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Why is the Concorde’s Fuselage Painted White?

The Concorde was a supersonic airplane that was built in the 1960s as a joint venture between the United Kingdom and France. It was the first aircraft of its kind. Only 14 of these plans went into service before it was eventually retired in 2003. With all the advancements in the aircraft’s design, you might be wondering why the fuselage was painted white.

The Concorde’s fuselage would expand by up to twelve inches due to the intense heat of flying at 1350 mph. It was painted white to help with heat dissipation.

The Science Behind Concorde’s Design

Concorde’s designers were aware of the potential for airframe heating due to supersonic travel. They set a maximum safe limit for the temperature of the aluminum body over the life of the aircraft at 127°C, limiting the aircraft’s top speed. The aircraft was painted in highly reflective white paint to prevent overheating.

As part of a Pepsi advertising campaign, an Air France Concorde was given a blue livery in 1996. Due to the additional aerodynamic heating of the new paintwork, the pilots were advised to limit their Mach 2 flight time to no more than 20 minutes.

The Concorde’s fuselage would expand by up to twelve inches when traveling at supersonic speeds, creating a gap between the flight engineer’s console and a bulkhead. An engineer placed a hat in the gap on the plane’s final flight, where it became permanently lodged as the plane cooled down for the last time. (Source: Spark)

Did You Know That the Color White Kept the Plane Cooler?

When we say it makes the plane cooler, we mean in terms of the amount of heat, it absorbs from the sun. Consider it in terms of your wardrobe and why lighter clothing dominates what we wear in the summer.

The use of white paint on an aircraft helps to reflect sunlight and reduces the amount of energy required to keep the plane comfortable. Modern planes made of composite materials need even more sun protection because UV radiation can damage them, so white paint is used.

(Source: Worldwide Aviation)

How Does White Paint Aid in Safety and Maintenance?

It is much easier for the maintenance crew to spot damage on a white-painted aircraft. Painting the plane white enables oil spills/leaks, cracks, and other flaws to be identified and repaired as soon as possible. 

It also preventsg bird strikes by allowing waterfowl and other birds to see the plane and avoid colliding with it. Whereas painting the plane in darker colors would cause it to blend in with the ground, reducing the ability of birds to see it. The same can be said for search and rescue, as a white fuselage helps rescuers spot a crash site more easily. (Source: Worldwide Aviation)

How is White Paint Cost Efficient?

Paint on a plane adds 600 to 1,200 pounds to the weight of the aircraft. This additional weight increases the amount of fuel a plane consumes and is equivalent to carrying up to eight more passengers. By removing this excess weight, the flights become less expensive.

Paint is also expensive for the initial application and touch-ups as the color fades. It has been demonstrated that the color white does not fade as quickly as other colors, implying that the aircraft will need to be repainted less frequently.

A typical Boeing 747 paint job requires 120 gallons, while a 767 requires 90 gallons. Painting a commercial airliner can cost anywhere between $50,000 and $200,000. (Source: Worldwide Aviation)

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