Why Are Airplanes Usually Painted White?

Here’s an oldie but a goody…

LookUpInTheSky

OK yeah, it’s kinda gross, but it’s a funny meme, in a dark humor sort of way.

Anyway, that “Look, up in the sky! It’s a bird! It’s a plane!” opening line for The Adventures of Superman was always a little “off” to me because a bird and a plane look so different. Especially because there are admittedly some, but really not a whole lot of birds up there that are white, like most airplanes are.

So why ARE so many planes painted white? Well, it turns out there are a bunch of reasons…

PlaneWhite.jpg

It keeps the plane cooler

Black and other dark colors absorb heat, while white reflects it. That helps to keep the inside of the plane cooler. It’s the same reason why we tend to wear darker colors in the winter and lighter colors in the summer. Anyway, a cooler plane means less need to use the in-plane cooling system, which saves money on energy.

Planes are made with a lot of plastic and composite materials like carbon fiber, fiberglass, etc. The heat, sunlight and radiation from the sun tend to break those things down faster, so having the plane reflect the rays, instead of absorbing them, helps to make those important components of the plane last longer.

White doesn’t fade

Long term exposure to sunlight and other environmental conditions eventually makes darker colors fade and/or oxidize. That doesn’t happen as much to white (insert “Whiter Shade Of Pale” here LOL), so the plane’s paint looks better for longer.

It decreases the number of bird strikes

Although birds don’t fly at 35,000 feet, there’s a real hazard of birds hitting planes during takeoff and landing. A study was done in 2011 and apparently birds see more contrast with the color white than they do with darker colors. So a white plane would potentially allow birds to see and avoid them better than darker or multi-colored planes.

Ease of inspection for damage control

It’s easier to see cracks, dents, etc. on a white background than on a dark or multicolored background, which means these issues can be fixed quickly.

Search and rescue

No one wants to think about it, but planes sometimes crash. Depending on where a plane goes down, it may be easier to spot white fuselage than a darker or multi-colored one (OK yeah, Spirit’s bright yellow planes may actually win out on this one LOL).

Colored airplanes have a lower resale and lease value

Airlines sometimes sell or lease their older planes to other companies, which then have to paint those planes to match the rest of their fleet. It’s easier to paint over a plane that’s mainly white than one with darker colors. It also takes extra time and paint (both of which cost money) to paint over those non-white parts. So when buying or leasing a used plane, a white one will get more money.

Ever wonder how they paint planes? It’s a pretty interesting process. Take a look:

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This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary

2 thoughts on “Why Are Airplanes Usually Painted White?”

  1. Interesting. I don’t know if you’re flush with FYI topics, but the whoosh on airplane toilets has always made me curious.

    1. I’ll check the think “tank” (that’s as good as I can do right now. So bad that I’m even putting it on quotes) and see what I can do. 😉

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