Have you ever wondered why most non-military planes especially commercial ones are painted white? Let’s find out! “Why Airplanes Are Usually Painted White?”
Perhaps you hadn’t noticed! But your curiosity must be piqued now. Of course, there are exceptions. Some airlines like the South African carrier mango tend to be bright orange or the Siberian S7 fleet are famously painted lime green. But the vast majority of other planes are nearly always colored white or have a colour scheme that is predominately white.
Why Airplanes Are Usually Painted White?
Is this just a coincidence or is there actually a scientific reason? Well, answers might actually surprise you. Since we are talking about painting plains; is there actually a reason to paint them at all?
After all, the paint adds a lot of extra weight to an aircraft which in turn means more fuel is burned. However, apart from being able to identify a particular operator from one another, there are actually some very sound reasons to paint aircraft in the first place.
Many early aircraft; especially those prior to world war II were usually left completely bare. In modern times, the former American airlines also famously had a largely bare aluminum exterior. But this strategy is something of a false economy while it does save precious cash from some manufacturing maintenance and fuel expenses. It will cost the operator over time.
The main reason is that it leaves the aircraft’s fuselage exposed and unprotected. Over time, this tends to cause the plane to tarnish, attracting the frequent need to polish the exterior. Painting a plane also helps improve the craft’s structural integrity and makes it easier to clean and maintain in long term. So, painting an aircraft seems to be a good idea.
But Why Choose White?
1. Economical Colour:
The first reason planes tend to be painted white is as you might have guessed purely economical. Painting an aircraft is a very expensive affair. The process of painting an entire commercial airliner depends on the size of the craft. The simpler and plainer the design, the lower the cost.
Overall if you factor in the lifelong maintenance costs of repainting an aircraft when needed, this can lead to a considerable overhead for the carrier.
With white paint being relatively cheap and easily available, choosing a primarily white scheme will save a lot of money over the plane’s service life.
Many carriers also sell their planes to other carriers which would require an expensive new paint job if the plane were painted in a distinctive color. By choosing more neutral paint schemes, it increases the likelihood of a quicker sale since a mainly white paint scheme is easier to modify by the new owner.
The next reason white is often chosen is thermodynamics. The white color helps to passively cool the aircraft. White surfaces tend to reflect a lot of sunlight. This reduces the build-up of heat and also the potential damage from solar radiation during the life of the plane.
Heat and solar radiation can particularly damage the non-metal parts of the plane made of plastics or composite materials like fiberglass or carbon fiber.
This is why parts such as the nose cone of the plane where the aircraft radar is housed in the control surfaces which are made of composite materials are all usually painted white. It is vital that these parts of the plane are protected as much as possible.
The Concorde for example uses specially designed highly reflective white paint which could withstand the extreme heat generated during supersonic flight at its nose temperatures that could reach as much as 127 degrees Celsius. To mitigate this a special white paint with a very high reflectivity was created.
3. Easier to Spot Damage:
The next reason is that white paint is something of an insurance policy. Using a mainly white paint scheme makes it easier to spot cracks, dent, and oil spills. The color white is also very easy to spot from a distance.
It does reflect a lot of light after all. So, in case of a tragic plane crash, it would be easier to find the wreckage during search and rescue.
4. White Fades Less:
White paint also doesn’t really fade like other colored paints. This means you don’t need to repaint the plane as often. Moreover, according to some estimates, a single layer of paint to an entire Boeing 737 adds around 180 kilograms to its total weight. For the larger 747, this could add as much as 500 kilograms.
Adding layers of paint to the plane and increasing its overall weight results in more fuel consumption and more overheads.
5. Reduces Bird Strike Hazard:
Finally, white paint also helps keep the birds away. According to research, by enhancing the visibility of the plane you can actually reduce the chance of birds striking the plane. Lighter color increases the contrast between the aircraft and the background, in theory, helping birds to detect the aircraft in time to veer out of the way.
So, now you know Why Airplanes Are Usually Painted White! Next time you find yourself in an airport with a few hours to spare, you can audit the chosen color schemes of various commercial airliners.