Is White Paint Lighter?


I was out at our local light-plane airport a week ago testing out a new Olympus camera with a long professional lens. It was a departure for me from my normal work with the Fujifilm system, so I wasn’t able to use the RAW file system to improve final results. Nevertheless the professional camera and lens did a magnificent job with very little input from me. Were I a dedicated air show shooter I would take this combination with me in an instant.

Let me put note that there is also a very good Fujifilm 100-400 lens that matches to my current equipment that also delivers the goods – but at present the Fujifilm people do not incorporate quite the level of stabilisation that the Olympus people do. It makes quite a difference as you track the moving targets – the IS systems in the Olympus makes the viewfinder scene smooth and float like a dedicated tank-gun sight. Delightful.

But the question arises…what are there so many white airplanes?

Nearly every light plane there, from the Royal Flying Doctor Pilatus to the humblest flying school hack was white. Tricked out with the occasional stripe or tail marking, but predominantly white. It made me question the choice:


a. Is it because it makes the planes more visible in the air? No. If you want to see something against a blue sky, paint it bright yellow or bright orange. Fluorescent paint on wings and tails is what the military uses when they want to see something against a gray overcast or and antarctic snowfield. Damn-near white-gray paint jobs are what they choose when they DON’T want to be seen.


b. Is it to make the planes cooler inside? Hah. They have a massive fan up the front when they are on the ground and the sky is a cold place when they are up there.

c. Is it because white paint is lighter than red, orange, or pink? Couldn’t be that much, based upon what pigments weigh – you’d save as much weight on the average plane if you vacuumed the fluff out from under the seat cushions.

d. Is it because it is meant to be stylish? Minimalism at 1000ft? Will we see Danish-designed wing tip lights and cabins with one carefully placed rose in a slim vase? Kelly Johnson is shifting in his grave…Off White, Ivory, Snow…thrash, thrash, thrash…


e. Is it because by the time an aircraft makes it past the design, finance, and certification stage that everyone has  become exhausted and sick of it? When the paint shop kid pops in and asks what colour they want they just tell him the paint the rotten thing white and have done with it.

f. Are they all painted white so that they can quickly swap panels from one to another after the CAA inspector leaves the hangar?

g. Are they all painted white so that when the student pilot buzzes the nurse’s quarters during Shower Night the Matron cannot positively identify it?

h. Do they all go so fast that the coloured paint blows off?

i. Is white cheaper? Are they all flying salesman’s specials? Where the hell is John Hughes right now, anyway?



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