December 23, 2011

Why Does American Airlines Paint its Tails Gray?

The question
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 answer:
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
Some fleet types at American have large composite sections that require painting.  For instance, the nose section of American's now retired Airbus A300 fleet was composite and required a layer of paint.  I'm not referring to the nose cone which is always painted, but the section over the cockpit windows.

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.


  1. Hello!

    Thanks for the insight! I've been reading your blog for an hour now (Sick at home, lol) and I enjoy a lot!


  2. Glad to see more frequent posts! That "ad manager' pop-up on the lead page seems to be screwing up access to several features and functions...
    I wanted to comment on your year-old post about a Management Pilot displacing a line or reserve flyer on holiday schedules... They certainly do not have to do it. Many are very senior - as in older and with kids out of the nest. They were younger pilots at one time and were away from home all too often. The smart ones remember! I can easily recall holidays in ithe mid-late 60s when my girl friend's father was away, flying over Christmas. He was a senior management pilot with NWA in MSP and nearly always flew a busy schedule around Christmas. He felt it was necessary. His famly simply had their celebration of a different day. A management type or not, this fellow was very loyal to his pilots and popular with the lot. He has long since Flown West, but I remember him as one of the world's Nice Guys! Heck!! He let me date his daughter and he was alwyas nice to me. No, I did not marry her, but he would have a great father-in-law. Holiday displacements by management pilots are not uncommon -lots of them do it and it is a damn nice ting to do! Happy Holidays and I hope you can lose that dumb pop-up. It seems to screw up a lot of things. Thanks. -Craig

  3. this is nice and very informative blog.This blog increase my information.(:

  4. The reason the A300s tails were not polished mettle is because there not mettle there composts actually. This is the same reason for the completely new livery for all of Americans aircraft with the 787's(ordered) and all airbus aircraft being made of composts the polished meddle would not work any longer with the new generation of aircraft.