Chapter 15 - Camouflage: The Visibility of Airplanes, Mean Reflection-Factors, con'tOne of the problems with 'majority rule' is the majority is usually wrong. - Thomas Jefferson
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Chapter 15 - Camouflage:
The Visibility of Airplanes, Mean Reflection-Factors
1   2   3   4   5   6    

Chapter 15 - Camouflage:
The Visibility of Airplanes, Mean Reflection-Factors, con't

It is seen that the image diminishes less rapidly in size as the altitude increases. For example, going from 1000 feet to 2000 feet the image is reduced to one-half. The same reduction takes place in ascending from 10,000 to 20,000 feet. By taking a series of photographs and knowing the reduction-factor of the lens it is a simple matter to study pattern. An airplane of known dimensions can be placed in the imagination at any altitude on a photograph taken at a known altitude and the futility of certain patterns and the advantages of others are at once evident.

Related Image
Fig. 100. - Illustrating the study of pattern for airplanes.
The photograph was taken from an altitude of 10,000 feet.
The insert shows the relative lengths (vertical scale) of an
airplane of 60-foot spread at various distances
below the observer.

It is impracticable to present colored illustrations in this resume and values expressed in numbers are meaningless to most persons, so a few general remarks will be made in closing the discussion of low visibility as viewed from above in spring, summer and fall. A black craft is of much lower visibility than a white one. White should not be used. The paints should be very dark shades. The hues are approximately the same for the earth areas as seen at the earth's surface. Inland waters are a dirty blue-green or bluish-green, and deep ocean water is a greenish-blue when viewed vertically, or nearly so. Mean hues of these were determined approximately.

Before considering other aspects of camouflage it is well to consider such features as haze, clouds and sky. There appear to be two kinds of haze which the writer will arbitrarily call earth and high haze, respectively. The former consists chiefly of dust and smoke and usually extends to an altitude of about one mile, although it occasionally extends much higher. Its upper limit is very distinct, as seen by the "false" horizon. This horizon is used more by the pilot when flying at certain altitudes than the true horizon. At the top of this haze cumulus clouds are commonly seen to be poking out like nearly submerged icebergs. The upper haze appears somewhat whiter in color and appears to extend sometimes to altitudes of several or even many miles. The fact that the "earth" haze may be seen to end usually at about 6000 to 6000 feet and the upper haze to persist even beyond 20,000 feet has led the author to apply different names for convenience. The upper limit of the "earth" haze is determined by the height of diurnal atmospheric convection. Haze aids in lowering the visibility of airplanes by providing a luminous veil, but it also operates at some altitudes to increase the brightness of the sky, which is the background in this case.

The sky generally decreases considerably in brightness as the observer ascends. The brightness of the sky is due to scattered light, that is, to light being reflected by particles of dust, smoke, thinly diffused clouds, etc. By making a series of measurements of the brightness of the zenith sky for various altitudes, the altitude where the earth haze ends is usually plainly distinguishable. Many observations of this character were accumulated. In some extreme cases the sky was found to be only one-tenth as bright when observed at high altitudes of 15,000 to 20,000 feet as seen from the earth's surface. This accounts partly for the decrease in the visibility of an airplane as it ascends. At 20,000 feet the sky was found to contribute as little as 4 per cent of the total light on a horizontal plane and the extreme harshness of the lighting is very noticeable when the upper sky is cloudless and clear.

Doubtless, it has been commonly noted that airplanes are generally very dark objects as viewed from below against the sky. Even when painted white they are usually much darker than the sky. As they ascend the sky above them becomes darker, although to the observer on the ground the sky remains constant in brightness. However, in ascending, the airplane is leaving below it more and more luminous haze which acts as a veil in aiding to screen it until, when it reaches a high altitude, the combination of dark sky behind it and luminous haze between it and the observer on the ground, it becomes of much lower visibility. Another factor which contributes somewhat is its diminishing size as viewed from a fixed position at the earth. The minimum perceptible contrast becomes larger as the size of the contrasting patch diminishes.

Inasmuch as there is not enough light reflected upward from the earth to illuminate the lower side of an opaque surface sufficiently to make it as bright as the sky ordinarily, excepting at very high altitudes for very clear skies, it is necessary, in order to attain low visibility for airplanes as viewed from below, to supply some additional illumination to the lower surfaces. Computations have shown that artificial lighting is impracticable, but measurements on undoped airplane fabrics indicate that on sunny days a sufficient brightness can be obtained from direct sunlight diffused by the fabric to increase the brightness to the order of magnitude of the brightness of the sky. On overcast days an airplane will nearly always appear very much darker than the sky. That is, the brightness of the lower sides can in no other manner be made equal to that of the sky. However, low visibility can be obtained on sunny days which is an advantage over high visibility at all times, as is the case with airplanes now in use. Many observations and computations of these and other factors have been made, so that it is possible to predict results. Transparent media have obvious advantages, but no satisfactory ones are available at present.

