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bdt13

History of Compass Ghost Grays?

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There is much written on this site about the usage and matching of FS 36375 and 36320. However, I have yet to see anything on the history of the colors or their name. Who first determined that none of the available gray colors were what was needed for fighters anymore? What was the process for finding new colors that would do the job? What other colors were tried, and what type of experiments were done to ensure their effectiveness (I'm sure there were some test planes painted in one-off schemes - pics please!!)? What were the first aircraft with an official technical order mandating their use? How did they get the name "compass ghost", even unofficially?

 

Any real data at all is better than speculation. I'm thinking that if anyone at all knows, it will be someone with connection to this site. Thanks!

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Man, those are some really interesting questions. I with Ben here, anyone know about this stuff.

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Most countries do their own cam tests over the environment they expect to fly in. Guess those colours worked for the USN. However.........Canada did its own tests, on the same airframe (Hornet) and found the 36320 was too light for where we fly and went with 36237. I do believe Australia did the same.

 

At the same time Spain, went the USN way. Kuwait, well, using the same airframe as everyone else, they went their own way. This example the Hornet in the 80s is just one example.

 

Why did Spain go the same as the US and not Kuwait?  Beats me. Sale at the paint store maybe?

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I know that coming out of Vietnam, the Air Force did tests and found that fighters in the air to air role were much better concealed in the medium-light grays. The F-15 was probably onr of the first with this in mind, originally painted in 35450 blue on various gloss and flat attempts. This was quickly changed to Ghost Grays, which is about the same range without the tint. I'm not sure how much 36375 and 36320 were used before the 70s but they seemed to easily fit the new standard. Over the last few decades though, everything has shifted darker, with Mod Eagle, deletion of LGG on the F-16, and now Have Glass. 

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The question I have is if paint is really even necessary? In today's BVR environment, if you can see what color the enemy is painted in, does it really matter? The closing speeds are so eye-wateringly fast that is acquiring them visually necessary, or even possible, until you hit the merge? I guess they have to be painted something, and gray is better than yellow and red. It just seems the paint is more for radar absorption than actually concealing the aircraft.

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45 minutes ago, Darren Roberts said:

The question I have is if paint is really even necessary? In today's BVR environment, if you can see what color the enemy is painted in, does it really matter? The closing speeds are so eye-wateringly fast that is acquiring them visually necessary, or even possible, until you hit the merge? I guess they have to be painted something, and gray is better than yellow and red. It just seems the paint is more for radar absorption than actually concealing the aircraft.

Interesting thought.   I’d say that camouflage still is valid.   Can’t make the mistake of thinking that dogfighting is passé.   If an effective paint job buys a pilot even a couple of seconds advantage over the bad guy, it’s money well spent.  

 

Plus, some tones have lower IR-reflective properties.  

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1 hour ago, Darren Roberts said:

The question I have is if paint is really even necessary? In today's BVR environment, if you can see what color the enemy is painted in, does it really matter? The closing speeds are so eye-wateringly fast that is acquiring them visually necessary, or even possible, until you hit the merge? I guess they have to be painted something, and gray is better than yellow and red. It just seems the paint is more for radar absorption than actually concealing the aircraft.

It is commonly misconstrued that the paint on an aircraft is for the sole purpose of camouflage, the number one reason most aircraft are painted is for corrosion control, camouflage is secondary.

 

If an aircraft is not painted it will become the worlds largest museum to rust in a matter of months. Even in dry areas like the southwest area of hte US, aircraft will still corrode due to many factors so the paint job isn't really for camouflage, it's for corrosion prevention, especially for Naval aircraft.

 

As far as paint lowering an IR signature, not really, no amount of paint is going to hide the engine heat and IR caused by friction of the aircraft "cutting" through the air. An aircraft's leading edges will create IR and you can still see an aircraft's engine even when viewed from the front.

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Here I go again. I was a maintenance officer for 30 years but am NOT an expert on anything. I was a serious model builder for my whole tenure and paid a lot of attention to corrosion control and even got to develop a paint scheme for F-16s participating in a fighter meet. But I only know and remember dribs and drabs of stuff. Here’s what I know for sure. 

1. I think the Systems Program Office (SPO) probably directed the color choices for their respective weapons system. I’m sure a 4 star had the final word though.

2. Each aircraft had its own Technical Order (TO) governing corrosion and paint systems along with other general TOs governing paint application etc. TO 1-1-4 was one of those but there were others I can’t remember.

3. The major commands participated in corrosion conferences every now and then to discuss paint issues by system and what fixes would be implemented. I remember notes published at one F-4 conference authorized intakes to be painted with rollers vs. spray.

4. Names such as “Ghost Gray” were never used by anyone and only painters would even know what an FS number was. Light gray was light gray, yellow was yellow etc. 

5. There are standards for reflectance and IR signature.

6. Every pilot I talked to about gray camo liked it. It provided some concealment in the air and from above. I used to love watching F-15s at Holloman during sunset. That scheme took on the same color as the twilight. The F-16s dark gray upper was fairly hard to see from above. Concealment with camo is important enough that pilot’s helmets went to gray and I knew a pilot in one of my squadrons who could see a colored helmet at distance. During one deployment we were told to not shine any bare metal (tail feathers) as the glint could  expose a guy.

