Colors of Real Spacecraft and Experimental Aircraft

I'm always seeing questions about various colors of spacecraft and X-planes, so I thought I would collect some of the answers in this convenient location.


  • X-1
  • Apollo
  • Mercury/Gemini
  • NASA aircraft
  • Solar panels
  • Space Shuttle
  • Delta II
  • Soyuz
  • Soviet launch vehicles
  • Vostok

  • X-1
    From: Jennings Heilig
    Date: Mon, 06 Oct 1997
    Source: rec.models.scale

    According to the folks at the National Air & Space Museum who laid a copy of FS 595b up against the real airplane (with its original paint still in place), the airplane is painted as follows:

    Exterior orange: FS 12300

    Cockpit interior: FS 34095 Green

    They have confirmed that the airplane has not been repainted with the exception of the upper spine and vertical fin, which was painted orange to match the rest of the airplane. Otherwise it's just as Bell built it in 1946. 

    From: Rick DeNatale
    Date: Fri, 29 May 1998
    Source: rec.models.scale

    If I'm not mistaken, the Tamiya instructions call for the cockpit to be medium gray. This is incorrect. The Revell 1:32 kit instructions called for this too. I believe that this was based on the excellent Datafax book on the X-1 by Ben Guenther. I talked to Ben about this a while back, and he said that the book's assertion that the cockpit was gray was based on the X-1E which is on display at Dryden, and which indeed has a gray cockpit.

    The X-1E is really the 2nd X-1 (46-063) which was converted. The assumption was made that the cockpit remained in its original color. However, when the X-1E was built it got an entirely new cockpit.

    Subsequently, the Smithsonian has reported the above color for the cockpit interior, and that the color has not been changed from the original. The green corresponds to the standard cockpit colors in use at the time the X-1 was built, and the gray corresponds to the standards at the time the X-1E was rebuilt from the 2nd X-1.

    From: Dwayne Weber
    Source: email

    Apollo Command Module Interior Panel Color:
    ItemFS Color
    Control Panel36231
    Push button background37038
    Characters for background37875

    From: Tracy T. Kornfeld
    Source: email

    Mercury model Something for your tips page. I don't know if you've had any first hand experience with this, but I've found that Testor's Model Master Metalizer colors are nothing short of awesome. I stumbled upon them when I was doing RealSpace's 1/72 Gemini and I just wasn't happy with painting the capsule a flat or semi-gloss black. Glenn mentioned that if I could find the color "exhaust", it just might be what I'm looking for. It was. Since then, I've picked up almost every color that they make...buffing and non-buffing...they really give the models an excellent finish, especially those of us who aren't too proficient with Bare-Metal foil. The URL is for those that might be interested, and Testor will mail the paint directly to you from their order page on their web site. Just make sure you get the Metalizer Sealer so the color won't come off. It has REALLY enhanced my most recent efforts.

    > How does it handle decals?

    I haven't had a problem. The trick is to finish the model with Metalizer sealer...apply the decal...let it dry...then give it another coat of sealer over the decal. I've done this with about four models without a problem. I'm very impressed with the product. Painting the Gemini or Mercury Flat Black just didn't do it for me. I also used the Gunmetal Metalizer for the first time last night as a test on the Gemini Retrograde rockets. It's so much nicer than "grey" or "silver". I'm very happy with the results.

    From: Mike J. Idacavage
    Date: Sun, 07 Jun 1998
    Source: rec.models.scale

    The general interior color for the Gemini spacecraft is a light or pale gray. I believe this was also used for the Mercury spacecraft. 

    From: James Corley
    Date: Sun, 07 Jun 1998
    Source: rec.models.scale

    From what I've seen at the cape, it's really close to light aircraft gray FS36622.

    From: Dominique Durocher
    Date: Mon, 08 Jun 1998
    Source: rec.models.scale

    Agreed, I've been using the same dark gull gray (FS36251 IIRC, quite light in spite of the name) as in US fighter cockpits. Looked quite right when I checked out the MOL modified Gemini at the AF museum last year too.

    NASA Aircraft
    From: Nick Kiriokos
    Date: Tue, 10 Feb 1998
    Source: rec.models.scale

    This is what NASA-Dryden uses currently on our F-15's and 18's and the F-104's:


    Blue: FS15050
    White: FS17925
    Gold: Fire mist Gold (Dupont Imron)
    Yellow FS33538
    Black Black
    Lt Green Mil-P-85583A
    Dk Green Mil-P-85582A

    Solar panels
    From: Mike Mackowski
    Date: Mon, 27 Apr 1998
    Source: email

    > Does anybody have any good ideas on how to do up the solar panels on a
    > REALLY BIG Soyuz model (the Ogonek), especially the blue solar cells?

