Imagine you have to protect yourself from an incoming nuclear explosion. How would you defend yourself? Maybe wearing fireproof clothes or sheltering in the bunker. How about relying on paint? If you think that was quite a ridiculous idea to even consider, then you have to hear why the United States and Britain came up with the idea of defending their aircraft, not with some special coating or anti-radiation technology but by painting it with a special color called anti-flash white.

When it comes to surviving a nuclear blast, paint is probably the last type of defense you’d consider. However, with the advent of nuclear weapons – which were continuously growing in power – there was a real risk that the release plane would not be able to outrun the blast. As one of the key design requirements of an aircraft is being lightweight, they couldn’t exactly cover the bombers in a few feet of reinforced concrete and lead shielding. Instead, they had to use any means possible to improve an aircraft’s survival.

The Science of Aircraft Survivability

Believe it or not, an airplane’s capability to survive blasts could be dictated by its color. To understand why we have to know how nuclear explosions affect them. The blast releases immense amounts of energy, and the blast wave could cause devastating effects to anyone and anything within its range. The thermal radiation travels at approximately the speed of light, and it could instantly affect objects at much greater distances. For instance, a 1 megaton bomb could easily cause third-degree burns at around 5 miles away, second-degree at about 6 miles, and then first-degree to someone at about seven miles away.

While engineers could only do so much to protect an aircraft from the physical shockwave that a nuclear blast could cause, they wanted to do something to shield it against the intense thermal radiation. Their idea was to paint their Nuclear bomb-equipped planes in a specific white paint.