It’s one of those things you really don’t give a second thought, something that blends right into the scenery. It’s almost always a given: The Yankees wear pinstripes, the pope is Catholic, and airplanes are, for the most part, white.
“The main reason why aircraft are painted white or light colors is to reflect sunlight and minimize both the heating and potential damage from solar radiation,” John Hansman, a Professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics at MIT, says. “It’s basically the same as putting sunblock on.” White airplanes also helps airlines spend less to cool the cabin and protects parts of the plane that are susceptible to heat damage.
But the color choice has some very sound logic behind it. Reader’s Digest spoke to dozens of airplane and airline experts to get to the bottom of it. According to the experts, there are two main reasons for the color choice.
The main reason airplanes are generally white is to keep the plane cool. Steve Deane of Stratos Jet Charters told RD, “Imagine sitting on the tarmac waiting for takeoff in a dark-colored plane. It would get extremely uncomfortable for the passengers. Then there is the technology in the airplane. Technology lasts longer in cooler environments. A cooler plane means the equipment will last longer, thus saving money for the airline.” Of course, while this technique does help airplanes last longer, airplanes will eventually have to “retire”—and here’s what happens to them when they do.
Former flight attendant Philip Weiss added that the color is actually keeping you safe: “White helps make cracks and damage more visible for the technicians, so it also makes their jobs much easier.” That safety-boosting color has an additional bonus. Deane adds that a white plane is far easier to spot in the event of a crash landing both over land and sea. “White reflects the sun, so it will appear brighter and will be easily spotted in the unfortunate event of an accident.”
Additionally, a study published in Human-Wildlife Interactions found that the paint job does make a difference to birds: “This finding suggests that a whiter fuselage would stand out more against the sky from the perspective of the avian visual system.” According to ABC, approximately $300 million dollars’ worth of damage to planes is caused by birds each year.
There you have it: Planes are white to keep you as safe and comfortable as possible, with the added bonus of colliding with fewer birds. Now that you know that, here are 50 other airplane facts you’ve always been curious about.
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