    I do space power for a living. The cells are generally dark blue to purple. I would recommend a metallic flake blue or violet (check automotive colors) and put a high gloss overcoat on it.

    From: Sven Knudson
    Date: Mon, 27 Apr 1998
    Source: email

    I've always liked the look of diffraction grating foil. You can get it in dark colors and in different patterns at craft and gift wrap shops.
    From: Mat Irvine
    Date: Tue, 28 Apr 1998
    Source: email

    Solar cells on face value appear a dark bluey purple, but because of the diffraction effect they can appear virtually any colour. I used Testors Dark Blue on the Mir model (that's in the London Science Museum - check out the pages - I've updated them at last!) I did have the intention of giving them a 'metallic'' or 'pearlescent' top coat, but never got around to it. On one of the the Ogonek Soyuz models I've built I used chocolate /candy wrapper of a suitable blue. It could also be worth checking Hallmark or similar for foil-type wrapping paper - some of these have interesting patterns.

    Space Shuttle
    From: Kalsal
    Date: 1997/12/16
    Source: rec.models.scale

    >Color of Space Shuttle's center fuel tank

     I've personally viewed the shuttle external tank at Cape Canaveral, photographed and modelled it as well. The color of the tank is actually rust. The insulation sprayed on the tank begins as a neutral color and actually "rusts" as it is exposed to the air. Close inspection reveals an uneven coloration as the coating and "rusting" effect varies over the tank walls. In modelling the color, I've successfully used 2 parts rust with one part orange. Add a little white for scale effect. Get a picture of the shuttle and compare your shade for desired effect. Also, there is an irregular shaped band of lighter color around the upper section of the tank as the tank begins to taper into a point and the tip of the tank itself. Use the above tank color with 1 or 2 parts yellow to approximate this tone. 

    From: Doug Jones
    Date: 1997/12/16
    Source: rec.models.scale

    After visiting the Kennedy Space Center, this past summer , and getting a chance to see STS-85 on Pad 39A up close I was taken by how `terra-cotta' the external tank looked compared to launch pictures of shuttle launches. I posted this same question afterwards on the RMS and what I got back was (from a guy that actually works on the shuttles at KSC) that the orange-rust-terracotta color darkens due to exposure to UV rays of the sun. Sooo, trying to match the color of the ET is like trying to hit a moving target. I simply let Testors rust be the color and let that be that. BTW, check out Mike Mackowski's Space in Miniature book on the shuttle for ideas on details of not only the ET but the orbiter as well.

    From: George Gassaway
    Date: 8 November 2000
    Source: space modelers email list

    An even more direct URL is this one, which includes information about the photo:

    Things of note are that this was the second lightweight tank, which not only has internal differences but some external differences. The most obvious being that the spray-on foam is a lighter initial color, an that it darkens with age and accelerates even more so exposed to the sun. In some pad photos you can notice where the ET is "sunburned" on the areas that are not covered by the RSS (or conversely, you can see "tan lines", or lighter areas, that were covered by the RSS).

    The tip of the ET nose is graphite, that's why it looks so dark. I do not know about the deep brick red colored part region just after of the tip, possibly that is an ablator layer or a different type of foam.

    Physically the most notable thing is in the intertank area near each SRB. On most ET intertanks, those skinnier stringers were filled-in flush with foam (notably not the case for STS-1, where the skinnier stringers were visible). On the lightweight tanks, not only are those stringers visible, but they are interrupted by some banding at 90 degrees which does look flush. Don't know why, just pointing out it is distinctively different there than on any previous ET's.

    Also take note that there is some work done to ET's to complete them in the VAB, so don't take what you see in that photo as gospel as to how it looked for flight. For example some of the original foam is shaved down in spots, exposing lighter-colored foam underneath, and new foam also is applied in spots. But still this is the best overall ET photo I've seen for documenting generic non-color-based details (keeping in mind as to whether the intertank detailing is relevant to a given mission or not).

    Delta II
    From: Brian Nicklas
    Source: email

    The blue-green color of the Delta II launch vehicle is FS 25193 (page 30 - bottom, of your FS 595B chip chart).

    From: Ostall
    Date: 26 Jan 1998
    Source: rec.models.scale

    >Does anyone out there know what the proper colors are for a Soyuz
    >capsule and what the color scheme was for the Apollo capsule on the
    >Apollo-Soyuz link-up?

    According to an article by Mike Mackowski in the Nov/Dec '84 FSM,the thermal blanket was green (he mixed 11 parts Pactra leaf green x-5 with 10 parts Pactra turquoise x-43 ), the area around the radiators was white with patches of gold and bare metal,the area around the engines was bare metal with green thermal blanket around the outside.

    From: Charles P. Vick
    Date: Thu, 30 Jul 1998
    Source: space modelers email list

    The Soyuz-TM is in fact covered with a black insulated material that at a proper angle of lighting seems to have a slightly greenish tint.