Having considered low visibility of aircraft as viewed from above and from below, respectively, it is of interest to discuss briefly the possibility of attaining both of these simultaneously with a given airplane. Frankly, it is not practicable to do this. An airplane to be of low visibility against the earth background must be painted or dyed very dark shades of appropriate color and pattern. This renders it almost opaque and it will be a very dark object when viewed against the sky. If the lower surfaces of the airplane are painted as white as possible the airplane still remains a dark object against the blue sky and a very dark object against an overcast sky, except at high altitudes. In the latter cases, the contrast is not as great as already explained. A practicable method of decreasing the visibility of airplanes at present as viewed from below is to increase the brightness by the diffuse transmission of direct sun-light on clear days.On overcast days clouds and haze must be depended upon to screen the craft.

In considering these aspects it is well to recall that the two sources of light are the sun and the sky. Assuming the sun to contribute 80 per cent of the total light which reaches the upper side of an opaque horizontal diffusing surface at midday at the earth and assuming the sky to be cloudless and uniform in brightness, then the brightness of the horizontal upper surface will equal 5 RB, where R is the reflection-factor of the surface and B is the brightness (different in the two cases) of the sky. On a uniformly overcast day the brightness of the surface would be equal to RB. Now assuming Re to be the mean reflection-factor of the earth, then the lower side of a horizontal opaque surface suspended in the air would receive light in proportion to ReB. If this lower surface were a perfect mirror or a perfectly reflecting and diffusing surface its brightness would equal 5 ReB. on the sunny day and ReB. on the overcast day where B is the value (different in the two cases) of the brightness of the uniform sky. The surface can never be a perfect reflector, so on an overcast day its brightness will be a fraction (RRe) of the brightness B of the uniform sky. Inasmuch as Re is a very small value it is seen that low visibility of airplanes as viewed from below generally cannot be attained on an overcast day. It can be approached on a sunny day and even realized by adopting the expedient already mentioned. Further computations are to be found elsewhere. [The Visibility of Airplanes, M. Luckiesh, Jour. Frank. Inst. March and April, 1919; also Aerial Photometry, Astrophys. Jour. 1919, 49, p. 108.]

Seasonable changes present no difficulties, for from a practical standpoint only summer and winter need be generally considered.If the earth is covered with snow an airplane covered completely with white or gray paint would be fairly satisfactory as viewed from above, and if a certain shade of a blue tint be applied to the lower surfaces, low visibility as viewed from below would result. The white paint would possess a reflection-factor about equal to that of snow, thus providing low visibility from above. Inasmuch as the reflection-factor of snow is very high, the white lower sides of an airplane would receive a great deal more light in winter than they would in summer. Obviously, a blue tint is necessary for low visibility against the sky, but color has not been primarily considered in the preceding paragraphs because the chief difficulty in achieving low visibility from below lies in obtaining brightness of the proper order of magnitude. In winter the barren ground would be approximately of the same color and reflection-factor as in summer, so it would not be difficult to take this into consideration.

Seaplanes whose backgrounds generally consist of water would be painted of the color and brightness of water with perhaps a slight mottling. The color would generally be a very dark shade, approximating blue-green in hue.

Aircraft for night use would be treated in the same manner as aircraft for day use, if the moonlight is to be considered a dominant factor. This is one of the cases where the judgment must be based on actual experience. It appears that the great enemy of night raiders is the searchlight. If this is true the obvious expedient is to paint the craft a dull jet black. Experiments indicate that it is more difficult to pick up a black craft than a gray or white one and also it is more difficult to hold it in the beam of the searchlight. This can be readily proved by the use of black, gray, and white cards in the beam of an automobile headlight. The white card can be seen in the outskirts of the beam where the gray or black cannot be seen, and the gray can be picked up where the black one is invisible. The science of vision accounts for this as it does for many other questions which arise in the consideration of camouflage or low visibility.

Some attempts have been made to apply the principle of confusibility to airplanes as finally developed for vessels to circumvent the submarine, but the folly of this appears to be evident. Air battles are conducted at terrific speeds and with skillful maneuvering. Triggers are pulled without computations and the whole activity is almost lightning-like. To expect to confuse an opponent as to the course and position of the airplane is folly.

The camouflage of observation balloons has not been developed, though experiments were being considered in this direction as the war closed. Inasmuch as they are low-altitude crafts it appears that they would be best camouflaged for the earth as a background. Their enemies pounce down upon them from the sky so that low visibility from above seems to be the better choice.

In the foregoing it has been aimed to give the reader the general underlying principles of camouflage and low visibility, but at best this is only a resume. In the following references will be found more extensive discussions of various phases of the subject.

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Chapter 15 - Camouflage:
The Visibility of Airplanes, Mean Reflection-Factors
1   2   3   4   5   6    

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About This Book Preface Chap 1, Introduction Chap 2, The Eye Chap 3, Vision Chap 4, Geometrical Chap 5, Figures Chap 6, Angles Chap 7, Depth/Distance Chap 8 Brightness/Contrast Chap 9, Color Chap 10, Lighting Chap 11, Nature Chap 12, Painting/Decorating Chap 13, Architecture Chap 14, Magic Mirror Chap 15, Camouflage

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