Many people have noticed that most airplanes are white, or at least a majority of their bodies are white. Why is that? Well, it comes down to many interesting factors. Airplanes are often painted white to reduce heat inside the cabin, keep maintenance easy, and to avoid complications with fancy paint jobs.
White Reduces Heat
White paint reflects most of the heat energy away from the body of the aircraft. Just like a white car in the summer, white paint reduces how much heat energy can penetrate through to the interior of the cabin. Comparatively, darker paints like black soak this energy in and heat the cabin faster.
Airplanes can sit on the ground for hours, days, weeks, maybe months before seeing a cloudy sky. They are constantly assaulted by the elements. It’s even worse when they are in the sky when this heat energy is more intense. Many airlines and private jet operators paint the majority of their airplanes white to reduce the operating costs of air conditioning within the aircraft while it sits in the terminal.
Additionally, aircrafts are made of materials such as aluminum, fiberglass, and carbon fiber which can warp or break under extreme temperature changes. Many sensitive electronics, like the guidance sensors in the nose, have to be protected from heat exposure to keep them running properly.
White Doesn’t Fade Quickly
White paint has the amazing benefit of looking fresh and clean despite the thousands of hours it might be exposed to the weather. More colorful paints can show oxidation more easily as the paint breaks down in direct sunlight and create a cloudy surface. Just like an old car left in the driveway for ages, the once shiny red can become a pale reddish-pink.
White paint doesn’t oxidize as quickly, and if there is oxidation it doesn’t affect the overall look of the paint. It might just look less glossy if seen in the correct light.
However, some commercial airlines like WOW airlines have vibrant purple airplanes and Southwest airlines have blue and orange airplanes. They’re using these striking colors to set themselves apart from their competitors as advertising, and are willing to pay the extra money for the upkeep and repainting of these aircrafts.
White Shows Problems Easier
When engineers and repairmen look closely at a white aircraft, they can more easily see the intricate panels and rivets on the surface of the plane. They can see any defect such as a crack or dent, or possibly a leak of oil and address that issue quickly. On darker aircraft, these repairmen would require more time to inspect the aircraft and ensure it doesn't require repair.
White Reduces Bird Strikes
White and lighter colors can drastically reduce the chance of bird strikes by being more visible in the air. When birds hit airplanes, it’s not a cause for too much concern for the passengers. However, these strikes can cause damage to the aircrafts that need to be repaired before they can become worse over time.
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