Black noses on aircraft

Does anyone know why aircraft no longer have there nose cones painted black? Looking through photos of aircraft from the 60’s/70’s, nose cones were usually black, on both military and civilian planes. I used to think it was just a fashion trend at the time, however a friend told me that it was something to do with radar. If this is the case, then why are the noses no longer black?

Word of mouth info follows:

Aircraft used to be painted with a lead-based paint, which is unsuitable for radomes. Instead, they had a rubber coating. Nowadays, the paint used (epoxy on military planes, I believe) won’t affect the radar.

Well, it’s as much a fashion statement as anything else. :slight_smile:

Most paints are radar transparent, except for maybe some later RAM (Radar Absorbing Material) formulations. I am a fan of, mostly, US Navy aircraft and can say that the coverage of the nose with black paint tended to vary a great deal throughout the 60s and 70s.

It started out as an anti-glare panel. That is, you paint the fuselage within the pilot’s view a shade that is dark and of matte finish to reduce the chance of any glare that might obscure his vision. It isn’t that new a concept either. In WWII, and earlier, a number of planes sported anti-glare panels. For example, the twin engine P-38 usually had the inside surfaces of its engine nacelles painted olive drab for this reason.

That being said once they got started they tended to vary a bit. I have reference photos of Navy Phantom IIs with small panels, panels that extend to the nose but only on top, and of course the full-radome black nose. I’d guess that the full black nose just made it easier to mask: Just swing the radome open, mask off the fuselage, and spray away.

For what it’s worth, some other colors were popular, too. White is in good evidence, as well as a tan anti-rain-corrosion paint usually referred to as Radome Tan.

As to why you don’t see this anymore: Navy and Air Force aircraft are big into Low Viz (low visibility) paint schemes these days. They have been since the Eighty-earlies. Once you have a nice flat-finish grayish paint all over the airframe you’ve pretty much obviated the need for any anti-glare panel.

I’ve either answered the post, or muddied the waters intolerably…

It isn’t universal but I think it was just a common convention because there was often a flat black anti glare panel in front of the windscreen. In some cases it may be that some paints are not transparent to RF, a requirement for painting radomes. I know some radomes were stenciled “DO NOT PAINT.” Modern paints like Imron are suitable for the whole airframe and at least in the F-14s I worked on were used from radome to tail. IIRC the A-6/EA-6 Intruder/Prowler and S-3 Viking had a buff colored radome. I don’t recall any carrier planes in the early '80s having a black radome.

In many cases you may be seeing a de-icing boot. It’s a thin rubber bladder over leading edge surfaced connected to an air pump. The boot is inflated very slightly with a pulsing that knocks off any ice that’s forming.

It’s all about anti-glare and radar.

There are several reasons why you see fewer “anti-glare” paint schemes on the noses of aircraft.

The first reason is because the aircraft didn’t reflect light into the pilot’s faces. I use the T-1 as an example:

This site has a photo of the T-1 when I first started flying it: with a nice big anti-glare patch painted on the front.

This is a photo of the new “Miami Vice” paint job. No anti-glare paint at all. Having flown both, I can say that the nose on the T-1 slopes down enough that paint makes no difference. Black or white, I can see other airplanes in formation the same.

Many older aircraft flew with a bare aluminum skin. This was done to increase speed and increase fuel efficiency. To make it bearable in a dogfight, the top of the nose was painted black so that the sun wasn’t reflected into the pilot’s eyes.

As military aircraft have evolved, both battle techniques and paint jobs have changed. Once the aircraft is painted with “air superiority” grey there is no such thing as reflection from the nose.

Also, the nose has become the “radome”. Instead of being strictly for drag-reduction, the nose actually houses something useful!

The radar on an aircraft is often it’s most important instrument. Whether detecting an enemy or dodging thunderstorms it’s vitally important. Military targeting radars are designed for functionality; therefore nose color is functional first: everything else comes second.

Civilian aircraft weather radars have undergone rapid improvements in the last few years. Specifically, the ability to see through various paint jobs has improved. Black used to be the desired color because of it’s low reflectivity. Today’s radars can compensate for any color radome and provide the same quality picture. That is why you see many carriers painting their radomes into their “native” paint scheme.