A friend and fellow aviation geek recently asked me why American Airlines paints the tails of its aircraft gray. "I understand why panels constructed of composite materials would need to be painted, but I can't imagine that's why, for example, the MD80 tails are painted gray. So the question is...why does AA paint its tails gray? Thanks."
The history on this is a bit foggy, but here's the best I can piece together in a short time. The tails of all jets at American Airlines were, once upon a time, polished. As the most common member of the American Airlines fleet, you have most likely seen the polished skin of an MD80 as it taxied or flew by. You probably had your hands over your ears at the time as the MD80 isn't exactly the quietest member of the AA fleet. Maybe you noticed, maybe you didn't, but the tail section and certain other parts of American's jets are currently painted gray. There was a time, however, that even the tail sections of American's jets were a combination of paint and polish. Access panels, trim tabs and fairings were painted gray and other sections of the tail were polished in the same manner as the fuselage.
|American Airlines Airbus A300 in the New Mexico desert|
In the end, the decision to paint the metal on the tail was designed to protect the surfaces, to provide a fleet-wide common livery and to reduce the cluttered look that resulted from painting some, but not all of the tail.
Here's an example of the change. The picture below shows ship 223 (N223AA) in 1989 with a polished tail.
The picture below shows the same aircraft with a painted tail in August of 2009, after I delivered it to its final resting place in the desert outside Roswell, New Mexico.
I've shared the link before, but in case you haven't seen it, here is a video I made after the last flight of N223AA.