft more visible at a distance?

St_Ides
10-22-2006, 02:13 PM
I know for some of the new composite constructed aircraft, heat is a major factor for painting it white. On the hottest sunny days around here, the flight school that flies Katana (http://www.flying-colors.org/katana/)s, couldn't fly them because with the intense heat, the aircraft would melt (well, not melt, but lost strength, and if you pushed on the skin, what would normally be hard, was now soft). So all Katanas are white, to help prevent that. Of course, that wasn't the only reason for not flying them on hot days (they're not the most overpowered aircraft, plus their bubble canopy works quite well as a greenhouse) but I know that was a factor.

fortytwo
10-22-2006, 02:45 PM
Many other airlines have relied on colored planes before and after. But it is an expense, and the days when air travel was glamorous are long gone.

British Airways has usually been fairly conservative in their aircraft paint schemes, but in 1997 it was decided to incorporate a "World Art " tail logo.

It was almost instantly the subject of derision. BA was jokingly called Gibbon Airways (the aircraft had an arse end of every colour) After a few years - to try to save a bit of face, after the cost of the painting - it was decided to revert to the Chatham Dockyard Union Flag.

If you want to see an example,look here, under liveries (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/British_Airways_ethnic_liveries)

GorillaMan
10-22-2006, 05:05 PM
I liked BA's attempt at doing something other than using their national flag in a swirl. Sadly, the one fully-functioning synapse in Maggie's brain was the one which made her have some kind of fit, clearly indicating that BA could only ever use Red White and Blue, but in the correct fashion.


FWIW, I loved the BA scheme that the old hag scuppered. If everything is going to be Eurowhite, then why not have some fun with the tail fin?

(For bonus points, ask Maggie when BA displayed the Union Jack as an integral part of their livery)

Quartz
10-22-2006, 05:08 PM
British Airways has usually been fairly conservative in their aircraft paint schemes, but in 1997 it was decided to incorporate a "World Art " tail logo.
I can't find a cite, but ISTR that this caused significant difficulties with Air Traffic Control.

fortytwo
10-22-2006, 05:44 PM
FWIW, I loved the BA scheme that the old hag scuppered. If everything is going to be Eurowhite, then why not have some fun with the tail fin?

Well, I didn't have strong feelings against it (I worked for them at the time too) but there was a lot of consumer and media criticism of it at the time. It wasn't just the old crone.
If anyone discovered my job was with BA then you could guarantee the tail logos would be mentioned - and not in a complimentary way either.
The idea was that it highlighted the fact that BA flew to all parts of the world and they commissioned artists from each area to design a logo representing their area.
BA was then, and probably still is, perceived as the national airline so nearly everyone felt they had a right to criticise it, after all it was their airline, even though it was privatised in the early 80s. :)

I can't find a cite, but ISTR that this caused significant difficulties with Air Traffic Control.

I'm not sure what you mean, can you elaborate?

Raguleader
10-22-2006, 08:23 PM
I'm not sure what you mean, can you elaborate?

Just guessing here, but maybe it caused problems for the Ground Control personel, who might be used to identifying ariplanes by glancing at their tails. Having every BA plane with a different tail paintjob would thus cause some confusion.

R. P. McMurphy
10-22-2006, 09:24 PM
I seem to remember that American Airlines went to unpainted planes (except for trim) to reduce weight and therfore reduce fuel costs. This was before fuel economy was a fashion or an overriding factor. Therefore, the "silver" AA planes. Othere than that, white was the most practical color.

slaphead
10-23-2006, 04:13 AM
Just guessing here, but maybe it caused problems for the Ground Control personel, who might be used to identifying ariplanes by glancing at their tails. Having every BA plane with a different tail paintjob would thus cause some confusion.
I remember criticism from pilots and controllers who found it very difficult to identify BA planes with the 'ethnic' tailfins - it is after all usual practice to have a very distinctive company design painted on the tail. However, not being involved in the industry, it could all have been media BS for all I know.

Pushkin
10-23-2006, 04:49 AM
IIRC, white was used on the British V-bomber force to help protect against the flash of a nuclear device going off below.

A real laugh flying for the V-bomber force, to compensate for blinding nuclear flashes, the RAF came up with the following scheme. The pilot would fly with one eyepatch and the co-pilot behind a blind over the canopy. When blinded the pilot would remove the eyepatch and fly until completely blind, then the co-pilot would remove the blind and wear an eyepatch, flying until blind himself :dubious: and :eek:

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