7. Paint DEFINITELY prohibits corrosion in the eyes of the AF and we never let bare or worn paint go long without scheduling touch ups and not with a rattle can. in fact I never saw anything but wheels and a pitot tube get rattle canned. Everything went in the paint barn, preped, masked sprayed and allowed to cure.

8. The AF is VERY strict about standardization, no wild stuff etc.  Even  color tail flashes denoting squadron are approved by  the MAJCOMS

9. As a general rule” full paints” (ie the airframe is bead blasted down to the skin, primed and sprayed) occur or used to at 5 year intervals. Wash, lube, and corrosion inspections were/are every 90 days. Full paints are done in a special closed hangar with ventilation etc and depending on the age of a paint job and degree of maintenance, the depot for a particular weapon system does the full paint. All of these activities are subject to inspection by an evaluator.

10. TAC in the 1980s went wild with major touch ups, washes, wipe downs etc under General Creech. It became such a problem that jets were “putting on weight” during periodic weight and balance checks and it became apparent there was an environmental impact from all this activity.

11. In my experience none of the fighter schemes were generally truly dead flat but kind of satin-like. I give all my model jets a shot of Micro Scale satin to “wake up” the final finish.

So, there is a short history on everything you never wanted to know about USAF corrosion control from 1977-2007!

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6 hours ago, BillS said:

So, there is a short history on everything you never wanted to know about USAF corrosion control from 1977-2007!

 

That's fascinating info. Thanks!

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14 hours ago, GW8345 said:

 As far as paint lowering an IR signature, not really, no amount of paint is going to hide the engine heat and IR caused by friction of the aircraft "cutting" through the air. An aircraft's leading edges will create IR and you can still see an aircraft's engine even when viewed from the front.

 

Not sure where you got that it was suggested that any available paint was going to "hide" an aircraft's IR signature.  However, as noted in the post above, this paint is designed to (at least by some amount) have some reduction in IR reflections.  May not be by a huge amount but as with visual detection, even a small reduction may make all the difference. 

 

Also, not every aircraft has it's engine visible from a frontal aspect. 

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According to one article I found—

https://medevacmatters.org/2012/04/05/aerial-camouflage-why-its-not-easy-being-green-with-white-patches-and-red-crosses/

—Project Compass Ghost was initiated during the Vietnam War and was in essence a resurrection of Project Yehudi which dated from 1943 and was a USN attempt to better camouflage ASW planes by using leading edge spotlights to brighten the under surfaces. The incentive for Project Compass Ghost was the large size of the F-4 Phantom, which made it very easily visible (along with its smoke trail). The lights were fairly quickly deemed inefficient, but the blue-tinted grays were retained.

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3 hours ago, 11bee said:

 

Not sure where you got that it was suggested that any available paint was going to "hide" an aircraft's IR signature.  However, as noted in the post above, this paint is designed to (at least by some amount) have some reduction in IR reflections.  May not be by a huge amount but as with visual detection, even a small reduction may make all the difference. 

 

Also, not every aircraft has it's engine visible from a frontal aspect. 

No, not every aircraft has it's engine visible from the front, think F-117 and F-22.

 

As far as paint reducing IR signature, it doesn't reduce it, it just doesn't add to it and it doesn't add to the radar reflectivity (unless it the new special coatings).

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On 9/29/2019 at 5:08 PM, bdt13 said:

There is much written on this site about the usage and matching of FS 36375 and 36320. However, I have yet to see anything on the history of the colors or their name. Who first determined that none of the available gray colors were what was needed for fighters anymore? What was the process for finding new colors that would do the job? What other colors were tried, and what type of experiments were done to ensure their effectiveness (I'm sure there were some test planes painted in one-off schemes - pics please!!)? What were the first aircraft with an official technical order mandating their use? How did they get the name "compass ghost", even unofficially?

 

Any real data at all is better than speculation. I'm thinking that if anyone at all knows, it will be someone with connection to this site. Thanks!

 

If you are looking for one off schemes

 

F-16 FSD one was painted in a compass-ghost~camouflage while a two seater and another single seater were painted in a better Hill scheme that was never applied

F-4D Coonass Militia one had an F-15ish inspired scheme other two or three were randomly painted

F-4C/D ROKAF I don't know how many of them served with that camouflage, Cutting Edge had one decal set with that

F-4EJ Kai I think it was applied after they parted ways with the grey/white scheme

F-104G/S AMI Reparto Sperimentale 37-23 camouflage was similar to JDASF F-104J 635 655 706 etc scheme

A-7D possibly?

A-10 maybe ab FSD with experimental scheme?

 

Luigi

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All-

 

Thanks for the information in your responses. I now understand that there was a Project Compass Ghost (PCG), and that they were using lights to hide an F-4 in a similar way that Project Yahudi did in the 1940's. I'm still curious to know where things went when the lighting approach was discontinued. Were the gray colors a product of PCG, or were they developed separately and then given the name? If so, was the name meant as disinformation or was it simply as misunderstanding? What colors were tested in the project to arrive at the finished product? What, if any, aircraft were they tested on first? Are there any photos?

 

Perhaps the lack of information hints that parts of this effort are still classified in some manner.  Perhaps those involved did not feel their efforts were of sufficient interest to document them. Perhaps in time we will know the story.

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Not sure but Dana Bell could help us out as he is specialist in colours and markings 

 

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