    From: Barry Davidoff
    Date: 8 November 2000
    Source: space modelers email list

    The color depends heavily on the exact mission. The Soyuz in ASTP was a dark green with a metallic tint. The early Soyuz appeared to be similiar but slightly lighter green. The Soyuz TM goes from grey to green to black. Ground photos of Soyuz TM tend towards Euro-Grey. In space there is greater contrast so the same color maybe dark grey to black.

    Soviet Launch Vehicles
    From: Charles P. Vick
    Date: Thu, 30 Jul 1998
    Source: space modelers email list

    You should become more familiar with FPSpace and its Soviet Lunar web sites available. Further this book (ed. note: NPO Energia book "From 1st Satellite to Mir and Energia/Buran") that you are studying so closely has most of the N1-L3 photos reverse printed especially the roll out pictures. There are no 7L, N1 pictures there which shows the dramatically revised design of N1-L3. Also do not be fooled by the greenish tint of what is actually gray color. It is precisely matched by Testors "Russian Underside Gray" color which is also what most of the Soviet Union's launch vehicles were painted in the R-7 series especially Vostok. The green effect is actually related to the film projection and the lighting source so do not be fooled. It is gray pure and simple. 

    From: Charles P. Vick
    Date: Fri, 31 Jul 1998
    Source: space modelers email list

    Many of the photos and film come out greenish because of the Western lighting techniques verses the Soviet ark lamps kilm lighting as well as the flourescent lighting. Those differences from the Western and Soviet system account for the differences in the color. Remember that light reflective angle can also give different colorations depending on the sun angle. Where N1 is concerned the recent pictures published in the very expensive ZIG ZAG books of Parade out of Moscow are the best for color I have seen. For once the Russians did it right. Those are the strategic rocket and space forces books costing about $400.00 apiece as I seem to remember. The soyuz-tm is in fact covered with a black insulated material that at a proper angle of lighting seems to have a slightly greenish tint. Basic data on Soviet boosters coloration follows: Not withstanding the Moscow parade missile which were green this is what my conclusions are.

    Sputnik SL-1 Gray and white nose cap. Some pictures seem to indicate an all white booster but I do not trust it because of airbrush work. There were also some that were totally bare metal silver aluminum chrome color. The ICBM has been both gray and white depending on the vehicle shown but operationally it is gray.
    Vostok SL-3 All gray, however display models have been painted all white verses the actual flight vehicle. At Energiya in Moscow they have the real thing with the all gray vehicle on display just inside the rear front door. There are beautiful pictures of this available.
    Lunik SL-3 All gray launch photo, however display models are painted white
    SL-4 Soyuz All gray initally but later for ASTP was white and orange engine boat tails by stages. Today it is all gray with orange engine boat tails and orange shrouds for the recsat versions among other configurations. The Soyuz-TM shroud is all white today but in the past the grates drag brakes were gray or black now white as a general rule.
    Venera variants SL-6 All gray initally. Now gray and orange or yellow engine boat tails and shroud.
    Cosmos SL-7 B-1 All white except for arange nose shroud.
    Kosmos C-1 SL-8 All white with gray upper stages as well as orange striping
    Proton SL-9 From launch film it was mostly white except the gray center tank of the first stage
    Kosmos SL-10 Polyut All gray
    Kosmos SL-11 Tsyclone-1 ASAT/RORSAT All white
    SL-12 Zond All white like the standard proton with gray core tank of the first stage
    SL-13 Proton All the same
    SL-14 Tsyklon-2 All white or more recently white with various black and or orange red striping
    SL-15 N1-L3 Initally gray and white later beginning with 5L all white with gray section on the first and second stage
    SL-16 Zenit Essentially white with orange striping etc.
    There is the tendency for the Chelomey rockets to use white while the Korolev rockets tends to use gray while the Yangel rockets use white or green or gray depending on their application.


    From: Barry Davidoff
    Date: 8 November 2000
    Source: space modelers email list

    The color of the launchers is a gray-green which is very close to Testor's Euro Gray. According to Charles Vick Soviet film was green sensitive so the launchers appeared more green. I used Euro-Gray on a Soyuz launcher and an N-1. In some photos they appear grey and in others more green depending upon the exact lighting conditions. This is just like the real launcher.

    From: Barry Davidoff
    Date: 8 November 2000
    Source: space modelers email list

    The color of the capsule is white as described in Mike Mackowski's Space in Minature Soviet Spacecraft book. I had the privilege of spending several days with Gherman Titov in August 1998. I had the opportunity to ask him what color the capsule actually was since there had been confusion in the West. He replied that it definitely was white. Several photos in Clarks' Manned Soviet Spaceflight provide additional evidence.

    Back to scale models page

    Sven Knudson